A Worn Path

Essay by electronicmandarin November 2014

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Budianu Christiana Olivia, year II, E-R group

Eudora Welty's 'A Worn Path'

Since its publication, Welty's story 'A Worn Path' has found a responsive audience. One of the most widely anthologized stories of any American writer, the story of Phoenix Jackson's trip into town for her grandson's medicine has been praised both for its simplicity and for its depth, containing a level of ambiguity that has fascinated readers for decades. Critics have praised Welty's use of language, myth, and symbol in this deceptively simple story.

Welty comes from Mississippi, in many ways the most notoriously troubled of Southern states. Born there in 1909, she grew up and has spent most of her life in Jackson. It was an era where the Civil War and Reconstruction were still remembered by many of her neighbours, and she herself has lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and the Southern renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s.

However, politics very rarely enters her work directly. Her stories deal with race relations on a personal level. The inspiration for Phoenix Jackson was an ancient black woman whom Welty saw walking across the countryside as Welty was sitting under a tree near the Natchez Trace with a painter friend. 'I watched her cross that landscape in the half-distance', she explains, 'and when I got home I wrote that story that she had made me think of' (Barnhisel, 2002: 9). 'I knew she was going somewhere. I knew she was bent on an errand, even at that distance. It was not anything casual. It was a purposeful, measured journey she was making - you wouldn't go on an errand like that - unless it were for someone else, you know. Unless it were an emergency' (Barnhisel, 2002: 9).