Symbolism to the Journey
Whether we are reading a poem or a short story, there is a story to be found within. The writer is able to capture readers with their use of rhythm, characterization, or a fairy tale setting, among many other things throughout their writing. It is imagination that allows us, the readers of these stories and poems, to be able to fill in the blanks or mentally visualize what the writer wants us to see through use of descriptive words or symbolism.
In the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, the short story “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty, and the short story “Used To Live Here Once” by Jean Rhys I noticed a common theme.
No matter what lonely journey we find ourselves on, we determine how the journey ends. The lonely journey that each of these literary pieces tells about is presented differently in each writing. In “The Road Not Taken”, Frost used “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” which told me that there was a forthcoming journey; he also used “and sorry I could not travel both” as a way to share that he had to make this decision of which path to take. Frost also used the word “I” many times, which allowed me to imagine him alone. In “A Worn Path”, Welty used the word “she” throughout the piece which gave me the image of this woman walking alone.
The character spoke to animals “’Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles’” and so forth. When the writer posed this conversation in the story, it gave me the feeling of loneliness. This woman was so lonely, she spoke to animals. The path that she was walking “ran up hill”. The idea that this path she was on was up a hill provided symbolism of a hard life. To me, walking up a hill would be hard work to get to the destination. Since the description of this woman had been of an aged woman, “her eyes blue with age” and her numberless branching wrinkles, it was a pity to find this woman walking alone up hill.
In “Used To Live Here Once”, Rhys, too, used the word “she” many times to describe the character in the story. The usage of a singular word painted the picture of loneliness. “She was standing by the river” and “She came to the worn stone steps”. This woman was in this journey alone. In each piece of literary writing being discussed in this paper, the loneliness throughout the journey is clear. However, the ending to the journeys vary because of the choices the characters make. We will address this further on into the paper. The setting of a story or poem is what draws the reader in.
I found myself reading “The Road Not Taken First”. The reason was that it starter out with almost a conflict of where the poem could take me. With the first line being “Two roads diverged in yellow wood”, I found myself wondering where the pathways would take me. As the poem began, I found it to be written in first person sine the writer used “I” as the main character term. Frost wrote “and be one traveler, long I stood”. This enabled me to actually step into the characters’, or the writer’s, shoes and see these pathways from his perspective.
I like being able to feel as if I am in the story. Frost wrote about one path that it he could see where it “bent in the undergrowth”. He went on that the other path “was grassy and wanted wear”. This painted a picture for me of actual woods, split into two pathways, both different most likely ending in a different place. In the back of my mind, I had an idea that these were symbolic of something much bigger. The symbolism within the poem “The Road Not Taken” was abundant. “Two roads diverged could be seen as two things, two jobs, two ideas, two of anything that one could choose between.
The word “yellow”, as used to describe the two roads in which Frost could choose is symbolic of aging or decay. To me, it seemed as if Frost could have been in a mid-life crisis, in which he felt old and needed change, and he had two new roads, of which the pathways and endings were unknown, to choose from. One path had been the one he was on, but did not know where it would end. The other road was grassy, seemingly vibrant, and the ending, too, was unknown. Frost referred to the both paths as “in leaves no step had trodden black”. In his description, the use of the word “black” shows symbolism of death.
It seemed as if Frost was analyzing his choices and was seeing that his alternative pathway, although it did look enticing, he wondered why no one else had come back if they had taken that path. He knew that either path would ultimately lead to death, as that was his fate. There came a turning point in the poem where Frost went from indecisiveness to having made up his mind of his choice. Instead of being in front of two paths “in a yellow wood” he ended the poem that he was in just “a wood” in which he had chosen to stay “on the first for another day”.
