In “A Worn Path” colors are used to emphasize the depth and breadth of the story, and to reinforce the parallel images of the mythical phoenix and the protagonist Phoenix Jackson. Eudora Welty’s story is rich with references to colors that are both illustrative and perceptive, drawing us in to investigate an additional historical facet of the story.
The surface story is a poor black grandma’s journey with an errand; to get medicine for her grandchild burned by lye. The colors used apprise the reader of another story. This parallel story uses color to tell us of a journey taken by a poor, black, disenfranchised people to completely own their legal and civil rights; they have been burned by lies. “A Worn Path” uses the journey of this one remarkable woman to serve as a lens to view the hardships of the African American people.
Welty tells the story with “some dreams and harassments and a small triumph or two, some jolts to [Phoenix’s] pride, some flights of fancy to console her, one or two encounters to scare her, a moment that gave her cause to be ashamed, a moment to dance and preen…” (quoted in Moberly, 109). The early harassments evoke symbols of slavery such as coming through the “dark pine shadows” in slave garb, “dark striped dress…an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks…all neat and tidy” (Roberts, 95). The “chains about my feet” and the uphill climb is descriptive of literally being a slave in chains. Being caught in the “pretty green bush” (Rogers, 96) that turns out to be a thorn bush is a figurative hard worn path to equal rights, with unseen snags and pitfalls. “Purple stalks” (Rogers, 96) and the buzzard and through the “old cotton” (Rogers, 96) represents the mourning of the African American people, (Moberly, 115) the threats of death and extinction they lived with, and to lives spent gleaning cotton for others.
There is a goal, a destination a reason to struggle following this hard worn path. This goal has proved to be elusive as a hallucination; a free and equal life for all people.
The vision of the young boy serving marble cake is seen through a pearly cloud is “acceptable” (Rogers, 96) yet the hand Phoenix reaches out in acceptance grasps nothing, it is empty leaving “just her own hand in the air”. (Roberts, 96). David Piwinski described this as a reference to Phoenix as “Christ-like” and a reminder of “Christmas”. (40) Others explain this as a vision of her dead or alive grandson (Bartel, 288-290) or a reference to the “metamorphosis from a sturdy tree…from which Christ’s cross was built… to a parasitic shrub.” (Evans, as quoted in Piwinski, 41)
I think the marble cake has greater significance. The marbling done by a baker is accomplished by a drizzling of one kind of cake into a different kind of cake. Some is mixed, black and white together to make a new mixture, which cannot be separated again into black and white. Some exist harmoniously together without any change in the original identity of...