The word old appears in "A Worn Path" more than twenty times. Just to put that in perspective, Phoenix occurs only seventeen times. Old is by far the most common adjective in the story, so clearly Welty wants us to understand that the main character is a geezer.
While youth is often linked to vitality and possibility, age is often synonymous with weakness and decline. Phoenix throws a wrench into these stereotypes, though. She definitely shows some signs of aging both in her physical characteristics and in the limitations of her body, but she gains significant strengths with her age such as wisdom, proximity to immortality, and access to spiritual, natural, and mythical realms. For most of the story, these strengths overpower her weaknesses, giving us a seriously old but seriously indomitable heroine.
Questions About Old Age
- In what ways does Phoenix seem to be very old, a relic of times past? What elements of her character and her journey seem to be timeless, universal qualities of the human condition that will never be outdated? What do you think might be the purpose of capturing both the outdated and the timeless in this one woman?
- What has Phoenix lost with the passing of time? What has she gained?
- Phoenix has a special connection with her grandson, though he is young and she a very old woman. What do they have in common in the story despite their differences in age? In general, what do the very old and the very young have in common?
- How is history alive in Phoenix's character?
Chew on This
Old age is Phoenix's greatest strength.
Phoenix's character demonstrates that as we age, certain opportunities and possibilities close themselves forever, leaving us stuck in our ways.