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Subtle Tones of Racism in “a Worn Path”

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Subtle Tones of Racism in “A Worn Path”
Eudora Welty’s short story titled “A Worn Path” is a glimpse into the past and the double standard that African American’s suffered during the time. Phoenix is a poor, uneducated woman from the country whose strong moral fiber will not allow her age, rampant racism or her obvious poverty to deter her from her goal of making it to town. She must make it through the many obstacles of the wilderness including the forest, swamp, and unmarked corn fields with only an umbrella repurposed as a cane. When she does encounter another soul along the way she is threatened with a gun and fighting dogs. Finally arriving to her destination she is treated like an annoyance rather than a human being.
Upon starting her journey, Phoenix Jackson is described as “an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag” (Welty 464). She is wearing what are obviously repurposed materials that she had made into a dress and apron, but she takes care not to snag or tear the clothing on the various thorns along her journey, a trait of the colored elderly of the time as she knew it would be hard to come by more materials. Phoenix has an old umbrella she uses as a cane both for protection and for help seeing what is ahead of her as her vision was not what it was. “Her eyes were blue with age” (Welty 464). Phoenix knows that if she did not complete this journey her grandson would suffer as there is no one to deliver or pick up the much needed medicine. If she was white and wealthy she would not have this hardship as someone would be there to help her.
Phoenix is accosted by a large black dog that puts her on her back in a ditch. After a while it is a white male hunter that comes along and helps her. This could be interpreted as racism if seen as a black woman can only be rescued by a white savior. Although savior may not be the correct word as he shoves the gun in her face, a situation that never would have occurred had she been a white woman. She faces the disrespect head on when she says “No, sir, I seen plenty go off closure by, in my day, and for less than what I done” (Welty 467). She had done nothing in this instance other than fall into a ditch and needed a white man’s help to get out. The man allows her to go about her way but does not offer his assistance or protection along the way.
Finally she completes her journey and makes it town. She must ask a white woman to help her tie her shoes as she cannot do it on her own. “Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?”(Welty 467). She struggles up the many steps to the hospital where the attendant was annoyed by her mere presence. “A charity case, I suppose.” (Welty 468). Had Phoenix been a white woman, the attendant would have been respectful and helpful. Even the nurse who was nice to Phoenix offered her some money for the holidays when she said “could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?” (Welty 469) knowing from her experiences with Phoenix in the past that she was in need of help even if she would not ask for herself.
No obstacle was too great for Phoenix to overcome to help her sickly grandson. She didn’t let her age nor her race keep her from her journey. She wasn’t even give the common curtesy of her being called by her name, everyone she meet along her journey simply called her “Granny or Grandma”. During these times if anyone had meet an elderly white woman attempting to complete the same humbling feat they would have stopped and helped without a second thought. Phoenix’s ability and determination show just how strong the black community had to fight for basic rights and needs.

Works Citied

Welty, Eudora, “A Worn Path” (464 – 469) Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, Ninth Edition, Laurie G. Kirszner, Stephen R. Mandell. USA 2015. Print

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