A short story set in the south sometime in between 1890 and 1920; created in the 1930s and also published in 1941.

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SYNOPSIS

An elderly afri American woman travels the hazardous worn path from her rural residence to the city to retrieve medicine for she invalid grandchild.

Events in background at the time the quick Story take away Place

The quick Story in Focus

Events in history at the time the brief Story to be Written

For an ext Information

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909, Eudora Welty is deeply immersed in the culture and history of the South. Though increased in one upper-middle-class white family, she traveled broadly throughout the South throughout the Depression, functioning for the Works development Administration, and also learned firsthand the plight that its impoverished black color residents. In “A Worn Path” Welty provides a glimpse the the hard life the a poor Southern black color woman that must face both white society and the rapid urban expansion and technological advancement that America about the revolve of the twenty century.

Events in history at the time the quick Story bring away Place

Rural South

At the rotate of the twentieth century, Jackson, Mississippi, to be an area rife v divisions. As in other locations of the Deep South, segregation, racism, and poverty continued to overcome African American life, the means they had because the end of the polite War. Huge numbers the blacks relocated north come take commercial jobs produced by quick urban growth and technological advancements. Many more, however, continued to be in the South and continued to farm the land together sharecroppers. Also financially strapped come buy land outright, most African American sharecroppers leased plots from white plantation owners (former slaveowners), for which they paid rent in cash or in a part of the plants raised, frequently 50 percent. The landlord dictated what and how much to grow. The soil was usually poor, so farmers could scarcely produce enough come pay your rent, permit alone rotate a profit. Many owed money to white landlords by the end of each season because that items to buy on credit transaction at the landlord’s store. The was no until about 1910, when people like the african American scientist George Washington Carver taught farmers how to improve soil conditions and plant an ext suitable crops, that the stays of sharecroppers started to present some improvement.

Southern black women worked primarily as ar hands or in domestic service. Prefer the sharecroppers, their lives had improved little and in some methods had also worsened since slavery. Many were denied a basic education, and factory work or nondomestic positions to be all however impossible to secure. The practice of segregation kept blacks in the south out the “white” project sites. And African American women experienced prejudice twofold, because they were both female and black, which minimal even further the species of work they can hold.

Living conditions for blacks in the rural south were fairly impoverished approximately the revolve of the twenty century. Many Southern towns continued to be remote outposts, through no indoor pipes or electricity. The prohibitive cost of new technologies kept modern-day amenities, such together the automobile, out of the with of many Southern blacks.

Segregation

In 1896, through the U.S. Can be fried Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, the “separate yet equal” doctrine became law. The decision official sanctioned segregation. Southerly restaurants, schools, meeting halls, theaters, and also public transport were every segregated by race. African Americans were meant to drink from separate drinking fountains, ride at the back of trains in separate rail cars, eat in separate sections that restaurants or in particularly “black” restaurants, shop in “black” stores, and attend “black-only” schools. Proponents of the separate-but-equal doctrine declared it permitted for equality, however most services were anything but equal. For example, black amenities, such as drinking fountains, were generally lower to the ground, tarnished and also placed in remote locations—far away from the “white” drink fountains. Much more importantly, housing, wages, education, and also economic avenues remained vastly inferior to those enjoyed by southerly whites.

A violent era

Rampant violence versus African americans persisted in the southern through 1915 and also beyond. The Ku Klux Klan and other racism hate teams targeted black color Americans in a hate campaign that contained lynchings and also brutalization. Native 1890 to 1896 there to be an median of 114 taped lynchings per year in the joined States; an average of 50 per year occurred through 1915. Though emancipated and also granted full rights as citizens ~ the civil War, african Americans were prevented from working out those civil liberties by racist Southerners as well as by the law. In 1903 blacks were maintained from voting in Alabama once the supreme Court upheld a i in the state constitution that limited voters come “people having an education, employment, property, a war record, an excellent character, and the knowledge of the duties of citizenship” (Angel, p. 37). Having actually been denied most of these methods since being carried to America together slaves, many African Americans can not accomplish these requirements and thus to be denied suffrage. The federal government did small to punishment or prevent crimes versus Southern african Americans. Reluctant to intervene more in southern affairs ~ the restoration era, U.S. Federal government authorities let local jurisdictions prosecute lynchings (resulting in very couple of convictions) and instead urged blacks to rely on their own ar for assist and support.

