A Worn Path Essay Titles

  • 1

    How is the complexity of the issues of race depicted in “A Worn Path” by Welty?

    The protagonist of the story is an old, impoverished black woman of absolutely no apparent consequence—which in itself is a commentary on race relations in the South since the story was written by a white woman. Imagery, characterization and symbolism all contribute to the portrayal of how race relations nearly a century after the abolition of slavery remains complicated and intricately threaded into the very fabric of daily interaction. The white hunter, for instance, is presented as both a benevolent assistant to Phoenix and a threatening figure of control and authority. The white sin charge of dispensing medical advice and health care are represented in a way comments upon the systemic prejudicial bias toward blacks in the South that made the struggle for equality all the more difficult. After all, defeating even a great many individual racists is easier than tearing apart a smoothly functioning system in which racist policies is so ingrained as a part of the standard operating procedure that even those whom it fails to benefit come to see it as simply “the way things are done.”

  • 2

    What is point of the many small difficulties that obstruct Phoenix as she makes her way along the worn path?

    At one point Phoenix gets her skirt all caught up in a prickly bush and has to carefully extricate herself so that the material doesn’t get damaged. At another point she must cross a river with only an unsteady old log acting as the bridge. Taken individually, these obstacles don’t amount to much more than mere unpleasant impediments, but collectively they represent a symbolic realization of the distinctly evil legacy of bondage and suffering that results from slavery. The thorny bush is nothing less than a pointed allusion to the crown of thorns forced down upon the head of Jesus Christ. The act of closing her eyes while crossing the makeshift log bridge takes on the broader implications of a spiritual leap of faith in the trusting God to help her find her way though she be—if only temporarily—blind. Every obstacle and hindrance that Phoenix overcomes on her way to her destination likewise takes on greater significance as representations of the obstacles that everyone faces as they blaze a trail across the worn path that trails behind their own life.

  • 3

    From what point-of-view is “A Worn Path” told, why was it chosen and how can a reader tell?

    The literary point-of-view at work here is what is known as third-person limited perspective. Such a point-of-view facilitates the reader developing empathy for Phoenix because it is through her consciousness that all the events and discourse with other characters take place. The utilization of perspectives that provided less insight into the mind of Phoenix or expanded the point-of-view to allow the events to be seen through the eyes of additional characters would result in a far different tone entirely. At the same time, however, by choosing not to delve without obstruction into the mind of Phoenix, the limited third person experience also allows the reader to experience the journey of Phoenix along that worn path from just enough distance that it becomes possible to see her in the ways that other characters see her without the accompanying facilitation of empathizing with their perspective. The reader can figure out the particulars of point-of-view through such passages as:

    But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickle fall out of the man’s pocket onto the ground.

    “How old are you, Granny,” he was saying.

  • 4

    How is the complexity of the issues of race depicted in “A Worn Path” by Welty?

    The protagonist of the story is an old, impoverished black woman of absolutely no apparent consequence—which in itself is a commentary on race relations in the South since the story was written by a white woman. Imagery, characterization and symbolism all contribute to the portrayal of how race relations nearly a century after the abolition of slavery remains complicated and intricately threaded into the very fabric of daily interaction. The white hunter, for instance, is presented as both a benevolent assistant to Phoenix and a threatening figure of control and authority. The white sin charge of dispensing medical advice and health care are represented in a way comments upon the systemic prejudicial bias toward blacks in the South that made the struggle for equality all the more difficult. After all, defeating even a great many individual racists is easier than tearing apart a smoothly functioning system in which racist policies is so ingrained as a part of the standard operating procedure that even those whom it fails to benefit come to see it as simply “the way things are done.”

  • 5

    What is the significance of the unseen character of Phoenix’s sick grandson?

    The fact that the grandson is never seen, only referred to and not a direct actor in the narrative is actually quite significant. The very fact that he stands in direct contrast to the protagonist of the story relative to his tender age versus her advanced seniority indicates that he is symbolic of the future. Extrapolating from the text that the overarching theme of the story is the effect of race relations, a strong argument can be made that the grandson represents not just the future, but the future for blacks in America. That he is an unseen character suggests that the future of race relations also remains unclear and uncertain. The long journey along the path made all the more difficult by all those obstacles and hindrances represents the progress made so far and that medicine is the object of Phoenix’s trek is only highly suggestive: it is going to take some strong medicine to achieve the dream of equality for the grandsons and granddaughters of those like Phoenix.

  • 6

    What does the ending of the story imply?

    The ending of “A Worn Path” can seem ambiguous at best and anticlimactic at worst. The nod, the turn and the carefully stepping down the stairs on Phoenix's way out, however, are actually of incredible significance and import. Again, individually, these actions may not count for much, but collectively they represent the commencement of yet another struggle that lies ahead for Phoenix and—by extension—blacks living in America. The utter lack of any sort of Aristotelian cathartic resolution is, in reality, far from ambiguous, but the lack of a satisfying climax speaks volumes. No sooner has Phoenix successfully completed one task that proved to be far more difficult and time-consuming that it should have been than she is forced to set upon the another arduous journey to complete another minor task that should not be so difficult: buying her grandson the paper windmill he desires. Such is the hardship of not just one individual, but an entire culture.

