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The archetypal journey of the main hero is the integral element of most short stories and fairy-tales. Such characters are destined to resolve a quest of their own life to finish the journey. By all means, they have to overcome obstacles on their way to final happiness. Such archetypal pattern functions in the fairytales like “Snow-White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” or “The Red Riding Hood.” Similarly, in Eudora’s Welty “A Warn Path,” Phoenix Jackson undergoes all six stages of the hero’s quest: stasis, answering the call, experiencing complications, finding allies, achieving a breakthrough, and celebrating a victory.
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Phoenix Jackson’s stasis occurs with the pre-existing condition of her grandson who has swallowed lye. This is the reason why Phoenix makes regular visits to the town. This stage is significant as it is a state of special equilibrium when all the forces are still inactive. It is a preliminary stage of hero’s journey. At this point, the quest of Phoenix starts playing an important role as its aim is always to get something valuable. In this case, it is the medicine for Phoenix’s grandson. Despite the fact that the readers do not surely know if the boy is alive, the quest of the hero must begin.
At the beginning of the story, Phoenix has already answered the call to adventure, which is an urgent need to fetch medicine for her poor little grandson “peeping out holding his mouth open like a little bird” (Welty 141). The woman loves her little relative more than anything in the world and dares to do this. The stage begins in Phoenix’s place of residence and mind. It is remarkable because it is a specific threshold that should be crossed by the character to start an initial journey. If there was no grandson, either real or imaginary, or no need in medicine, the journey would not have actually begun.
Next, Phoenix Jackson endures successive complications, each more difficult than the one before. The first obstacle the tired woman encounters is the uphill climb. Being old, she has a feeling as though there are chains attached to her feet. However, Phoenix meets the nature as if it is a real person e.g. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work” (Welty 136). During this difficult journey, she struggles not only with the real enemies but also with the imaginary ones. For example, a protagonist takes scarecrow looming in the distance for a ghost at first. Also, a little boy offering a marble-cake is nothing but the work of her imagination. It is interesting that a challenging and scared woman, Phoenix does not travel by train or wander a well-known path. “Instead of taking a road or established trail, she traverses a cold wasteland filled with torn bushes” and later through a maze (Bloom, and Hobby 230). Later, the white hunter finds Phoenix laying in the ditch and helps her to get out. Perhaps, this is the crucial point in the whole story as the woman almost meets death. However, not all complications are physical or imaginary ones, some of them are of social nature. For example, there are interactions with white peoples most of whom treated black Southerners with disdain. This way or another, all the obstacles on Phoenix’s way from home to Natchez put her to the test. As a result, the stage is important as it reveals the previously unknown strengths and wisdom of the protagonist.
Phoenix Jackson’s heroic quest would not be complete without allies. One of them is a young white-faced hunter who occasionally passes by. As it was mentioned before, he finds a woman who fell in the ditch and helps her to elevate. He also scares the dog, but later, puts a gun at Phoenix in a scornfully threatening way. Moreover, the hunter gives Phoenix a piece of advice to leave the frightening path and go home. The reason why such behavior is both mean and kind-hearted is socially-predetermined. A condescending attitude of white people towards black Southerners was an everyday occurrence at that time. That is why other allies such as a nurse or a woman in the street treat the protagonist similarly.
To the reader’s satisfaction, Phoenix ultimately achieves a breakthrough. With the help of the allies, she manages to get to the point of her destination and obtain a gift. Thus, the protagonist gets the desired medicine for her grandson. At first, she forgets why she came to the hospital but with the help of the nurse she recalls her aim. The poor woman endures all the difficulties and, at last, gets what she wants.
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With two nickels in her pockets, Phoenix is ready for the final stage in her quest: the celebration. This stage begins at the hospital. There the woman decides to buy a windmill for her grandson and take it home together with the medicine. The story ends with her slowly going downstairs. Therefore, the celebration stage is significant as it glorifies the successful return from the journey.
Welty’s story is powerful, even uplifting, owing to Phoenix Jackson’s unqualified status as a questing hero. It shows a difficult journey of the elderly black woman overcoming the obstacles. On her way to the hospital she meets several allies who help her to get to the place. Finally, her quest is resolved. “A Worn Path” proves to be the story that includes all the six stages of archetypal journey.
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