Emphasis top top education

Black leaders, such as Booker T. Washington and also Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, struggled to improve the the majority of Southern blacks. Wells-Barnett, a writer because that the Memphis, Tennessee, black newspaper free Speech and Headlight, was amongst the an initial to publicize lynchings in the 1890s. Her initiatives led come the development of antilynching organizations and also raised public awareness the the recurring injustice. Washington affected the southern black community through his promo of education and also vocational training, establishing the Tuskegee academy in Alabama come make feasible the achievement of this objectives. Along with the initiatives of various other pioneering black color leaders, Washington’s emphasis on education created positive results. By 1901 the variety of African American teachers had risen to 30,000 and the populace of black children attending college to 1.5 million. In “A Worn Path” the character Phoenix Jackson is as well old to advantage from the educational reforms instituted ~ the polite War—something she describes in the text, hinting that her lack of education and learning has severely minimal her methods in life.

Progressive age?

The an initial decades that the 1900s to be a time of good change and expansion. Cities prospered in every direction: high-rises were erected, forever changing the American landscape; automobiles replaced horses and also carriages in the streets; factories attracted immigrants and workers of assorted ethnic groups into the cities, crowding the streets and also polluting the skies and waterways. The expansion of railroads brought mass transit to an ext parts of the nation, while the inventions of electricity and the assembly line produced mass production, standardization of products, and good demand because that a low-wage commercial labor force. Thus in some respects the nation flourished—yet an excellent inequalities accompanied such progress, inequalities that most strongly influenced minorities. Low-wage, labor-intensive job-related was typically performed through blacks, immigrants, women, and children—and while the factory owners (primarily white men) prospered, a growing course of job struggled to knife a kind living. In 1910 earnings for black color men, price to one-third those that white men, while women and also children of any kind of race were paid even less. The median woman or son textile worker earned $6 per week and was required to work-related twelve hrs per day, 6 days a week. Together glaring inequalities and harsh working conditions helped the trade union movement gain strength during this era. Aided by chairman Theodore Roosevelt—the an initial president to support the ide of organized labor—the government created Commerce and Labor department to regulate company practices, enhance working conditions, and control the development of that company monopolies.

From 1900 come 1920 reform movements abounded in the unified States. Labor laws were passed, educational revolutionary were enforced (high school and also college enrollment amongst Southern blacks doubled from 1900 come 1920), and also women winner the appropriate to vote (in 1920 under the Nineteenth Amendment). Society welfare program emerged also to assist the urban and rural poor. For the very first time in the nation’s history, philanthropists and also taxes subsidized necessities because that the negative such as clinical care. Yet grave inequalities remained—especially in the South. In 1916 the very first Federal office of education and learning study top top black education revealed extreme discrepancies between black and also white southern schools. Only 58 percent the black kids attended school at all, and high schools for afri Americans were nearly nonexistent. The argument among whites for maintaining blacks uneducated to be that education “spoiled field hands” (Tindall, p. 268). Together an mindset eventually gave method to positive efforts to improve black education and learning in light of this study. Amongst other measures, roads were developed to increase access to rural institutions where illiteracy and nonattendance rates were the highest. The plot that “A Worn Path” reveals how an overwhelming progress is once physical, economic, and intellectual accessibility are limited.

