Phoenix Jackson in A Worn Path


Phoenix Jackson in A Worn Path

A Worn Path by Eudora Welty demonstrates a journey of an old, weak woman through a journey that presents several difficulties to get some medicine for her ill grandson.  The story and the journey bear several themes, symbolisms which over the years have been interpreted to bring out varied meanings. The main character, Phoenix Jackson, also brings out much of the symbolism with her traits and her surroundings. Several scholars have interpreted symbolisms to the christen religion, interpreting them to represent the life of Christ, crucifixion and resurrection. Some have displayed the teachings of Christ and the meanings represented within the setting, plot and characters. This essay aims to analyze the works of several researchers who analyze the role of Phoenix Jackson in A Worn Path , to derive a resounding researchable problem from their interpretations.

Bethea, Dean. “Phoenix Has No Coat: Historicity, Eschatology, and Sins of Omission in Eudora Welty’s” A Worn Path . ” International Fiction Review 28.1/2 (2001): 32-41.

 According to Bethea Dean, the character of Phoenix Jackson is the intention of attacking the corrupted Bible-belt Christianity that puts up racism through the sins of omission and commission. The article proposes that A Worn Path  is not intended to edify readers or give an example to readers; however, it is intended to call to action the oppression towards Phoenix progressed by the Christians. The ideas are the concepts brought forth in the liberation theologies developed during the civil rights movement. Therefore, if there is any Christina framework is to be imposed on the story, it will be radical eschatology that stems from the racist experiences that Phoenix endures.

Welty presents this case first by presenting the story as a spiritual triumph. The work secondly valorizes the racial stereotypes throughout the story before she finally presents a revelatory reversal in the final section. Thirdly, the title, setting, and plot of the book propose a great irony. Fourthly, the irony comes in the setting in a way that even with a Christmas setting characterized by spiritual rebirth, the same has not happened in the hearts of the Bible Belt community. Further, the journey to Natchez, a monument for the slave economy, is specific to build her case. The other characters within the story have material wealth and selfishness, but and a Pheonix is presented as a poor and selfless, and thus, the two groups misunderstand each other.

The four elements depict Jesus’ teachings about selflessness and giving more than is asked of them. Jesus further warns against the sin of omission, which is Phoenix displays poverty with her lacking even a coat despite the cold; the Bible belt characters do not offer her this. These white characters do nothing to improve the plight of Phoenix; they are, therefore, sinners according to the sin of omission. The fact that they did this during Christmas, a season of love, they won’t do the same in ordinary periods. She, therefore, lives within a society that has set barriers for her because of her illiteracy, age, isolation and poverty.

Piwinski, David J. “Mistletoe in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path “.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 16.1 (2003): 40-42.

David J Piwinski brings a new religious interpretation in the symbolism brought forth by the character of Phoenix in A Worn Path . The point of focus of the analysis is a scene in the plot when Phoenix sits down at river bank after an initial struggle to up a hill and through a bush. At the riverbank, she sits under a pearly cloud of Mistletoe, and a boy brings her a slice of marble cake on a plate. While most researchers before have analyzed the case of the boy giving her a slice as a Christian communion or a sign of Christmas. Piwinski, however, takes different analysis by focusing on the Mistletoe as a significant botanical image.  The Mistletoe presents imagery of immortality and a Christmas image, but above all, it presents Phoenix Jackson as Christ-Like in addition to other symbols such as having the symbolic language of plants.

Several critics of the book had pinpointed the appearance of Christ-like imagery before but hadn’t noticed the significance of Mistletoe in the life of Christ. Mistletoe is a strong tree that provides the wood which was used to make the cross which Christ was crucified on.  After it’s used in the crucifixion, the legend confirms that it went through a metamorphosis which converted it to a parasitic shrub.  It has, therefore, earned the names Lignum Sanctae Crucis (Wood of the Holy Cross in Latin and l’herbe de la Croix in French. The revelation of the journey of Jesus up the hill of Golgotha carrying the cross, where he gave his body, therefore, brings a new symbolism into the journey and person of Phoenix.

Phoenix Jackson, therefore, embodies qualities assigned from the botanical meanings.  The language of flowers is a symbolic language that attaches meaning to plants and flowers. It originated in Ancient Persia and grew through history and became popular in England and America in the 19th century. Therefore, the appearance of the Mistletoe above Phoenix in “A Worn Path ,” complements the Christ-like characterization. It is an addition to her traits of self-sacrificing, love and affection, and her strength to overcome the difficulties presented within her path.

Keys, Marilynn. “A Worn Path “: The Way of Dispossession.” Studies in Short Fiction 16.4 (1979): 354.

Keys Marilynn presents another Christian interpretation of A Worn Path  and the character of Phoenix. She first develops upon the ideas of Neil D. Isaac’s who derived imagery of a journey of Christian pilgrimage.  Isaac also saw several other symbols from different traditions within the world. Marilynn, however, focuses on the character and name of Phoenix as an important mythical bird. The meaning of the name would require a higher indulgence into several Christian sources by Marilynn took the path of focusing on the Christian Analogues altogether.

The figure of Phoenix was a common one in the early Christina Literature and art. It represented the resurrection of Christ. An English poem derived from the Exeter book from the 9th century has the title of Phoenix and centres around the resurrection.  In the book by Miss Welty, she also uses the colour combination of the bird of antiquity, which also a symbol in Christian art. There is also another symbol that presents itself from the journey Phoenix takes.  The journey is a representation of several beliefs on the Christian piety, which symbolize the journey Jesus makes towards the cross. Another clue is found within the title, choosing A Worn Path  and not The Worn path shows something that is not definite.  This way bears a strong resemblance to the Via Dolorosa; the parallels. All these symbols seen from the same point of view complete each other to make a harmonious symbolization of the walk Jesus makes towards the cross and the resurrection that follows. Phoenix presents a Christ-like image.



Works Cited

Bethea, Dean. “Phoenix Has No Coat: Historicity, Eschatology, and Sins of Omission in Eudora Welty’s” A Worn Path “.” International Fiction Review 28.1/2 (2001): 32-41.

Keys, Marilynn. “A Worn Path “: The Way of Dispossession.” Studies in Short Fiction 16.4 (1979): 354.

Piwinski, David J. “Mistletoe in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path “.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 16.1 (2003): 40-42.



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