A story set in the South with a black protagonist and a white hunter in it? You can bet your best friend an ice cream cone there's race involved. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified in 1865, almost one hundred years before the publication of "A Worn Path." But the story's continued references to slavery demonstrate how hard it was (and is?) for the South to shake the ghost of the past. Of course, even after slavery was formally abolished, things like the Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan ensured that racism and racial violence persisted in the region.
But racism is only one of the many –isms Phoenix is up against. There's also ageism, classism, and you could even make a case for some sexism. Most of the characters seem to problematize her age and poverty more so than her race, but when the hunter (the most threatening character) appears in the story, there is a confrontation centering on race. Phoenix is not going to be shot because she's old or poor or female. She could be shot because she's black, though. Is racism the worst and most dangerous of the –isms?
Questions About Race
- What words and images does Welty use to describe Phoenix's race? What connotations do these words and images have? How does Welty communicate information about other characters' races?
- Are there any clues along the Trace that remind us of its history with the slave trade? Are there any clues in Natchez that remind us that the city has a history of racial tension? How about hints that racial tension still exists in the city?
- Does the story ever indicate that racial tensions can be overcome? Or does it seem to conclude that race will always be problematic?
Chew on This
The story suggests that oppression based on race is more severe than oppression based on age, gender, or economic status.
The adversity Phoenix faces in the city occurs because she is old and poor and has nothing to do with her race.