Ordeal of Devotion
In A Worn Path by Eudora Welty an elderly African American woman named Phoenix Jackson picks a cold December day to make yet another perilous journey to a near by city to get medicine for her ailing grandson. On the way this ninety-year-old woman faces many obstacles, both natural and man-made. Phoenix draws upon her perseverance and willingness to sacrifice herself to help her throughout her journey, but it is the undying love for her grandson that truly guides and drives her to her final goal.
Phoenix Jackson has a seemingly inexhaustible amount of determination. From the moment that she sets out on her trek, she must fight all the challenges that nature has made for her. From the very beginning there is the threat of attack by wild animals and Phoenix shouts out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals! undauntingly challenging them. Phoenix is a very old woman whose aged, fragile body isnt suited to make such a long journey. At one point when she is climbing up a hill, she states that it seems like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far. And yet she still trudges onward, stopping only once for a short break. On the way down the hill she gets caught in a bush, its thorns tearing at her finest dress. I in a thorny bush, she exclaims. But she doesnt give up; she stands there untangling herself from the bush, her fingers busy and intent. After she has overcome this obstacle she faces yet another trial. Across Phoenixs path lies a creek and across the creek lies a log, which substitutes as a bridge. It is hard enough for Phoenix to walk on flat and stable ground, so walking across the log is a dangerous challenge for her. Even though there is a large threat of her falling and badly hurting herself, she mounted the log and shut her eyes and crosses to the other side. Next she comes across a barbwire fence, and once again without showing any signs of fear she fords ahead crossing that too. Phoenix travels a good portion of the day facing many physical challenges that test her stamina, but the real trials are the physiological ones that she faces as she encounters people along her journey.
The first person that she meets is a hunter. In the beginning he seems like a benevolent character because he lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down, helping her out of the ditch that a dog had pushed her into. He even inquires anything broken, Granny? and goes on to ask her where she lives. But then his manner turns unfriendly. Why, thats too far now you go on home, Granny! he exclaims when he learns where Old Phoenix is headed. He even starts to belittle her, trying to insinuate that his race is superior to hers. I know you old colored people! Wouldnt miss going to town to see Santa Claus! he says implying that Phoenix would make such a long and arduous trip to satisfy a mere childish whim. The hunter even turns hostile pointing a gun at Phoenix just to see her reaction. Doesnt the gun scare you? he asks. No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer, in my day, she replies calmly and respectfully. The hunter sees the courage that emanates from her and decides to leave her alone.
Another quality that Phoenix possesses that helps her make her journey is a deep sense of self-sacrifice. This sense of self-sacrifice gives her the ability to risk getting hurt or even killed in order to get what her grandson needs. This sense of self sacrifice is present throughout the story for the journey itself is a constant battle where Phoenix gives up her comfort and security to go into a strange and hostile environment for the medicine. Such a hostile environment is the city. As Phoenix says herself, she is an old woman without an education, who has probably lived in the country all of her life. The city is a foreign and intimidating place to her, but she ventures in for the sake of her grandson.
Phoenix Jackson draws upon her immense love for her ailing grandson to produce perseverance, resourcefulness and willingness to live that otherwise would never be there. The greatest example of this comes at the end of the story, when Phoenix has reached the doctors office. At this point Phoenix has been challenged physically, emotionally and physiologically and she is worn out. She is on the brink of collapse when she reaches the doctors office and the only thought that fills her mind is that she has made it. So, when the attendant in the doctors office asks her why she has come, Phoenix completely blanks out. She has been pushing herself so hard for so long that she no longer remembers why she must get to the city, but only that she must somehow make her way to the doctors office. Even when a nurse, who knows Phoenix, comes in and reminds her of her grandson, Phoenix doesnt remember. Only when the nurse cold-heartedly says, he isnt dead is he? does Phoenix remember.
The story ends with Phoenix going out to a store to buy her grandson a toy with the money that she has acquired during the journey. She doesnt even think for a second to go and buy herself something to eat something to sustain her on the long and cold walk home. Her love and devotion support her and give her an endless source of almost supernatural strength. The strength that she radiates toward her grandson, the strength that nourishes his life.