Study Guide

A Worn Path Detailed Summary

By Eudora Welty

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Detailed Summary

  • An old woman is walking along a country path through some pine trees. She is alone except for the forest animals that she hears and sees and occasionally talks to. What else are you going to do to pass the time when you're taking an epic walk all by yourself?
  • After she passes through the pines, she goes through oak trees and gets her dress caught on a thorny bush. It's tense, but she is able to free herself without tearing her dress.
  • Next she encounters a creek with a log laid across it as a bridge. Piece of cake if you're a young gymnast, a little bit tricky if you're an old woman walking with a cane fashioned from an umbrella. She makes it just fine, though.
  • Speaking of cake, Phoenix sits down for a rest after crossing the creek, and she imagines that a little boy brings her a piece of cake.
  • The next phases of her journey include crawling under a barbed-wire fence, walking through a cotton field that's withered away for the winter, and passing through a field of dead corn where she mistakes a scarecrow for a ghost. Hey, they are called scarecrows for a reason, right? Phoenix laughs at her mistake, and chalks it up to old age.
  • Then comes what Phoenix considers to be the easy part: She follows the wagon tracks through the fields of the easy part to a ravine where she stops for a drink of water, and then she passes through the swampy part.
  • A big black dog leaps out of the weeds and knocks Phoenix over. She can't get up on her own, but a hunter passes by and lifts her up.
  • The hunter asks Phoenix about her age, where she is coming from, and where she is going. He marvels at the distance she has traveled and thinks she wants to go to town to see Santa Claus because it is Christmastime.
  • Phoenix tells the black dog to attack the hunter and his dog. The hunter tries to scare the black dog away by unleashing his own dog and by shooting his gun after the dog. The hunter laughs at being able to scare him.
  • While the hunter is preoccupied with the dogs, Phoenix spots a nickel on the ground. Phoenix knows it is not hers but takes it regardless.
  • The hunter points his gun at Phoenix, but she is not afraid. He says he would give her a dime if he had any money and then advises her to go home, but she continues on.
  • Phoenix finally arrives in the city of Natchez.
  • Phoenix asks a woman shopper to tie her shoe because she can't lace them herself. She thinks the dragging laces aren't appropriate for going into a city building. We get it—no one likes to be underdressed. It's literally the stuff of nightmares.
  • Phoenix walks up the steps of a big building. The attendant takes one look at her and thinks that she is a charity case. The attendant tries with no luck to get information about Phoenix and what she wants.
  • A nurse recognizes Phoenix as a woman who visits the facility on a regular basis to get medicine for her grandson.
  • The nurse asks how the boy's throat is. Phoenix does not answer her questions, prompting the nurse to ask if the boy has died.
  • Phoenix finally answers that the boy has not died, but that the time has come back around for her to retrieve the medicine that will sooth his throat.
  • The nurse gives her the medicine, marking it down as charity in a record book.
  • As Phoenix leaves, the attendant gives her a nickel because it is Christmastime.
  • Phoenix considers the two nickels that she now has and decides to buy her grandson a paper windmill with the money.
  • Phoenix starts her slow decent down the building's stairs.

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