It appeared to me that his analysis of the paths he could choose from lead him to understand that the unknown is not as enticing as the known. According to John Savoie, the contradiction lies within the idea that both paths were “equally lay” but Frost chose to take the path of least resistance which indeed is arguable as there is “a lack of distinction between the roads”. (Savoie, 2004) His journey, although seemingly lonely, was determined by the decisions he made or would make. The second piece I read drew me in because the setting was not one of mystery, but instead it was one of pity. Used to Live Here Once” was the second piece I chose to read. The setting was one of sadness. I could visualize this woman “standing by the river” and “remembering each one”. It gave me the idea that she had been there long before but had forgotten the beauty of the river over time. Sad beginnings to literary pieces are not something that normally draws me in. However, the story grew more intriguing to me as the setting moved to her old home. When she noticed that “the screw pine was gone”, I still felt the pity and sadness for the character.
Since the writer chose to write in a third person perspective, it was difficult for me to actually identify with the character personally. Rhys wrote “it was strange to see a car standing in front of it”. The personification of this car “Standing” in front of her old house was difficult to be considered strange since it was not an actual feeling of the character but instead an observation by the writer. In fact, the idea that the writer was this close to the character made me think she was speaking of herself in third person.
Elizabeth Abel wrote a piece on Jean Rhys saying that Rhys’ writings typically subject us to “sparse and repetitive narratives” and “are variations of themes of failure and rejection. (Abel, 1979) This could be, perhaps, how the writer was able to make me feel as if, although told in third person, I was able to identify with her more closely. I was able to feel was the pity that the writer felt for the character through the words, such as when she spoke “shyly” to the kids but they did not hear her. This, too, solidifies the idea of Abel that Rhys wrote of perhaps herself in yet another rejected scenario.
It seemed as if the journey was lonely for this character. The words “she” tells me this and also the fact that the setting is very calm and serene but without emotion from the character. From beginning to end, Rhys used symbolism to allow me, the reader, to relate and perhaps dig deeper into the meaning of things. The character stood by the river, which is symbolic of life. She did not walk into the river, she stood by it. This is symbolic of the entire story itself, since in the end of the story we find that the woman was indeed already dead and looking back into her own life. This was a journey that the character took alone.
The character then walks down a road. This road is very symbolic to this story. The description is that the road is “much wider than it used to be”. This indeed tells me that the character took her life for granted. She had never truly taken the time to see the beauty in the things around her; this is why the road seems so much wider to her now that she has passed on. The day “was a fine blue day”. The color blue is used to tell the reader that it was a peaceful day. Rhys wrote on to tell us that the character noticed the pine tree was missing from outside of her own home, as her journey led her to her old doorstep.
This is symbolism of immortality. Her old house had been painted white, which provides the feeling of life or purity. The character’s observation of the boy and girl playing in the yard was one that I will never forget. The colors of the yellow grass as she approached them and the gray in the boy’s eyes as the character tried to speak to him. This is when I first realized that the character was indeed a ghost looking in on her old life. The usage of colors throughout “Used to Live Here Once” is what drew me into this story. At my initial read of this story, I just thought that the writer liked colors.
When linking these colors to symbolism, it gave me a much deeper perspective on what Rhys was trying to tell me, the reader. The lonely journey that this character was on was reflective of the lonely journey she lived when she was alive. It, once again, confirms that the decisions we make in life are what determine the ending of our journey. The last piece, “A Worn Path” had a setting that would draw in any reader who appreciates in-depth detail that, although in third persona narrative, makes you, the reader, feel as if you are standing there in the story along with the character.
The setting throughout this story is indeed a pathway through the woods. Welty started the story out with “a bright frozen day early in the morning”. I hate being cold, personally, but Welty’s initial setting description made me feel excited to see what would happen if I read on further about the events on the “frozen day”. According to journal writer, James Robert Sanders, “the story begins conspicuously on a cold December morning, and just as quickly we are made aware that there is an old black woman”. Suanders, 1992) Continuing my reading, I found the character, again noting the use of the singular “she” throughout the piece, to be “an old Negro woman” “along a path through the pinewoods”. Welty described this woman as “very old and small and she walked slowly”. The pity set in on me at this point to think that a lady of her age was walking alone in the woods. She carried a cane, “made from an umbrella”. The setting, although starting out in an exciting manor, had, at this point, turned more so into pitiful. She seemed destitute by this fact.
