The story “The Worn Path,” written by Eudora Welty, it took place back in the 1940’s. The story begins with a Negro woman Phoenix Jackson’s journey to town. Welty gives very descriptive images of Phoenix. Welty writes “Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead….” (Welty 1) The description of Phoenix’s facial features lead one to say that she is an old woman. Welty describes the weather as cold with frozen ground during December (Welty 1) Throughout the story, Phoenix encounters different people, some real and some fictional. Phoenix is an uneducated Negro woman in the early 1940’s. Many people can imagine the life of many Negroes during that time. In “The Worn Path” Phoenix is characterized as a second class citizen because of her clothing, diction, and enthusiasm for money.
First, Phoenix Jackson’s clothing would say to others that she does not have much money to make herself look presentable.The story begins with Phoenix on a journey into town. It is known that when Negroes would go into town, they would wear their Sunday’s best. According to Welty, Phoenix wore a red rag tied to her head (Welty 1). One could believe that Phoenix had little or no money. Another example in the story was that Phoenix wore a long bleached sugar sack apron with unlaced shoes (Welty 1). A sugar sack is a vintage sack that was used to hold large amounts of sugar back in the day. Phoenix recycled the bleached sack and it turned it into an apron. Phoenix’s appearance was characterized as penniless.
Second, Phoenix Jackson diction characterized her as a second class citizen. When Phoenix began to talk in a dialect; people recognized she was a Negro Slave. During the time after the war, it was easy to point out the people who were once slaves. For example, “See like there is chains about my feet,time I get this far” (Welty 1). Prior to that statement, Phoenix was starting to walk up a hill. Aside from her diction, Phoenix symbolized the hills as chains, but it could also have symbolized slavery. Phoenix encountered a man putting a gun in her face. He asked her “doesn’t the gun scare you?” Phoenix replied “No Sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done” (Welty 3). Prior to pointing the gun in her face, they have spoken for a little while. Just by the way Phoenix spoke to him; he felt like nobody would miss a poor slave like her. If it was not her strong courage to confront him, she might be dead at the end of the story. During slavery, many slaves were killed in front of their fellow Negroes, just so they can feel intimated at the end of the day or week. With their Masters’ intimidating tactics, it was impossible for Phoenix to decide not to educate herself. Phoenix stated “I never did go to school- I was too old at the surrender, I am an old woman without an education” (Welty 7) Whites would classify Phoenix as a person of second class citizen because during those times the poor slaves were not educated enough, and their dialects would always resemble a slave talk.
Finally, Phoenix Jackson enthusiasm for money showed her that she had to fight hard for it and it did not fall from the sky. Phoenix’s appearance with rag and sugar sack apron reflected an appearance of careless and poor woman. Poverty was another word for bankruptcy in the story. Phoenix also met another man in the woods with a gun. While he talked to Phoenix; he dropped something in the grass. Welty wrote, “Phoenix’s face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fell off of the man’s pocket into the ground.” (Welty 4). Phoenix picked the money quickly and put it into her pocket. Once Phoenix made it to her destination at the doctor’s office, the attendant offered Phoenix a few pennies too. Phoenix replied “Five pennies is a nickel” (Welty 7). Then the attendant gave Phoenix a nickel. Phoenix was very happy after the doctor visit because she had collected ten cents total at the end of the doctor visit. Slaves never had money, so her excitement for money was related to freedom. In the story, money had the same idea than the one we have in the real world; it had the meaning of financial freedom and success.
As you can see, in “The Worn Path,” Welty delivered a story of what a Negro woman went through or struggled back in 1940’s. Phoenix led readers to believe that she was somewhat delusional. Phoenix used analogy to characterize the crooks as animals. Phoenix danced with a scarecrow that she thought it was a ghost. Phoenix was a woman that had learned many survival skills. She was not fooled by many people; yet, she was a tough woman to deal with. Phoenix had courage and pride that kept her from seeing what everyone else saw on her era. Her low appearance, diction, and lack of money did not stop her from pursuing her story of happiness. A second class citizen like her was classified as someone who did not meet the classification of somebody with class and money.
Welty, Eudora. A Worn Path. 2001. 11/16/2010.