A Worn Path Themes

A Worn Path Themes

The Complex Shading of Racism

As Phoenix makes her trek across that worn path, she comes across a variety of other characters, many of them white and many of them manifesting signs of a systemic racism. When racism is allowed to fester long enough to become a system by which everyday life is lived, it does not always take the hideous form easily recognized by outsiders. The story reveals the often contradictory nature of those adopting the codes of such a system such as the big game hunter helpfully assisting Phoenix in a kindly manner one minute and then threateningly pointing his gun at her the next. The manner in which she is treated once she arrives at her destination would be a familiar example of racist behavior to anyone raised in the south prior to the Civil Rights Movement and for some time afterward.


Phoenix is one of the most tenacious and committed characters in American fiction. Many lesser people—including probably most of the white population where she lives—would give up this journey she makes every time her grandson needs medicine. The point being that this is far from the only instance in which she has made this journey and it does not get any easier; in fact, with every passing day it gets harder. She never considers turning around and going back and she does not indicate any potential for feeling sorry for herself for having to do it. She can’t change the circumstances, but she can change her mind. That she does not is clearly intended to be a major theme of the story.


The struggle through the prickly system of racism that Phoenix must navigate with care while also refusing to sacrifice her dignity becomes an allegorical tale of endurance for African-Americans. Her advanced age means that Phoenix has most likely seen the kind of violent expressions of ignorant racism hatred that were possible in America. Even though, she managed not just to live through the violence, but not let eat away at her humanity. The story holds out the enticing promise that not only can a single person endure under such circumstances, but humanity may well be able to survive them.

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