Women restricted

At the rotate of the century women were minimal in nearly every facet of your lives. They might not vote, might not enter most job or attend most colleges, and were physically restricted by their clothing. Hefty long dresses and rib-crushing corsets literally bound women and also restrained their motion in the outside world. Fainting was common amongst women during this era, as corsets reduced blood and oxygen flow in the body, and tasks such together riding a bicycle were all but impossible. Shoes contained lace-up boots, i beg your pardon often compelled a hook to secure. For many—especially elderly or overweight women—lacing of such shoes verified to be a remarkable chore and was sometimes neglected, as displayed by this passage from “A Worn Path”:

She wore a dark strip dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally lengthy apron the bleached sugar sacks, with a complete pocket: every neat and also tidy, however every time she took a step she might have please over her shoelaces, which dragged from she unlaced shoes.

(Welty, “A Worn Path,” p. 200)

Harlem Renaissance

By the 2nd decade of 1900, afri Americans were having a strong impact top top society. In the Harlem ar of new York City a cultural revolution to be underway (1915-1940) in which african American art flourished. By 1917 Harlem—in uptown Manhattan—had come to be home to climbing black writers, actors, musicians, dancers, club owners, and other future social icons. African and also Southern heritages were supported through theater, literature, music, and dance. Black writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes connected stories of a people and heritage heretofore mostly unknown to many white americans in the North, and also these stories had actually a profound result on both the black and white communities. The Harlem Renaissance, as this creative outpouring of black color artists and also thinkers of the time was called, advanced social readjust by complicated stereotypes and exposing african American strengths and also contributions. Black color nightclubs special jazz, ragtime, and also blues thrived, when stories illustrating the southern black suffer of poverty and also oppression—and the the storytelling and music-making that served as a enjoyment to these circumstances—made their means into print and also onto the stage. The promo of southerly black society during this era paved the means for authors such as Welty to be published. Though no black, Welty wrote about Southern culture and race relations—subjects that prior to the Harlem Renaissance had been missing in mainstream literature.

Southern storytelling tradition

Welty’s realist composing style advanced out that the southern story-telling tradition. Together she explained, “the Southerner is a talker by nature” (Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings, p. 17). Southerners, by and large an oral society, considered storytelling critical aspect that life. This held true because that both its white and its black color communities. With proficiency rates low and the dispersion of people in remote rural areas, story were a means to communicate and also preserve society and history when one could not easily accessibility outside information. Mark Twain was among the very first to catch the sights and sounds of the South—so unique from any other region of America—on paper. Later writers, such together William Faulkner and also Flannery O’Connor, prolonged the tradition of classic storytelling and also ushered in what has actually been referred to as a southern renaissance in literature. Eudora Welty was part of this elite group of authors who assisted define and also contribute to Southern and also American literature! In a time when the literary people considered European authors the only true literary master or innovators that genre, southern writers included proof the Americans might not only create original works yet could produce masterpieces.

The short Story in Focus

The plot

“A Worn Path” begins with a black woman, Phoenix Jackson, embarking on a acquainted journey under the much-trodden course toward town. It is winter. She is walking with the countryside, and the course is frozen and menacing for an old woman such as herself. Her stride, states the story, is prefer the “pendulum in a grand clock” together she renders her way uphill through the woods, past the thorny bushes and “foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and also wild animals” (“A Worn Path,” p. 200). The trip is much like her life: an uphill battle filled v obstacles, distractions, and little help.

A thorny bush is the an initial to attack her. The takes hold of she skirt and threatens to tear it if she pulls away too hard. Clearly unwilling to danger damaging her dress—possibly her just one—Phoenix closely wrests it s her free, all the while understanding that the thorns are only doing your job. Next she negotiates she rickety frame throughout a creek and also stops summary to rest on the other side. She imagines that a tiny boy stops to lug her part cake however when she reaches out to take it, awakens from her daydream.

