A Worn Path

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"A Worn Path"
A Worn Path Cover Art.jpeg
Author Eudora Welty
Country USA
Language English
Published in Atlantic Monthly, vol. 167, no. 2[1]
Publication type Magazine
Media type Short story
Publication date February 1941

"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty is a short story about an elderly African-American woman who undertakes a familiar journey on a road in a rural area to acquire medicine for her grandson. She expresses herself, both to her surroundings and in short spurts of spoken monologue, warning away animals and expressing the pain she feels in her weary bones. At its heart, "A Worn Path" is a tale of undying love and devotion that pushes us toward a goal.


In "A Worn Path", an old woman named Phoenix Jackson is walking through the woods into town.[2] On her way she encounters many obstacles, including thorny bushes, barbed wire, and a large dog, among others. She meets a hunter, pocketing a nickel that he drops, and a lady who ties her shoes. Her reason for going to Natchez is to pick up a supply of medicine for her grandson, who accidentally swallowed lye a few years before. She tells the nurse in the hospital that the damage to his throat never fully heals, and every so often his throat will begin to swell shut. It is Old Phoenix's love for her grandson that causes her to face the trial of the journey to town, every time it is necessary, with no questions asked.

Obstacles faced by Phoenix:

  1. Dense forest and wild animals
  2. Walking over hills
  3. Thorny bushes
  4. Crossing small creek on log
  5. Barbed wire fence
  6. Cotton field
  7. Scarecrow in corn field
  8. Black large dog
  9. Falling in ditch
  10. The hunter
  11. Confusion at city roads
  12. Stairs at the clinic


One of the major themes of the short story is unselfish love. Phoenix Jackson loves her grandson so much that she endures a painful walk to town in order to get the medicine that he needs. The story revolves around compassion and the courage that defies reason, since Phoenix is willing to make the journey to town any time it is needed, despite her own age and waning health.

The short story also discusses racism and the arrogance it breeds by marginalizing other people and being cruel to them. However, another theme of the story is the ability of the human spirit to endure conflict and poor circumstances within nature and society.[3]


Popular with Literature classes,[citation needed] the symbolism in the piece and the lesson(s) to be learned from it are open to interpretation. Many critics have commented on the significance of the main character's name in relation to the folkloric phoenix, relating to her indomitable ability to rise again and make her journey. [4][5] Many writers argue that it emphasizes racial and economic inequalities in the Deep South during the Depression.[6][7] It is similar to the story of Odysseus, who faces many trials along his journey.[8] Welty herself has said it is a story about how a writer works.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "A Worn Path". OCLC Worldcat. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Dazey, Mary Ann (February 1979). "Phoenix Jackson and the Nice Lady: A note on Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"". American Notes & Queries. 17 (6): 92–93. 
  3. ^ "A Worn Path Themes - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 2016-11-01. 
  4. ^ Piwinski, David J. (Winter 2003). "Mistletoe in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"". ANQ. 16 (1): 40–42. doi:10.1080/08957690309598188. 
  5. ^ Bartel, Roland (Summer 1977). "Life and Death in Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"". Studies in Short Fiction. 14 (3): 288–290. 
  6. ^ Sykes, Dennis J. (Spring 1998). "Welty's The Worn Path". Explicator. 56 (3): 151. doi:10.1080/00144949809595296. 
  7. ^ Moberly, Kevin (December 1, 2005). "Toward the North Star: Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and the Slave Narrative Tradition". Mississippi Quarterly. 59 (1/2): 107–127. 
  8. ^ Feeley, Kathleen (15 October 2001). "Remembering Eudora Welty". America. 185 (11): 13–15.