Last Updated 23 Mar 2020

The Motivation of Love in “a Worn Path” by Eudora Welty

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Love is a very powerful and compelling feeling. It may lead people to act in ways that they never have before and to move people to overcome and accomplish tasks that would otherwise seem impossible. Sophocles once stated, “One word frees us all of the weight and pain of life: That word is love. ” This statement is the underlying factor that motivates the main character in Eudora Welty’s short story, “A Worn Path. ” The story portrays an elderly woman’s journey to the city during a frozen day in December to obtain medicine for her grandson’s chronically sore throat.

Welty uses strong symbolism throughout the story to depict just how influential love can be. From the beginning, Welty reiterates the fact that Phoenix, the elderly grandmother, is very old and poor. Phoenix is very small and fragile, walks very slowly and uses a thin cane while striving not to fall with every step she takes, has an apron made of sugar sacks, and many wrinkles embedded on her face. Welty also hints to the reader that the grandmother has very weak eyesight, possibly cataracts disease.

Phoenix even mistakes a scarecrow for a man dancing in the field and laughs while saying, “‘My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know…’” (802). After presented with these facts, one may be skeptical of Phoenix completing even half of the journey since elderly people are usually associated with words like slow, weak, and inactive. Phoenix, however, contradicts the accepted image of a typical grandmother. Instead, Phoenix’s characteristics consist of being active, strong, and full of desire. The only motivating factor that ignites these characteristics in her is the love for her grandson.

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She has the mindset that she will endure any obstacle in order to obtain medicine just so her grandson can live with the least pain possible. As she finally begins her journey, Phoenix experiences many obstacles that force her to show her inner strength. Every stage of Phoenix’s journey is difficult. Welty shows strong symbolism through each obstacle presented before the grandmother. The name “Phoenix” also describes a bird that is fabled to live up to 500 years old only to burn itself and rise again from its ashes in freshness of youth. This symbol may represent a new hope or an emblem of being restored after great uffering, just like the grandmother is renewed with new hope and motivation after completing each obstacle. Right away as the path turns into a hill, Phoenix is setback. She says, “‘Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far. Something always takes a hold of me on this hill – pleads I should stay’” (800). Just as she exerts enough strength to conquer the hill, her dress gets caught in a thorn bush and she again is setback. This situation exemplifies how poor she is because she tries so hard to break free without tearing her dress.

The next challenge is climbing through a barbed-wire fence. For such an old and frail woman, one would think it would be hard to crouch down and crawl on her hands and knees. Ironically, however, Phoenix is only concerned with not tearing her dress on the fence. Once again, this shows the incredible heart and desire she has to complete her journey. Another use of masterful symbolism is when Phoenix encounters a buzzard. She looks up and says, “‘Who you watching? ’” (801) as if she is telling the buzzard that she is not even close to death or defeat and will not fall victim to it anytime soon.

With the courage to move on and with the huge hill behind her, Phoenix treads on only to stumble upon a swamp filled with alligators. Quietly, she passes unharmed until a black dog surprises her. The tiny old woman hits it with her extremely thin cane but only goes tumbling into a ditch. Once again, any elderly human might give up or not even be able to get out of the ditch. However, Phoenix’s heart is set out to make it to town and back without even thinking twice. She even says to herself, “‘Old woman, that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you’” (802).

A racist white man then helps her out of the ditch but continues to insult her with racial comments and even points his gun at her. Phoenix shows her inner strength by staying calm and repaying him by carefully snatching the nickel that he had dropped. Despite all of these oppressing obstructions, Phoenix makes it into town. It is truly amazing to see how much adversity a person will endure in the name of love. Once Phoenix reaches the hospital, her age greatly shows in her restlessness and forgetfulness of why she even traveled that far.

The trip’s purpose is forgotten because the actions have been repeated so often that Phoenix is able to make the journey “‘…just as regular as clockwork’” (804), proving that this is a trip repeated frequently through the dedication of love. The nurses know exactly why she came and give her the medicine saying that “‘…it’s an obstinate case’” (805). Because the grandson’s condition shows no signs of improvement, the nurses give Phoenix the medicine out of sympathy because she traveled so far. To Phoenix, however, it is the only way to show love to her grandson.

She never chooses to give up because the process of obtaining the medicine is just as important as the result. Especially because the grandson’s condition is not getting better, a “renewed sense of hope” arrives when Phoenix obtains more medicine. She wants nothing more than to help her grandson’s sore throat subside. It is almost as if Phoenix feels that making this journey is all that she can do for her loved one. Her love, however, does not stop after obtaining the medicine. After one nurse gave Phoenix a nickel in the spirit of Christmas, she takes the two nickels that she now has to buy her grandson a paper windmill.

Phoenix’s actions can be classified as heroic because her sheer determination and love for her grandson is all that motivates her throughout her expedition. A journey filled with such danger could only be endured with love as motivation. The compelling force of love is what continues to hold Phoenix together and helps her to overcome many obstacles despite her old age. As an old senile woman that perseveres through difficult travel and near insanity, Phoenix’s character embodies the theme that love is a very influential force in many people’s lives.

The Motivation of Love in “a Worn Path” by Eudora Welty essay

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The Motivation of Love in “a Worn Path” by Eudora Welty. (2018, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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