She proceeds under a barbed wire fence and through an old wood, every the while moving on a dialogue through herself about the perilous journey and also sights she sees and also recalls from previous trips down the acquainted trail. She passes a scarecrow the she mistakes because that a ghost, climate comes top top a fine that has actually been there due to the fact that before she was born. She continues on and meets a black dog who startles her. She attempts to tap him v her cane yet in doing so falls into a ditch.

It is impossible for Phoenix to obtain out that the ditch herself and so she lays there contemplating her fate. After a time a white male comes top top her and picks she up out of the ditch. He asks her why she is going to town and also urges her not to go since it is so far away. He is fully ignorant regarding the urgency and also importance of her mission and also trivializes it, saying: “I recognize you old fancy people! Wouldn’t miss out on going to watch Santa Claus!” (“A Worn Path,” p. 203). In reality, Phoenix is top top her method to retrieve an important medicine for she invalid grandchild, of who she is the sole caretaker. Yet she does no bother to explain herself. She has just viewed a nickel autumn from the masculine pocket and focuses she attention and also energy top top retrieving it.

At the very same time the huge black dog reappears and also barks ferociously at the white man. Phoenix, admiring the dog’s spirit, comments: “Look … that ain’t scared of nobody” (“A Worn Path,” p. 203). When the male goes after ~ the dog, Phoenix bends down, picks up the nickel and slides it right into her apron. She is conscious of God watching she “stealing” and also chastises herself a little for act so. But it is clear that she desperately requirements the money and also that the guy will not even miss it.

When the man comes back from shooting at the dog, he points the barrel of his rifle directly at Phoenix for no obvious reason. She walk not even flinch. The asks she why she is not afraid that guns and also she replies: “I checked out plenty go off closer by, in mine day, and also for much less than what i done” (“A Worn Path,” p. 204). The male seems satisfied with her an answer and tells her that he’d provide her money if he had any—which the reader and Phoenix understand is a lie. Climate he tells her she must go home and also leaves. Phoenix continues on her way toward town.

Phoenix come in town and encounters every the people, cars, and also shining electrical lights the the city. That is a stark contrast to her simple, desolate countryside home. She meet a white woman rushing down the sidewalk, arms full of colorfully sheathe packages. Needing she shoe tied and also unable to do it herself, Phoenix stop the woman and also asks she to tie it. In a random, inexplicable gesture the kindness, the woman obliges, lacing and tying both shoes prior to continuing on she way.

Phoenix lastly reaches she destination. That is a high building and she climbs several flights that stairs. She beginning a doctor’s office and encounters a flippant receptionist who eyes her and says immediately: “A charity case, i suppose” (“A Worn Path,” p. 205). Whether she refuses to respond to the condescending comment or even if it is she is overcome by fatigue or both, Phoenix renders no reply for several minutes. A nurse comes right into the room who recognizes her and, learning how much she has actually traveled and also why, asks she to sit down while she fills she grandson’s prescription. The nurse asks just how the boy is doing, if his throat is any better. Phoenix sits for a lengthy time and stares blankly. Lastly she says that her memory temporarily left her and she forgot why she was there. “I never ever did walk to school,” she states in her own defense. “I was also old in ~ the Surrender (of the South, after i m sorry she would have actually been complimentary to to visit school)” (“A Worn Path,” p. 205). She tells the nurse the boy is simply the same, still an extremely ill native swallowing lye 2 to three years ago. Phoenix has actually come because that the “soothing medicine” that enables him to breathe and swallow, together she constantly does. The nurse brings the end the prescription, hand it come Phoenix, and also marks “charity” in she ledger. The nurse then uses Phoenix a nickel because it is Christmas. Phoenix take away the various other nickel from she pocket, locations the brand-new coin next to it, and also stares at she palm. One idea flashes to mind. She taps her cane ~ above the floor and announces she is going come buy she grandson a little record windmill and march it earlier to where he is waiting, alone. V that goal set, she turns and walks out the door, earlier down the long flight of stairs.

