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Week 2 – Discussion 1

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Your initial discussion thread is due on Day 3 (Thursday) and you have until Day 7 (Monday) to respond to your classmates. Your grade will reflect both the quality of your initial post and the depth of your responses. Refer to the Discussion Forum Grading Rubric under the Settings icon above for guidance on how your discussion will be evaluated.

Literary Techniques and Their Connection to Conflict in Literature [WLOs: 1, 2] [CLOs: 1, 2, 3]Prepare Icon

Prepare: Prior to beginning work on this discussion, review the Types of Conflict Found in Literature document, read Chapters 4 through 6 of Journey into Literature, choose a story from the textbook, and review the List of Literary Techniques (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. For additional assistance, review the Evaluating Sources (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. tutorial, the Scholarly and Popular Sources (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. video.

Reflect Icon

Reflect: All stories have a theme that forms the plot. Also, literary elements and techniques contribute to creating and highlighting the theme. Reflect on the theme and literary elements and techniques in “Piropo” by Leticia del Toro in Chapter 5 of your textbook.

Write IconWrite: For this discussion,

Your initial post should be at least 200 words in length. The minimum word count does not include references.

Discuss IconGuided Response: Respond to at least two of your classmates’ initial posts. Each response should be at least 75 words in length and should address two or more of the following points:

  • Do you agree with your classmates’ perspectives? Why, or why not? Be specific.
  • Ask a specific question to encourage further discussion on the topic.
  • Challenge your classmates’ interpretation of literature and/or point of view.
  • Do a small amount of research and share what you learn with your peers about the topic discussed in this post.
A Worn Path (1941)


3It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was anold Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pine-woods.Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the darkpine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness andlightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from anumbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave andpersistent noise in the still air that seemed meditative, like the chirping of a solitary little bird.

She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron ofbleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step shemight have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straightahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branchingwrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden colorran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under thedark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, andwith an odor like copper.

Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all youfoxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals! . . . Keep out from under these feet,little bob-whites . . . Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come runningmy direction. I got a long way.” Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggywhip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.

On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright tolook at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollowwas the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.

4The path ran up a hill. “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” she said, in thevoice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. “Something always take a hold of meon this hill—pleads I should stay.”

After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come.”Up through pines,” she said at length. “Now down through oaks.” Her eyes opened their widest,and she started down gently. But before she got to the bottom of the hill a bush caught her dress.

Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pullthem free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear.”I in the thorny bush,” she said. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folkspass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.” Finally, trembling all over, shestood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.

“Sun so high!” she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes. “Thetime getting all gone here.”

At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.

“Now comes the trial,” said Phoenix.

Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling hercane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Thenshe opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.

5“I wasn’t as old as I thought,” she said.

But she sat down to rest. She spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands overher knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe.

6She 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 itthere was just her own hand in the air.

So she left that tree, and had to go through a barbed-wire fence. There she had to creep and crawl,spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps. But she talkedloudly to herself: she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not payfor having her arm or her leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was.

7At last she was safe through the fence and risen up out in the clearing. Big dead trees, like blackmen with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field. There sat abuzzard.

“Who you watching?”

In the furrow she made her way along.

“Glad this not the season for bulls,” she said, looking sideways, “and the good Lord made hissnakes to curl up and sleep in the winter. A pleasure I don’t see no two-headed snake comingaround that tree, where it come once. It took a while to get by him, back in the summer.”

She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook andwas taller than her head. “Through the maze now,” she said, for there was no path.

Then there was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her.

8At first she took it for a man. It could have been a man dancing in the field. But she stood still andlistened, and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.

“Ghost,” she said sharply, “who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by.”

But there was no answer—only the ragged dancing in the wind.

She shut her eyes, reached out her hand, and touched a sleeve. She found a coat and inside that anemptiness, cold as ice.

9“You scarecrow,” she said. Her face lighted. “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said withlaughter. “My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know. Dance, old scarecrow,”she said, “while I dancing with you.”

She kicked her foot over the furrow, and with mouth drawn down, shook her head once or twicein a little strutting way. Some husks blew down and whirled in streamers about her skirts.

Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field.At last she came to the end, to a wagon track where the silver grass blew between the red ruts.The quail were walking around like pullets, seeming all dainty and unseen

10“Walk pretty,” she said. “This the easy place. This the easy going.”

She followed the track, swaying through the quiet bare fields, through the little strings of treessilver in their dead leaves, past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boardedshut, all like old women under a spell sitting there. “I walking in their sleep,” she said, noddingher head vigorously.

11In a ravine she went where a spring was silently flowing through a hollow log. Old Phoenix bentand drank. “Sweet-gum makes the water sweet,” she said, and drank more. “Nobody know whomade this well, for it was here when I was born.”

The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. “Sleepon, alligators, and blow your bubbles.” Then the track went into the road. Deep, deep the roadwent down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live oaks met, and it was as darkas a cave.

A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, andnot ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in theditch, like a little puff of milkweed.

Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, butnothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. “Oldwoman,” she said to herself, “that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and nowthere he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”

A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.”Well, Granny!” he laughed. “What are you doing there?”

“Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, mister,” she said, reaching up herhand.

He lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down. “Anything broken, Granny?”

“No sir, them old dead weeds is springy enough,” said Phoenix, when she had got her breath. “Ithank you for your trouble.”

“Where do you live, Granny?” he asked, while the two dogs were growling at each other.

“Away back yonder, sir, behind the ridge. You can’t even see it from here.”

“On your way home?”

“No sir, I going to town.”

12“Why, that’s too far! That’s as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for mytrouble.” He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was oneof the bobwhites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. “Now you go on home,Granny!”

“I bound to go to town, mister,” said Phoenix. “The time come around.”

