A Mortal Phoenix During the sass, many African Americans in the South lives in the segregation, suffers poverty, lack of education and low social statuses. Living in such society, Mrs… Phoenix – the protagonist of the story “a Worn Path” and an African American – stands out as a phoenix that rises from its dust. Her vital physical and social “weaknesses” do not strike her down but instead highlights her persistence, dignity, sympathy and her selfless love to her grandson.
She is, however, a mortal phoenix: she suffers a downfall, which is, ironically, not due to her incapacity to overcome her sedateness but is because of the long-rooted biases of her society. Mrs… Phoenix has many physical disadvantages that seriously hinder her life. Senility weakens her physical health. She is “very old and small”, so she has to totally relies her balance on a thin cane and moves “a little from side to side in her steps” (1). During the trip, she always feels like her feet are chained.
Her back is so rigid she cannot bend down to tie her shoe, and due to her extremely blurred eyesight, she takes tremendous time and efforts to unravel her dress caught by a thorny bush. Towards these sedateness, Mrs… Phoenix is very fragile, yet very strong-willed and persistent. She is fragile because without constantly talking aloud to herself, she would feel the pain of senility after walking an extremely long road. Alone in the forest, she would feel so lonely that she hallucinates a boy appearing out of nowhere and giving her cupcakes that warm her heart. At the same time, Mrs…
Phoenix is strong-willed and unyielding. Her sayings are delightful, encouraging and poetic: “Up through pines, now down through oaks” (9), “walk pretty, this is the easy place” (22), “now comes the trial” (13). Supporting her “singings” are her actions, such as marching through a log and crying aloud, which proves that she knows her fragility and feels the vivid pain during the quest, but she never stops, never moans and constantly encourages herself. She is truly brave, because she is not flawless but she has a steel-like will never to let these flaws hinder her. Another disadvantage Mrs…
Phoenix has to struggle with is her low social status. As an African American living in the segregation, she is very poor, lacks education and thus is belittled. At first, the hunter teases that her colored people wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Clause” (39). This sentence is extremely rude since it trivialize Mrs… Phoenix’s sacred quest and claims that despite all the years living and experiencing, she has a mind of a child. The woman who helps Mrs… Phoenix also talks to her in a disturbing tone: “what do you want, Grandma? ” (65). Despite their insulting and cold attitudes, Mrs…
Phoenix still preserves her dignity and decent manners. These characteristics eliminate the biases of people she meet during her quest and win their admirations. Mrs… Phoenix always talks to the hunter politely: “l thank you for your trouble, sir” (41). Hearing her polite tone and knowing that Mrs… Phoenix is afraid of neither the hunting dogs nor the gun shooting, the hunter has to admit she is very brave. Mrs… Phoenix naturally asking the white woman to help her tie her shoes proves that she is not only brave but also unashamed of her skin color or low status.
The question in also given in a humble person to help another human fellow in trouble. Her proud but modest action and her sensitive understanding of humans nature make the woman put down her “armful of presents”, bend down in front of a black and poor woman and tights her shoes tightly. Mrs… Phoenix’s sympathy is also immune to any hardships or insults arising from her low social status. Her polite and calm manner towards the hunter’s insult and the white woman’s cold attitude proves that she understand her helpers are not ill-willed; they are merely unaware of their prejudices.
Another example is how she talks in a humor tone to the thorny bush that catches her dress and makes her trembling all over trying to escape: “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir” (61). It should be take to notice that she is walking in a frozen winter day and alone in a forest. This situation usually puts people in extremely disturbing moods, yet Mrs… Phoenix does not vent her anger on the thorns that Just does its task. She does not blame the situation but tries to put herself in others’ shoes, even when the “person” is Just a little bush.
Mrs… Phoenix’s most venerable characteristic is her selfless, boundless love to her grandson. As senile as she is, daily, she has walked miles and miles, has climbed wire bares and endured insults from biased people. To a very old woman, this pathway is Just as difficult as a road full of unknown and strong monsters to a hero. As a reward, she does not seek or glory, power or treasures but only wants to take home medicine for her grandson, whose throat is severely damaged after and accident.
Her honor stands against every biased misunderstanding and every hardship, but she steals a nickel from the hunter and asks for another free nickel from a nurse. She becomes a thief and a beggar Just in order to buy her grand child a toy for Christmas. After stealing the nickel, she says, “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing”. She is confessing her sin – the sole sin of a prominently noble woman. To pay for the punishment, she scarifies her nor – the last valuable “property’ this poor black old woman has.