The african American family

Welty’s brief story illustrates, in part, the strength of the prolonged family in african American society. Problems in America in the era that slavery had often required black households to it is adapted to extremely an overwhelming situations in order come endure. In fact, the majority of slaves lived in largely stable two-parent households, however the threat of family breakup to be constant. Forced into separation in the 1700s and 1800s, black households were take it apart by slavetraders and owners during the pre-Civil war era. Husbands were occasionally taken from their wives and also sold to various other plantation owners, and also children were treated choose commodities, concerned not as belonging to their mom or father but rather to the white slaveowner.

The breakup of families only strengthened kinship ties in the black community. Prolonged kin formed a network, helping servants adapt to a family members breakup. If youngsters were sold to a adjacent plantation, blood family members in the brand-new place—aunts, cousins, or grandparents—took top top the role of parents. And also if there were no blood relatives, strangers stepped in to care for the children.

Such unconventional households persisted ~ emancipation, though the two-parent family seems to have been most common then also (Mintz and also Kellogg, p. 78). Once necessary, black females in the so late 1800s and early 1900s worked as a male would, performing farm yard labor, because that example, to assistance their families. Some couldn’t discover their husbands ~ the war, or maybe their husbands had actually remarried. Life without spouses, together women often formed neighborhood “clusters” in i m sorry they would certainly pool sources with various other matriarchal families. This clusters became extended families, offering women and also their youngsters a higher sense of security, providing emotional and also economic support. This kind of participating measure aided the broke up black households to preserve a level of stability and also mutual sustenance versus the incredible odds the background of slavery had actually dealt them.

The number of female-headed families grew. In ~ the turn of the century, once blacks moved en masse come the North, plenty of Southern ladies were left behind while guys took commercial jobs unavailable to black color women. By 1940, 17.9 percent of all black families were headed by women in comparison to 10.1 percent of white families. Kinship networks on the other hand remained important, offer to safeguard children, grandchildren, or various other blacks whose families were disrupted by breakthroughs like migration come the North.

As countless writers assert, “there is no ‘the black family’; there are, however, black color families” (Low, p. 381). The history of slavery, segregation, prejudice, and economic deprivation has, in other words, developed a range of family models in the black community. “A Worn Path” illustrates the stamin of those households in whatever type they take. Phoenix Jackson, despite seemingly 100 years old, is the single caretaker of her grandson and also does everything is needed to carry out for him. With her example, the story conveys a an interpretation of a household based not on gender and also white social conventions but rather top top love, responsibility, and also support.

Sources

Eudora Welty based “A Worn Path” top top a personal observation of an old mrs crossing a remote field in rural Mississippi. “I couldn’t see her up close,” Welty says, “but you can tell it to be an old mrs going somewhere, and also I thought, she is bending on an errand. And I understand it isn’t for herself. The was just the look of she figure” (Welty in Prenshaw, p. 300). Welty created the story from her imagination but based it on this and also other observations. She worked for the federal government’s functions Progress administration (WPA) in the 1930s together a publicity agent and also traveled throughout the South. She visited nearly every ar in Mississippi, encountering a vast spectrum of people and also lifestyles. This experience opened up Welty’s eyes, she says, come “diversity” and also “the good poverty of the state” (Welty in Prenshaw, p. 155). Despite she constantly credits she fertile creativity as the source of her fiction, she is quick to acknowledge “nothing could have been created in the way of a story without together a background, there is no the knowledge and also experience I obtained from these points ” (Welty in Prenshaw, p. 156).

