“A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty: Analysis

Subject: Literature
Pages: 6
Words: 1572
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: School

Introduction

Despite decades of social progress and the continuous dialogue on the subject matter, racism remains a tragic yet inalienable part of American reality. Indeed, instances of racism as the notion that has been institutionalized and virtually become ubiquitous in the American social context has trickled into every single environment and instance of cross-cultural interactions, shaping people’s attitudes toward each other and creating inherent biases (Welty).

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However, the current situation is nowhere near the challenges that African American people had to face in the middle of the 20th century, when racial segregation was a part of the state policy and when African American people had no legal recourse for support. In her story “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty provides a subtle and heartfelt depiction of an old African American woman trying to find medicine for her grandson by traveling to a neighborhood town despite the instances of horrible racism and atrocious attitudes that White people display toward her. By combining the innocence of its protagonist with the harsh and hostile environment of the novel, Welty creates a deeply sympathetic character, while also establishing the plight for equality and the acknowledgement of African American people’s dignity straightforwardly and unapologetically.

Biography

Known primarily as a novelist and a photographer, Eudora Welty was an acclaimed and prolific writer. Her novels brought her not only instant success and appreciation among the U.S. population, but also multiple awards, among which the Pulitzer Prize was a major accomplishment (“Eudora Welty”). Having spent a significant portion of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, Welty witnessed the complexity of the socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural situation of the specified era closely (“Eudora Welty”). As a result, Welty developed strong aversion to the idea of racism and inequality in any form, as her short story clearly shows: “l. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation” (Welty).

Analysis

Although Welty wrote multiple novels during her career as a writer, “A Worn Path,” which might seem as less notable among the rest, including the one that warranted the Pulitzer Prize, “A Worn Path” could be regarded as the story that represents the nature of Welty’s writing best. “A Worn Path” keeps its focus on the main plot device, namely, the disease of the grandson and the need for medicine, very closely to keep the main character’s motivations very simple and, thus, place the main theme of the novel at the forefront while keeping the lead as relatable as possible.

Themes

To emphasize the dehumanizing and utterly despicable nature and main premise of racism, Welty also introduces the theme of age and the challenges of keeping up with the world that accompany it. The fragility and delicate nature of the lead character’s health becomes apparent from the very first paragraph: “she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock” (Welty).

Apart from making Phoenix even more relatable and her journey all the more personal to the reader, the emphasize on the character’s age helps to outline the absence of humanity and any semblance of sympathy that racism carries. Specifically, despite being old and frail, Phoenix faces complete lack of empathy, having to deal with disdain and mockery from younger people: “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!” (Welty).

The inhumane treatment to which Phoenix is subjected throughout her journey indicates that the town citizens do not see her as a person; in fact, they tend to turn a blind eye to her, which is even more humiliating and unjust than perceiving themselves as being above her. While both stances are demeaning and must not be condoned in a healthy society, the idea of ignoring an individual entirely suggests erasing the said individual’s experiences, her pain and struggle, her plight, and, ultimately, her entire existence. Therefore, envisioning Phoenix as a nuisance rather than a human being, the residents of the two engage in the act of ultimate racism, demonstrating its ugly nature and showing explicitly why it must not be condoned on any account.

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However, even when being noticed, Phoenix is rarely treated as a human being; in fact, the attitude that the people across whom she comes range from condescension to disdain. In fact, even when they are trying to appear as friendly, Phoenix still manages to discover their sinister nature: “But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skin shone like a bright net” (Welty).

Phoenix discovering the true nature of townspeople could be interpreted in two ways since Welty leaves the specified part of the narration open to the reader’s imagination. Namely, it could be seen as either the townspeople’s feelings toward African American people so rooted in racism that they are incapable of concealing their attitudes even for a moment, or as Phoenix having faced the multiple threats that accompany racism so many times that her fear of possible violence and the ability of sensing danger have been heightened tremendously.

Welty and Faulkner

Comparing Welty’s writing to some of her contemporaries, one will notice a significant amount of subtlety that makes Welty’s work significantly ahead of its time. Although the moral of “A Worn Path,” particularly, condemnation of the atrocities of racism, is evident in the first lines of the story, the novel still keeps its message significantly more covert and offers the readers make their own conclusions, especially compared to other well-known writers of the time, such as William Faulkner. In one of his most famous stories, “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner uses similar techniques to create the Old South setting and restore the atmosphere of the Old South environment so that the reader could be immediately transported to the specified context.

Remarkably, the stiles of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty were evidently different, yet the environments that they created turned out to bear quite a lot of similarities. For instance, Faulkner’s trademark irony is nowhere to be seen in Welty’s “A Worn Path,” which is quite understandable given the difference in the messages and the genres. Namely, Welty seeks to expose social injustice through an honest and uncompromising portrayal of racism in American society, which excludes the use of irony: “You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix” (Welty).

Faulkner, on the contrary, seeks to expose the problems within American society, as well as the faults of the human nature, in general, by introducing a satirical perspective on the discussed issues: “See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner). As a result, the approaches that Faulkner and Welty use appear to be entirely incompatible.

However, upon further consideration of “A Rose for Emily” and “A Worth Path,” one will start noticing slight parallels between the two styles. Specifically, the portrayal of the South at the time of the Great Depression is brutally honest in both short stories, even though Faulkner and Welty choose different ways of pointing it out. Namely, in Welty’s story, the problem of poverty, despair, and devastation that the Great Depression has entailed, is represented in hints scattered across the novel.

For instance, in her daydreaming, Phoenix daydreams of a delicious meal: “She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. ‘That would be acceptable,’ she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air” (Welty). The detailed portrayal of the dream emphasizes the tragedy of the situation and the challenges that the protagonist has been facing on her way to the town.

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In turn, Faulkner is much more blatant and personal in his depiction of the Great Depression and its effects: “they could see that the leather was cracked; and when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray. On a tarnished gilt easel before the fireplace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father” (Faulkner). Therefore, the pressure of the socioeconomic circumstances becomes more apparent, while also being tied to the personal struggle of the character closer. In turn, in Welty’s narrative, the socioeconomic factors have the full power over the characters, thus, rendering them powerless, adding to the pathos of the story.

Conclusion

Due to the combination of Phoenix’s innocence and noble cause and the harsh circumstances that she has to face, “A Worn Path” is particularly special in Eudora Welty’s overall body of work. Having lived a rather complex life herself, Welty tended to portray the characters that faced consistent social pressure, which culminates in “A Worn Path” and its focus on the persistence of racism within the U.S. community. Although the atmosphere of the old south that Welty created in her stories was not quite revolutionary, being present in the works of other writers such as Faulkner, her passion for justice made her writing vital for the U.S. community and her voice prominent among other authors.

Thus, despite carrying a distinctively pessimistic tone, “A Worn Path” introduces an incentive for change to the U.S. community, pointing to the nature of racism, the tremendous and atrocious injustice that lies at its core, and the importance of reconciliation and the acknowledgement of the need for justice and equality.

Works Cited

“Eudora Welty.” Mississippi History Now, MSHistoryNow.MDAH.MS. Web.

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.XRoads.virginia. 1930. Web.

Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path.” The Atlantic, 1941. Web.