A Worn Path

Themes and Colors
Race and Class Theme Icon
Perseverance and Power Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Nature and City Theme Icon
Human Dignity Theme Icon
Christian Overtones Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Worn Path, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In its depiction of the journey of an impoverished black woman in Mississippi, “A Worn Path” explores the realities of race and class in the South at a time when slavery was still within living memory. The depiction of race in the story is not simplistic. Rather, through Phoenix’s experiences with other people, Welty shows the complicated ways that blacks and whites interact in the early 1940s South, with single encounters shifting within moments from…

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The story’s title, “A Worn Path”, first and most obviously refers to the path Phoenix has walked many times before to Natchez to get medicine for her sick grandson. But the title also alludes to the idea of life – and Phoenix’s life in particular – as a journey that is made by repeated passage through and endurance of the world around her, and suggests that such endurance has a slow power that will…

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Phoenix might at times, due to age, forget the object of her mission, but this only underscores the deep love that motivates her to complete it. The reader is always aware of this underlying aspect of her journey, but as the story progresses and Phoenix steals the nickel from the hunter and then asks for another nickel from the hospital attendant, the story seems to complicate Phoenix’s love for her grandson with a sense…

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“A Worn Path” begins in a rural area some distance outside the city of Natchez, Mississippi and moves along with Phoenix as she walks towards the hospital in the center of the city. The rural road is arduous, causing Phoenix to fall into a ditch, and at that moment it seems likely that Phoenix’s trip will get easier once she gets into the “paved city.” Yet there are also aspects of nature that fill Phoenix…

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By persevering, by refusing to yield to the inequality forced upon her by her age, race, and class, by demonstrating calm, smarts, and willpower in the face of all obstacles, Phoenix exemplifies a remarkable degree of dignity. Phoenix never appears afraid or threatened, even when, most dramatically, the hunter aims his gun directly at her. Her sense of dignity is evident also when she insists on her shoes being tied, or in the “stiff” and…

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Phoenix, seeing a bird flying overhead shortly after stealing the nickel, takes the creature to embody God’s judging gaze. “A Worn Path” abounds with Christian images and ideas, from the way Phoenix’s journey on the worn path seems to echo the path etched by Christ carrying the cross, to the way that the woman tying Phoenix’s shoes recalls Mary Magdalene’s washing of Christ’s feet. A phoenix is a bird that rises from its own…

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