He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’tmiss going to town to see Santa Claus!”

But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce anddifferent radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out ofthe man’s pocket onto the ground.

“How old are you, Granny?” he was saying.

“There is no telling, mister,” she said, “no telling.”

Then she gave a little cry and clapped her hands and said, “Git on away from here, dog! Look!Look at that dog!” She laughed as if in admiration. “He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big blackdog.” She whispered, “Sic him!”

“Watch me get rid of that cur,” said the man. “Sic him, Pete! Sic him!”

Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even hearda gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lidsstretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almostto her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers sliddown and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have inlifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and thenickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved.

“God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing.”

The man came back, and his own dog panted about them. “Well, I scared him off that time,” hesaid, and then he laughed and lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix.

She stood straight and faced him.

“Doesn’t the gun scare you?” he said, still pointing it.

“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” she said,holding utterly still.

He smiled, and shouldered the gun. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old,and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my adviceand stay home, and nothing will happen to you.”

“I bound to go on my way, mister,” said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then theywent in different directions, but she could hear the gun shooting again and again over the hill.

13She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains. Then she smelledwood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps.Dozens of little black children whirled around her. There ahead was Natchez shining. Bells wereringing. She walked on.

In the paved city it was Christmas time. There were red and green electric lights strung andcrisscrossed everywhere, and all turned on in the daytime. Old Phoenix would have been lost ifshe had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where.

She paused quietly on the sidewalk where people were passing by. A lady came along in thecrowd, carrying an armful of red-, green- and silver-wrapped presents; she gave off perfume likethe red roses in hot summer, and Phoenix stopped her.

“Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?” She held up her foot.

“What do you want, Grandma?”

14“See my shoe,” said Phoenix. “Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn’t look right to go in abig building.”

“Stand still then, Grandma,” said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside herand laced and tied both shoes tightly.

“Can’t lace ’em with a cane,” said Phoenix. “Thank you, missy. I doesn’t mind asking a nice ladyto tie up my shoe, when I gets out on the street.”

Moving slowly and from side to side, she went into the big building, and into a tower of steps,where she walked up and around and around until her feet knew to stop.

She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stampedwith the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up inher head.

“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body. “A charity case, Isuppose,” said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.

But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skinshone like a bright net.

“Speak up, Grandma,” the woman said. “What’s your name? We must have your history, youknow. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?”

Old Phoenix only gave a twitch to her face as if a fly were bothering her. ”

Are you deaf?” cried the attendant.

But then the nurse came in.

“Oh, that’s just old Aunt Phoenix,” she said. “She doesn’t come for herself—she has a littlegrandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the OldNatchez Trace.” She bent down. “Well, Aunt Phoenix, why don’t you just take a seat? We won’tkeep you standing after your long trip.” She pointed.

The old woman sat down, bolt upright in the chair.

“Now, how is the boy?” asked the nurse.

Old Phoenix did not speak.

“I said, how is the boy?”

But Phoenix only waited and stared straight ahead, her face very solemn and withdrawn intorigidity.

“Is his throat any better?” asked the nurse. “Aunt Phoenix, don’t you hear me? Is your grandson’sthroat any better since the last time you came for the medicine?”

” With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if shewere in armor.

“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly aboutyour grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’

At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.

“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”

“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”

Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened inthe night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’man old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just thesame, and I forgot it in the coming.”

“Throat never heals, does it?” said the nurse, speaking in a loud, sure voice to old Phoenix. Bynow she had a card with something written on it, a little list. “Yes. Swallowed lye. When was it?—January—two, three years ago—”

Phoenix spoke unasked now. “No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while histhroat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able tohelp himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing medicine.”

“All right. The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it,” said the nurse. “Butit’s an obstinate case.”

“My little grandson, he sit up there in the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself,” Phoenixwent on. “We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don’t seem to put him back at all.He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouthopen like a little bird. I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the wholeenduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.”

“All right.” The nurse was trying to hush her now. She brought her a bottle of medicine.”Charity,” she said, making a check mark in a book.

Old Phoenix held the bottle close to her eyes, and then carefully put it into her pocket.

“I thank you,” she said.

15“It’s Christmas time, Grandma,” said the attendant. “Could I give you a few pennies out of mypurse?”

“Five pennies is a nickel,” said Phoenix stiffly.

“Here’s a nickel,” said the attendant.

Phoenix rose carefully and held out her hand. She received the nickel and then fished the othernickel out of her pocket and laid it beside the new one. She stared at her palm closely, with herhead on one side.

Then she gave a tap with her cane on the floor.

16“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmillthey sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world.I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”

She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor’s office.Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.

“A Worn Path” from A Curtain of Green and Other Stories by Eudora Welty. Copyright © 1941 and renewed 1969 byEudora Welty. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Questions for Analysis

Exploring Theme and Symbols

  1. What values are important to Phoenix? To those she encounters? How are symbols used toemphasize personal values in this story?
  2. How are symbols used to effect a seemingly paradoxical setting?
  3. Do you notice a trend in the meanings of the symbols used? How do these symbols suggesta theme?
  4. There are several references to race in the story. How do these references and the actions inthe story suggest that it might have themes related to race?
  5. Consider the role of setting. How does the setting also contribute to theme? For example,remember that Phoenix must walk, in her old age, through the woods in a rural area. Whatdoes this tell us about her social class?

Professor’s Notes: Setting in “A Worn Path”

Heather Auger, Instructor of English at Ashford University,discusses the multifaceted role of a story’s setting using theexample of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path.”

Critical-Thinking Questions
  • Do you agree that the setting of a story can be defined asmore than just where the story takes place? Why or whynot?
  • In “A Worn Path,” how do the woods that Phoenix walksthrough take on an important and active role in the story?


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