  • Overall Rating

    Grade Level:
    Seventh Grade-Eighth Grade
    Subject:
    Language Arts
    Group Size:
    Up to 36
    Setting:
    classroom
    National/State Standards:
    The student will apply strategies and skills to comprehend, respond to, interpret, or evaluate a variety of texts of increasing length, difficulty, and complexity. The student will express, communicate, evaluate, or exchange ideas effectively.
    Keywords:
    metaphor, simile, allusion, allegory, short story, Literature, Eudora Welty, a worn path

    Overview

    "A Worn Path,” is a short story written by Eudora Welty in 1940. The story is set on the Natchez Trace and the town of Natchez, MS. The protagonist is Phoenix Jackson an elderly African-American woman who goes on a heroic quest to procure medicine for her ill grandson.  Students will read “A Worn Path,” complete a comprehension quiz, discuss the layers of metaphor, simile, allusion, and allegory utilized by Welty.

    Objective(s)

    .For the complete lesson plan, please email natr_education@nps.gov or call 1-800-305-7417. Please indicate whether or not you need an accessible lesson plan.
    Enduring Understanding: Authors do not always say what they mean and may use literary devices such as allegory, metaphor, simile, and allusions to add depth to their stories. 

    Essential Question: What is this author saying when she does not really say it? 

    Objectives: 1. The student will use word recognition and vocabulary (word meaning) skills to communicate.

    2. The student will apply strategies and skills to comprehend, respond to, interpret, or evaluate a variety of texts of increasing length, difficulty, and complexity.

    3. The student will express, communicate, evaluate, or exchange ideas effectively.

    4. The student will apply Standard English to communicate.

    Background

    Eudora Welty was a Mississippi author who was born and died in Jackson, MS. She wrote extensively about the Natchez Trace, living near the 'Old Trace' for most of her life. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Book Award, National Medal of Arts, and is a member of the French Legion of Honor, among many other awards. She claimed to have written "A Worn Path" after seeing a women walking down the Natchez Trace near Jackson. She imagined the life of the woman, where she might be going, and why. 

     "A Worn Path" is a story that is set on the old Natchez Trace and the southern Mississippi town of Natchez. The Natchez Trace is an ancient trail that served as a main artery for commerce, war, exploration, mail, lawlessness, and westward expansion. Many of the slaves imported to the cotton belt were marched down the Natchez Trace from the eastern plantations. It is inferred that Phoenix Jackson was emancipated by the civil war, settled near the Natchez Trace and uses it, as many did, as a country road to get to 'town,' in this case Natchez. The part of the trace that Phoenix is walking through is unique for the loess soil that eroded to many feet deep. She would have been surrounded by 500 year-old live oak trees covered in Spanish moss, long-leaf pine barrens, shallow bayous, and abandoned plantations. She is travelling to Natchez to a clinic to get medicine for her grandson who suffers from lye poisoning, a common ailment in those days in that part of the country. Children would mistakenly drink lye dissolved in water (a cleaning agent). The caustic liquid would destroy the lining of the esophagus, often leading to a slow and painful death from malnutrition. A physician of the day, Chevalier Jackson, fought congress to pass a law making lye manufacturers print a warning label on their product. It is possible that Welty named Phoenix Jackson after this man. Some interesting facts to discuss in class are:How do people refer to Phoenix? 'Grandma' was a term white skinned people used as a term of respect for dark-skinned old women. 'Aunt ___,' however was a term African-Americans used as a term of respect for elders. Does this mean the nurse at the clinic was African-American?

    Materials

    This lesson includes quizzes, discussion materials, and worksheets for A Worn Path by Eudora Welty.

    NOTE: The teacher will have to supply the story, as the story itself is not included here. A search on the internet may produce a copy of the story.

    Procedure

    Assessment

    Student quiz (see materials)

    Participation in class discussion

    Complete the metaphor/simile chart

    Short essay

    Park Connections

    The Natchez Trace is part of Pheonix's path.

    Extensions

    Satire: Youtube satires of A Worn Path

    Have pairs or groups of students make their own satire of A Worn Path.

    Have students film or act out a metaphor.

    Visit the Natchez Trace Parkway. Coordinate with a ranger to walk a section of the Natchez Trace. Imagine Phoenix Jackson's journey, read excerpts from the story, act out a skit, find sections of trail that look like you imagined from the story.

    Additional Resources

    See an interview with the author here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2fh37fzsOg

    More Resources:

    http://www.eudorawelty.org/

    Vocabulary

    metaphor, simile, allusion, allegory, pullets, Natchez Trace, phoenix, myth, lye, commemorate, loess soil

    1. For homework, read the short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty. Read specifically for imagery, what pictures does Welty draw? If you were an artist, what scenes from the story would you want to paint?

    2. Complete a classroom Quiz based on the reading.

    3. Participate in class discussion: Below are several pictures of the Natchez Trace taken around the time "A Worn Path" was written. Have the class imagine the scenes Welty describes, and then show the pictures. Does their imagination match the images? What's the same? What's different?

    4. Complete the metaphor/simile chart

    5. Write a short essay

    Step 1

    1. For homework, read the short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty. Read specifically for imagery, what pictures does Welty draw? If you were an artist, what scenes from the story would you want to paint? 2. Complete a classroom Quiz based on the reading. 3. Participate in class discussion: Below are several pictures of the Natchez Trace taken around the time "A Worn Path" was written. Have the class imagine the scenes Welty describes, and then show the pictures. Does their imagination match the images? What's the same? What's different? 4. Complete the metaphor/simile chart 5. Write a short essay

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