The symbolism in the piece and the potential lessons to be learned from it are open to interpretation. Many critics have commented on the significance of the main character's name in relation to the mythology phoenix, relating to her indomitable ability to rise again and make her journey. Other writers such as Dennis Sykes and Kevin Moberly have argued that Phoenix's endurance through multiple obstacles emphasizes racial and economic inequalities in the Deep South during the Depression. Kathleen Feeley has drawn comparisons to the story of Odysseus, who faces many trials along his journey. Welty herself has said it is a story about how a writer works.
Mistletoe is seen as a symbolic item by David Piwinski, who states that the plant is affiliated with "Jesus Christ" implying how Phoenix herself Is a "Christ-like figure" who repeatedly overcomes adversity. Similarly, Piwinski notes how mistletoe is specifically an "evergreen" which may "allude to the idea that (Phoenix) is an immortal figure". Orr states that the cycle culminates for Phoenix herself in the form of the lye/damage/obstacles representing the death that the cycle begins with while the journey and destination relate to the subsequent rebirth and that the money has meaning behind it with the nickel that she stole from the ground that the hunter dropped, can say that she find and takes what she needs when she needs it.