Her conscience torments her: “she stares at her hand closely, with her head on one side” (101). The first time throughout the story, she reveals a bit of her miserable and wilder side. Oddly, that tormenting moment is swift. She gives “a tap with her cane on the floor” as if to awake herself and reinforce her determination. She once again bravely stands up to struggle and give up everything for the sake of her grandson. Obviously, Mrs… Phoenix’s disadvantages do not cause her downfalls because she bravely surpasses the obstacles she faces during her quest.
Her downfalls, however, are still inevitable. Her minor downfall is that her heroism cannot conquer the biases of all members in the white society. Knowing the old woman has walked a long trip to pick up her grandson’s medicine, the nurse still treats her as a troublesome “charity case”. She tells Mrs… Phoenix, “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over” (86). As Mrs… Phoenix starts talking about her poor grandson’s suffering, the nurse hushes her to stop. Not even once does she attentively listen to Mrs… Phoenix and figure out her other characters except being black and in a “charity case”.
The nurse’s bias blinds her observation, so Mrs… Phoenix’s morality has little effect on the nurse’s Judgment. Mrs… Phoenix, who represents the African American population, is thus totally helpless towards the society’s biases. Mrs… Phoenix’s major downfall is that she cannot complete her quest. Her rough purpose is to pick up the medicine, but her nurse also confirms, “throat never heals” (91). Many evidences even indicate that the boy may have died. The grandson has been ill for two-three years, and he is too young and little to struggle against his illness. Additionally, after entering the clinic, Mrs…
Phoenix cannot remember the reason she makes the trip, so she can usually forgot to take care of her grandson as well. Her reaction when the nurse asks about her grandson is also very melancholic. Her face sweets and the wrinkles in her face shines “like a bright net” (Wetly, 73). She waits, “silent, erect and motionless, Just as if she was in armor” (Wetly, 85). Apparently, after ceaselessly endeavoring to be completely positive and brave, she suddenly falls out of her hallucination and loses her mask. She feels weak, helpless and perhaps tormented because her senile and or self cannot take well care of him.
Mrs… Phoenix says, “My little grandson, he wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird. He going to last. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time” (94). She is carrying a delicate hope towards her dear grandson’s life – the combination of pain so deep it becomes hallucination and love so deep that no monstrous action can kill it. This love at first gives her unlimited determination to subdue all hardships, but later reminds her that she is not an immortal bird but a mere human who can feel love, shame and despair.
Today, she has regenerated many times, but this is her final “death”. Tomorrow she will rise once again, and after completing the arduous quest, she will “die”. The cycle repeats, endlessly and desperately. The serious condition of Mrs… Phoenix’s grandson and her downfall are due to the negligence of workers in the clinic. The nurse saying “throat never heals” in a loud, sure voice raises reader’s doubt about whether the son’s throat truly “never heals” or the doctors are reluctant to “waste” money for good medicine on a charity case, yet they are too proud to admit they are imaginary and cold-blooded.
Mrs… Phoenix describes that her grandson can hardly breathe nor swallow, so sole medicine will not heal him, yet none of the doctors or nurses have visited the boy even once. Their attitudes create an irony and contras between the attitudes of the well-educated class and the low-level class towards Mrs… Phoenix. The hunter and the white woman have improper lives. The hunter kills to earn living expense, and the young woman apparently has an indecent love life, since she gives off heavy perfume and carries an armful of presents. Their rude manners can be due to lack of knowledge and thus re understandable.
They also open their minds to recognize Mrs… Phoenix’s dignity and change their perceptions about her. The nurses and the doctors, however, have high social statuses, are well educated and work benevolent Jobs of helping and saving people. These people are the obstinate, obnoxious roots of discrimination, since they hallucinate that their morality, knowledge and everything about them are above average people. Their charity Jobs are hypocritical, and their Judgments about Mrs… Phoenix are not only stereotypical hatreds but also presumptions and a mean to assert their high social statuses.
In contrast, such action makes them more degraded and despicable than hunters and indecent women. Mrs… Phoenix’s sacrifice mirrors the symbol of a phoenix: when the time comes, a phoenix will self-burn and then regenerate from its ashes. Her degradation of morality exemplifies the bitterness and glory of a woman with a small old body, “immoral” dignity and a fathomable heart. Contrast to her tragic downfalls, proves that the common way the contemporary society treats African Americans is wrong, cruel and need to be changed.