A Worn Path

A Worn Path Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Symbol: Phoenix

The name of the story’s protagonist references the mythological bird that was reborn from its ashes. From the crucible of fire, the phoenix was reborn to fly again, thus the character of Phoenix becomes a symbol of the circular nature of time and the spirit of renewal and rebirth.

Symbol: The Grandson

Amidst all the darkness and prejudice and ambiguity at play in the narrative of old woman’s walk across the worn path is one symbol of pure innocence. The grandson for whom Phoenix sets out upon the hard and difficult journey is representative of unspoiled light; he is the epitome of innocence set hard upon by the ravages of a world devoted to corrupting that purity. He is a helpless victim dependent upon his grandmother’s ability to navigate through the darkness in order to provide him safety and security.

Symbol: The Scarecrow

When Phoenix sees the scarecrow, it is introduced via her thought “At first, she took it for a man.” In the South, that phrase carries a rich implicit meaning. The scarecrow is tall, black and skinny and combined with the idea of mistaking it for a man, the symbolic intention is more than evident. The scarecrow is every black man lynched, run out of town, or otherwise destroyed by a white society incapable of seeing him as a man like themselves. The black man is, ironically, the "ghost" Phoenix initially sees the scarecrow as.

Symbol: Chains

When Phoenix says it seems as if there are chains on her feet as the path moves uphill, such chains symbolize slavery, the condition most African Americans (perhaps even Phoenix herself) were in during the antebellum period. They can also symbolize the post-slavery period in which Phoenix lives—a period characterized by Jim Crow laws, through which the white South desperately attempted to retain its racial hierarchy by restricting the privileges, liberties, and humanity of African Americans.