There are several different interpretations of A Worn Path, by Eudora Welty. Some believe that it is a story about life and death or about strength. While others believe it is about the love that a grandmother has for her grandchild. Although I am not completely opposed to the opinions of others, it is clearly a story that demonstrates a theme of racial inequality and the struggles African Americans had to endure to obtain freedom. The path itself is a symbol that makes it apparent that this is a story about racism.
There is also evidence in the appearance of the main character, Phoenix, a black woman who is wearing a red bandana, apron, and a striped dress. Lastly, the supporting characters in the story such as, the white hunter, the black children in Natchez, and the woman at the medical building also display signs of racial discrimination. Welty symbolically shows, through the determination of a black woman, that African Americans had to conquer numerous obstacles in order to complete the path to obtain freedom and racial equality.
The path itself and the challenges old Phoenix faces on her journey into town is used to create a picture of what slaves went through in the south when this story took place. The path represents the roads that they had to walk on to escape from their owners to gain freedom. They had to face many problems and hardships along the way, which Welty displays by creating obstacles Phoenix has to endure. At one point the old woman has to climb a massive hill, in which she describes her climb as feeling like there are chains at her ankles.
The fact that chains were used to describe her struggle up the hill is a clear indication that slaves were being referenced in this passage. There was also a part of the path that was described as “overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave” (267). This could be a description of the Underground Railroad, being cave-like. One last symbol in the path was the cotton field that Phoenix had passed by. When this story took place, it was primarily African Americans who worked in cotton fields.
Once again, a subtle reference to slavery that Welty uses. Phoenix Jackson’s appearance was another clear indication that race and racism are being portrayed. When we are introduced to the main character she is wearing a long apron and a striped dress that reaches her ankles. The apron suggests that she was previously working as some type of pheasant or slave. Her striped dress creates an image of her wearing a black and white prison uniform. Welty is referencing that she had escaped from a rison like atmosphere and is now starting out on her path to freedom. Phoenix is next described as wearing a “red rag” on her head and having untied shoelaces (265). These descriptions being used are a sign that she was not able to take care of herself physically, suggesting that she may have been a pheasant. The theme of black inequality continues throughout the story when Phoenix encounters certain characters, such as the white hunter, the children in Natchez, and the woman at the medical building.
At her first encounter she stumbles upon a white hunter. Phoenix is an old black woman and she didn’t receive any respect from the hunter. He even went as far as holding a gun to her head, which is extremely demeaning. Welty uses this hunter as a representation of how whites treated blacks. Other characters that do not appear to have a significant role in the story, but actually display racial discrimination, are the black children in the town of Natchez.
As Phoenix concludes her journey on the path and makes her way into town, she notices “dozens of black children whirling” and hears “bells ringing” (269). These kids are an indication of the slaves that had already escaped and were celebrating their new found freedom. As Phoenix continues on her journey through town, she reaches the medical building, where she is not pleasantly welcomed by one of the attendants. As Phoenix enters the building, the attendant speaks about her saying, “a charity case, I suppose” and impolitely calls her “granny” (269).
Once again, Welty uses characters to show the disrespect blacks received from white people in that era. The short story, “A Worn Path,” represents through symbolism the obstacles that African Americans had to face on their path to freedom and racial equality. Throughout the story there are many references to race and racism, with some symbols being obvious and others being more subtle. Eudora Welty was one of the few writers of her time who were not afraid to show the hidden side of racial inequality in America.