A Worn Path Symbolism
Eudora Welty’s 1941 short story “A Worn Path” is full of symbolism. The very name of the main character—Phoenix Jackson—bears the symbolism of the myth of the phoenix bird. In mythology, the phoenix is a bright red and gold bird. Nearing the end of its life, the phoenix travels to Heliopolis, the city of the sun, to die and be reborn from its ashes.
Symbols in A Worn Path
Welty describes Phoenix Jackson as having “a golden color” to her skin and her cheeks are “illuminated by a yellow burning under the dark.” Additionally, she is wearing a “red rag” on her head. This clearly symbolizes the coloring of the phoenix. Additionally, Phoenix’s advanced age suggests that she is on her own journey to Heliopolis. The phoenix bird undertakes this journey at an advanced age. Numerous references are made to Phoenix’s age; she describes herself as the oldest person she knows.
In mythology, the phoenix is characterized as being a protector. In Welty’s short story, Phoenix is walking to Natchez, Mississippi, in order to obtain medicine for her grandson. Despite her advanced age and frail condition, she undertakes this increasingly difficult journey out of unconditional love.
Race and A Worn Path
There is also Phoenix’s last name—Jackson—the hometown of Welty. The racial prejudice of the Old South is another aspect of symbolism in the story, as Phoenix is an old woman without education, forever caught in a cycle of needless journeys.