In Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” Phoenix
is surrounded by symbols of her life-long struggle as a black woman during the civil rights movement. In the beginning she is compared to a pendulum in a grandfather clock. This is a symbol of her old age. She then overcomes several obstacles in her journey. First, she climbs a big hill, then she gets caught in a bush and is careful not to let her dress tear. When she gets to a log, she crosses with her eyes shut. The obstacles represent her battles and her dress is her pride. This also shows her strength. Next, a black dog knocks Phoenix down. A white hunter comes to help her yet he taunts her. He also tells her to go back home and she refuses. This is Phoenix’s fight against society. She is strong and will not conform to what the white man tells her to do. Once Phoenix gets to the city, she stops a lady and asks her to tie her shoe. Her shoes clearly represent her significance. In the woods it is ok to have them untied but in the city she must present herself as a lady and tie them. Her battles have been fought and now she is equal with society. After she receives medicine for her grandson, she decides to go buy a paper windmill for him. This represents Phoenix’s compassion. Like Phoenix, a homeless Vietnam Veteran encounters many struggles as he wanders the streets of Birmingham. This is a constant war with himself to regain his sanity and his life after returning from the war.
Benny wakes to the sound of bombs falling all around him. He remains frozen. He is ready to dart to safe territory. Then he hears the horn of the huge eighteen-wheeler that has interrupted his slumber. His stomach growls as he sits up. He looks at his raggedy bed. It is an old mattress placed upon a huge flat rock under the interstate. For him this is the beginning of the end. He is ready to end this war that this bed brings him into every day. Although he is worn out he is still geared up for the fight.
As he trudges through downtown with only food on his mind, he hears a gun shot. He quickly dodges and gets ready to fire at those damn Japs. He would not let this shoot out end like the last one. He would not let any men in his platoon die. Especially like John who had a new daughter waiting at home for him. Benny got up when he heard the police car and ambulance drive by. The purpose for this war was unclear by this point. How could he win if he can’t even remember where he actually is?
He stops by two other soldiers’ campgrounds. He is there to see if they can help him out by sparing some food. He had been through several battles today and needed to fuel up before fighting any more. He was ashamed that he had resorted to begging and he was lucky that these troops had any food to spare. This ate at his dignity.
He then headed towards his loot. He had to hide it from the enemy. They were all thieves. He would not let him steal what little property he had. He needed some kind of asset when he returned to his wife back in the states. He rummaged through his belongings and found a silver watch he had stolen from a small village his troops had burned down. He carefully placed it on his wrist. It did not matter that the watch did not tell time. He knew that it would still be worth a lot some day.
He then walked to the warm place. He was cold and he needed to make sure that his men survived the shooting from earlier today. He stared at the sign in front of the building. It was in the shape of a cross. It seemed so crazy to him. This cross was a symbol of empyreal places. This place that he often ventured to reminded him of hell. Some of the people that were sent here were lunatics. It is amazing that the government hasn’t sent them home yet. They are clearly unable to fight any more. Here he ate and received a few dollars from one of the pretty ladies that had given him the food. He knew his next destination would be to the licker store. His war was won. He would soon be the richest man in the world and everyone would love him. He would not have to worry about those damn Japs any longer.
Although very different, Phoenix and Benny have several similarities. They are both very worn out but still ready to conquer the obstacles that stand in their way. Although their pride has been dented, they will not allow it to be completely taken away from them. Both characters forget what they are fighting for at some point. Unlike Phoenix, Benny never realizes why he is struggling. In the end Phoenix’s motive is completely selfless. She is fighting for something great. Benny just finds an escape from his dilemma. The true victory comes when Phoenix remembers what she is fighting for and does not stray from her destination in the city.