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The theme of a literary work is essentially the central message, idea, or concept of the story. To identify a storys theme its necessary to look beyond the plot (Clugston, 2010, Sec. 7.1). Literary elements such as point of view, tone, setting, character, and symbolism contribute to the theme of a story. This paper will describe the theme of A Worn Path written by Eudora Welty and how the setting, main character and symbolism in the story contribute to the theme.
Determination and perseverance are the theme of A Worn Path. Eudora Welty successfully used the setting, development of the main character, and symbolism to shape the theme of this very touching short story. In spite of the many obstacles faced by the main character, her determination shined throughout the entire story.
The setting of A Worn Path is a familiar path to the main character in a rural area of the south. It is a cold day in December. The author speaks of the main character's recognition of specific places in the path; this lets the reader know it is familiar. The description of trees, bushes, and animals allows the reader to imagine a forest like setting. The reader knows the story takes place in December because, the author illustrates that the ground is frozen and Santa Clause is also mentioned. A medical office in the town is the setting of the journey's end (Clugston, 2010, 6.3). The determination of the main character is essential to her survival in this setting.
Phoenix Jackson is the main character of A Worn Path. "Phoenix Jackson is a very old woman who walks from the Old Natchez Trace into Natchez at Christmas time to get medicine for her grandson" (Bartel, 1977, p. 288). The author describes Phoenix as "an old Negro woman" with "eyes blue with age". The author also speaks of wrinkles on Phoenix's face indicating her age. Phoenix's shoes were untied and she used a cane to aid her in her journey. She wore an "apron of bleached sugar sacks" that indicated she was poor. Phoenix Jackson's resilience is proven as she conquers many obstacles on her journey in spite of her age and lack of eyesight.
The use of symbolism is important to the recognition of the theme of this short story. The most evident use of symbolism in this story lies in the name of the main character, Phoenix Jackson. The reliance of this character is symbolized with the name of a mythological bird that rises from the ashes. The "red rag" on her head and the use of golden and yellow to describe her face represent the colors of the phoenix. A line in the story speaks of how Phoenix talks to the sun: "Sun so high! she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes" (Clugston, 2010, Sec. 6.3). The tears of the phoenix are said to have healing powers. This represents Phoenix's need for healing as well as her grandson's, whom she has made this journey for. This woman was driven to make her destination in order to get medication for her grandson.
The central idea of A Worn Path by Eudora Welty is determination and perseverance. The setting of this story could be a difficult journey for anyone, but especially someone of Phoenix's age. This, coupled with the disabilities she has, obstacles she must face, and the derision she endures, all demonstrate that her character is certainly one to persevere.
The power of love could also be considered a theme for this moving story. The love Phoenix Jackson had for her grandson prompted the journey in which she would prove her resilience. And even after all she had endured; she chose to spend what little money she had gained on her journey on a toy for her grandson. She never once took thought for her own safety or well-being, only the life and happiness of her grandchild. In the end, it seemed to be this very love that kept her going.
Overall, this was a very inspiring and touching story to read. It certainly paints a vivid picture as the story unfolds and plucks at the heart strings all the while. The setting and the development of the main character both contribute heavily to the theme in this piece. And the use of symbolism in this story only serves to enrich it all the more.