Study Guide

A Worn Path Tone

By Eudora Welty

Tone

Respectful, Purposeful

Phoenix may be a crazy old woman—she may be locked in a cycle of futile journeys to and from town for a lost cause. Other characters certainly seem to think so. But the text itself, the words and the language, treats Phoenix's character, voice, thoughts, and purpose with the utmost respect.

This respectfulness is evident in the careful descriptions of Phoenix's appearance, thoughts, and movements. For example, the first paragraph tells us the following:

She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock. (1)

She may be small and old, but the wording reveres her age by likening her to a grandfather clock, a striking and austere thing, and a hint that she is wizened with the passage of time.

Right after this description, we are told "she carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella" (1). Hmm… This is an accessory that could indeed make Phoenix appear to be a bit loony. We are told that it is a "bright" day, so she's not carrying the umbrella because it is raining. And we also know that she is not Mary Poppins, so is she a batty grandma? That's not how the language presents her.

Take a look at what she does with the cane: "Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field" (28). Her actions in this moment liken her to another journeyer, Moses, who used his staff (or hands, depending on the version) to part the Red Sea. Crazy old woman? Hardly. The tone treats Phoenix like a biblical wanderer, a prophet and a sage doing what she can to save her people (in this case, her grandson).

The tone of respect can also be seen in the subtle (or not so subtle) condemnation of characters that treat Phoenix poorly. For instance, when the attendant unsympathetically pounds Phoenix with a stream of questions, Phoenix "only gave a twitch of her face as if a fly were bothering her" (71). So here we have a story that likens Phoenix to Moses, but the attendant to a fly. Ha.

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