Study Guide

The Attendant in A Worn Path

By Eudora Welty

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The Attendant

The attendant is the first character to speak to Phoenix when she enters the doctor's office. But though she sits at the reception desk, she is not exactly welcoming. The attendant judges Phoenix as soon as she sees her, reducing her from the complex character we know her to be to a simple "charity case" (69). Nice to meet you, too (not). We can see the attendant's attitude at work when she hurls a string of questions at Phoenix:

"What's your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?" (71)

Sure, these are questions that any receptionist might ask a walk-in at a health clinic, but the attendant quickly gets frustrated when Phoenix does not respond right away. And as much as each of these questions has a simple answer, they also have much longer and more complex answers. Phoenix has lived for a very long time, and we know her grandson has been sick for a few years already, but the attendant first tries to reduce her plight to easy answers and writes Phoenix off when they aren't forthcoming.

We've been with Phoenix on her journey, listening to her thoughts—we know she has a lot of depth. The attendant, however, doesn't know this nor does she care, and this makes her come off as small-minded, un-empathetic, and as a representation of the way society might stereotype someone like Phoenix. As she offers Phoenix a nickel on her way out of the office, which may seem like a kind gesture, it's really just reinforcement that when the attendant looks at Phoenix, she only sees her economic poverty. And since the attendant is the first person patients see at the clinic, this is pretty bad news for those who come in from society's margins.

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