Eudora Welty's short story "A Worn Path" is about an elderly woman who makes an arduous journey to get some medicine for her grandson. Though it is a short story, it contains each of the primary narrative elements: theme, plot and structure, character, setting and point of view. By studying the narrative elements of the story, the reader can gain greater insights into its meaning.
The theme of the story explores the power of perseverance, sacrifice and love. The protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, is at least 80 years old, is battling dementia and other health problems, and is very poor. She overcomes a number of obstacles to retrieve the medicine for her grandson. The fact that her journey is on a "worn path" also suggests that she has made the trip many times in the past, which she later confirms. Because of her perseverance and sacrifice, she meets her goal and gets the medicine.
The primary character in the story is Phoenix. Her name is symbolic and helps to underscore the theme. Like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes and begins again, Phoenix has had to rise out of hardship again and again through her life to meet her needs and the needs of her family. The narrative references her childhood during the Civil War and receiving no education. She also later explains that her grandson needs the medicine because he swallowed lye, clearly a traumatic event. Despite these hardships, she perseveres and remains motivated by love for her family, embracing life instead of bitterness.
Plot and Structure
The plot is relatively simple: Phoenix goes into town to get medicine for her grandson. However, the things that happen along the way reveal deeper insights into character and theme. For example, Phoenix meets a white man who is a hunter. When he drops a nickel, she distracts him so that she can grab it. When she stands back up, he is pointing a gun in her face. The aggressive action underscores racial tensions in the story setting, which Phoenix had to overcome in addition to life's other obstacles. Phoenix is calm and appears to not be afraid of the hunter, again underscoring her strength and perseverance.
Setting and Point of View
The story is set in the rural South during the Jim Crow era, though the exact place and year are not given. The story is told from a third-person, omniscient point of view. The setting and the point of view contribute to the allegorical quality of the story. Phoenix is not just overcoming obstacles like poverty and lack of education, she is also overcoming racial inequality and discrimination, just like other blacks in the South in that time period. This can be seen in the fact that the white characters she encounters treat her with pity or disrespect.
Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.