There she was, in the woods alone, using an umbrella to swat through the brush to ensure there were not any animals hiding along her pathway. When Welty wrote that “the sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look up at”, it brought me back to the excited feeling again. It was as if the story had gone from exciting to pitiful and fearful back to exciting again. I felt like Welty was trying to keep a positive spin on a negative situation. Continuing on with the reading, I found the character again in a battle, but this time with thorns from a bush.
Once she freed herself from the thorns, she said “sun so high” which again gave the offset to the negative event. Shortly after, the character was faced with a log that she must cross over a river. This woman could not catch a break on her journey but still she kept going with intent to succeed and make it to her destination. Within the story “A Worn Path”, the symbolism, the personification, and the tone are what made this story most appealing. The story, itself is interesting. However, when you add in the extra benefit of symbolism, the reader can get a more in-depth look and feel for what the writer is trying to make us feel.
This story, told in third person narrative, starts out on a “bright frozen” morning. This symbolism provided me with a feeling of hopefulness. Although it was frozen outside, it was bright. The character walked down a path. It seemed she only had one path to walk down. Her only choice was actually going down that path or not to. Her eyes were blue which gave me the feeling of peacefulness. Her face was described with golden color beneath her wrinkles and yellow color under her dark cheekbones. This symbolism gave me the idea that although she was aged and seemingly poor, she still possessed dignity and pride.
To describe the wrinkles on her face, Welty personified a little tree to be standing in the middle of the character’s forehead. Immediately, I was able to visualize this much better than I would have without this connection. The character continued on her path in the “sun” and cold, passing pine trees, thorns, and speaking to animals. The sun is symbolic of life. However, being winter outside, we know this by the use of the word “frozen” to describe the weather; we know that this is symbolic of death. I took this to mean that the character was dying but trying really hard to fight to stay alive.
Along her path, these hurdles, the thorns, the logs and creeks, the path being uphill, passing through a cotton field, the field of dead corn, her speaking to animals and imagining people along her journey in the woods, this is all part of the symbolism of things she was fighting to stay alive. It was her struggle. She began dancing with a scarecrow, something that is supposed to scare away birds, or in this case death, and here she was dancing with it. It just shows her eagerness to stay alive and fight off the negativity, the death.
Although she seems crazy throughout this journey, her own focus, the one thing that she stays sane in regard to, is life and her desire to stay alive. When the character started to walk through “trees silver in their dead leaves” it was certainly symbolic that death was shortly forthcoming. Just as I start to think she is about to die, she comes upon a spring and sweet gum and water. It was as if she was being given one more chance. She laid there on the ground and had a dream that “she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull”. This dream symbolized to me that God was not ready to take her, not just yet.
That is when the hunter found her. The hunter felt pity on her and I understand this because he says he would have given her money if he could. In town, she asked a lady to tie up her shoe for her before she reached her final destination. Her need to be presentable for her entrance into the medical building to get her grandson’s medicine shows that she still has class and self-respect. Her journey to the medical building, although alone and difficult, was made possible through the love for her grandson. Had she not made that trip, her grandson would have died. Each of these literary pieces was different by means of the nding to the journey in which the character had taken. “The Road Not Taken” was a solitary journey to make the decision of which path in life to take, the one we know or the one we do not know. “Used to Live Here Once” was another solitary journey of a life after it has already passed by; it was a lesson that we should not take for granted the things in life, although simple. “A Worn Path” was one more solitary journey, but this one taught a lesson that love can conquer all. Each journey I read for this paper has taught a value life lesson. The journeys we take are altered by the decisions we make along the way.