University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Symbols of a Worn Path
Phoenix Jackson; an old negro woman that partakes on a journey to take medicine to her sick nephew that is off in another town. Phoenix is old and through the story there are many accounts that I think are symbolic to being of age. Being one with nature Phoenix Jackson is determined to travel through the forest to tend to her sick nephew.
The story itself was full of symbols, some that where more noticeable then others. Phoenix’s face was said to look like a tree with burning glow under it. Pretty much saying she was one with nature, that she was in touch with the natural side of things. And her name is Phoenix which is the same name of the mythical Egyptian bird that lives for 500 years, and then dies but for 500 years it regenerates itself. Her name symbolizes in her old age she lives on.
In her old age she is also in touch with nature as her tree trunk like face shows. There are many times she talks to the animals: “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animal! Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way”(1) as in touch she is with nature, there are many instances that the forest showed signs of death when she seen a buzzard sitting on a dead tree, then she seen a scare crow. That also represents death, but she ended up dancing with the scare crow like she was dancing around death.
So far through the journey Phoenix came upon many different things. She even had a symbolic dream; which had her reaching for a marble cake from a young boy which symbolized her living for a longer period of time. It also had a simple reason, just her hallucinating because of old age. But along the way Phoenix came across a well that she drank from that meant longevity.
A lot of the symbols in the story had to do with her age or death. Soon after she was done drinking from the spring, a black dog came at her growling which symbolizes death once again. She hit the dog and it ran away. After the encounter with the dog Phoenix stumbles in falls into a ditch. Where she douses off and has a dream of her reaching and nobody pulling her up. Which symbolizes God looking down at her but does not reach for her because it is not her time to go to Heaven. After she wakes up from her dream she gets out the ditch and comes across a white hunter with two growling dogs.
In her whole Journey she had many encounters with symbols of death, but made it through the forest to get the medicine to her sick grandson. “Critical discussion of “A Worn Path” largely has been concerned with thematic interpretation of the work, particularly the story’s racial, mythological, and Christian motifs.” (2) Sometimes even called a Christian pilgrimage, because of the times God is mentioned and how she is still holding on to life. And he going through that forest sacrificing herself could go back to the scarifies Jesus did. But even with those things in it, there were still symbols of the mythological creature.
As Phoenix walked through the forest she struggled with bad vision and hallucinations but still made it to the hospital to help her grandson. “The combined effects of her old age, her poor vision, and her poetic view of the world heighten the lyricism and symbolism of the narrative.” (2) Which made the story more interesting to the readers. Every hardship had a different meaning, and brought her closer to her goal.