Events in history at the time the brief Story to be Written

Depression years

In 1929 the stock sector crashed and launched the U.S. Right into the great Depression. Twelve million people ended up being unemployed and also millions uncovered themselves homeless and without food. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was chosen President 3 years after ~ the crash and immediately enforced “New Deal” plans designed to assist the destitute and get the country ago on that feet again. Countless government organ were developed to put Americans earlier to work and also distribute aid. Among these agencies was the Works progress Administration, i m sorry employed Welty. The WPA rental thousands to do maintenance on public buildings and also also set up programs to help struggling writers, artists, actors, and also musicians. The idea behind the WPA and other new Deal agencies was not to provide charity, yet rather to administer opportunity for people to aid themselves. Thousands of artists benefits from working for the WPA. Their work, in turn, often addressed the plight that the poorer members the society, which influenced others to assist the disadvantaged. Welty personally interviewed and photographed thousands of impoverished Southerners in Mississippi for the WPA’s guide to Mississippi. When her initiatives helped publicize your plight, she additionally benefited personally by being employed during an era of widespread unemployment.

World battle II

The year 1941 significant the begin of Roosevelt’s 3rd term as President and America’s entry into civilization War II. In December of that year the U.S. Naval base at Pearl port was struck by Japanese bombers, for this reason bringing an instant declaration of war against the Axis powers, one alliance of the fascist federal governments of Japan, Germany, and Italy. The rationing of food and also many other commodities became necessary since America to be allocating every her resources to aiding the war effort. The expense of life skyrocketed as daily necessities became scarce. Butter jumped native 34.4 cent per lb to 43.5 cents; coffee enhanced 5 cents per pound, and also ham prices enhanced by 35 percent. ~ above the various other hand, the war served to elevator the nation out that the Depression by placing the unemployed to occupational in war-related industries. Yet for struggling families, such together the one featured in the quick story, together drastic price increases would put numerous commodities and also daily necessities the end of reach.

One positive effect of the battle was that it forced open the doors that the defense market for minorities. Countless African Americans found ready work-related in defense plants across the nation. Though especially slow to accept African Americans, the defense industry and also armed services—desperate for personnel—eventually readjusted hiring methods out that necessity. Amongst others that was very first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who thrust for the rental of black men and also of ladies of every races. In her newspaper column, “My Day,” she explained how “Negro girls space fitted to take it training in as plenty of different fields as the white girls, however in brand-new York City and the State , the greatest number of employment avenues for negro girls are in residential service” (Roosevelt, p. 209). She likewise called attention to the frustration skilled by patriotic afri Americans who can not serve their country due to the fact that they could not enlist. early out in component to her championing the cause, by 1942 one million african Americans to be enlisted in all branches of the armed services. The battle in this sense advanced the reasons of women’s rights and civil civil liberties in to compare to your status throughout the time period in i beg your pardon Welty’s story is set.

Reviews

Welty discovered immediate success once she started writing fiction in 1936. The arsenal that had “A Worn Path,” licensed has been granted A Curtain the Green, was released in 1941. Her writings—particularly “A Worn Path”—were praised by brand-new York Times book Review editor Robert valve Gelder, who hired her together a literature critic. Among other awards during her career, Welty received four O. Henry awards, the Brandeis Medal that Achievement, the Howells Medal for Fiction, the American book Award for Fiction, and the Pulitzer compensation in 1972 for she novella, The Optimist’s Daughter. “A Worn Path” won immediate an important acclaim and has become a standard text in high schools and universities throughout the nation.

For more Information

Angel, Ann. America in the 20th Century. Vol. 1. Phibìc Bellmore, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Low, Augustus, and Virgil A. Clift. medtox.org of black America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Residential Revolutions: A Social history of American family Life. Brand-new York: The totally free Press, 1988.

Prenshaw, Peggy Whitman. Conversations with Eudora Welty. Jackson: college of Mississippi Press, 1984.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. My Day. Edited by Rochelle Chadkoff. Brand-new York: Pharos, 1943.

Tindall, George Brown. The introduction of the new South. Lafayette: Louisiana State college Press, 1967.

Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path.” In A modern Southern Reader. Edited by Ben Forkner. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers Ltd., 1986.

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Welty, Eudora. One Writer’s Beginnings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard college Press, 1984.