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Symbolism in a Life Journey Essay

In the two short stories, “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty and” I Used to Live Here Once” by Jean Rhys, Symbolism within their Journey is used to describe an experience in life. The two authors use very similar methods to tell their story as well as journeys through their life. They were both written in third person point of view, and focus on the journey of a woman. “A Worn Path” and “I Used to Live Here Once” both involve a main character, in both it is a woman, and other characters along with symbols and setting that help draw out traits of the main character and add meaning to the theme as their journey unfolds.

While “I Used to Live Here Once” is about someone past death already, “A Worn Path” is similar in that Phoenix is fighting old age and death. A motif will also describe two opposing forces; the battle between good and evil. The writing styles of Eudora Welty and Jean Rhys will be compared to one another in order to take a closer look at what methods and styles were used to convey meaning in their stories. Basic information about the two authors will also be covered in order to give some back ground to each story.

The back ground of an author can give a reader an idea about what they may have been seeing, or experiencing in life when they wrote the story. Eudora Welty was born on April 13, 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi. Welty went to multiple Universities such as Mississippi College for Women and the University of Wisconsin where she studied English Literature. She also studied advertising at Columbia University in New York. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first living author to have her work published with the Library of America.

She was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, on top of won Guggenheim Fellowships. (MDAH, 2003). Her short story, “A Worn Path” was published in 1941 and was known and one of her greatest works. “A Worn Path” is a short story involving an elderly black woman, Phoenix Jackson, and her journey through the woods to get medicine for her sick grandson. Her grandson had swallowed lye a few years prior. The author uses setting and character to give the reader an understanding of the story. Throughout her journey she experiences many obstacles that may deter her from continuing on her journey into town.

Phoenix’s sacrificial love shines, when she faces these with bravery and wisdom and continues on her way. In the story “A Worn Path” Phoenix is one that endures many challenges. She is a symbol of perseverance, stamina, and life when faced with hardship and struggle. The story has a mythological tone to it. A Phoenix is an sacred Egyptian bird that symbolizes resurrection. A Phoenix is also a symbol for great longevity, and rebirth (Ferber, 1999). According to Ferber, “It can [also] symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ or of a Christian soul. cited in Ferber, 1999). Phoenix, according to our text, symbolizes renewal; and her blue aged eyes, age symbolizes peacefulness. (cited in Clugston, 2010). The story is set during the Christmas season and has some Christian symbolism as well. Her selfless devotion to her grandson can be interpreted as representing the true spirit of giving and sacrificial love. Christmas is the “birth” of the sun out of darkness (Ferber, 1999). Similar to Phoenix, Christmas is a symbol for birth, the birth of Christ. Within “A Worn Path” there is also a lot of symbols for death.

When Phoenix makes it through the barbed-wire, she feels safe, but ironically is surrounded by symbols of death; “Big dead trees, like black men with one arm. ” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “A Worn Path”, paragraph 16). She also sees a buzzard, which a symbol of death (buzzards, eats the dead). As she continues along her journey, she passes through dead corn, and even believes to see a ghost. Phoenix responds, “who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by. ” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “A Worn Path”, paragraph 23). Many of the symbols throughout the story can be obvious, but many are not.

Not only Phoenix being an elder lady, but many other things points to Phoenix living through slavery. One example is the symbolism of the marble cake. After she crosses the creek and sits down, she notices a boy who looks to be offering her a slice of marble-cake on a plate. However, when Phoenix reached for the cake, she realized she was just grabbing at the air. The marble-cake could be a symbol of a future with no racism because of the two colors swirled together within the cake: black and white. In her old age she is also in touch with nature. There are many times she talks to the animals.

She yells out, “Out of my way all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and whild animal! Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites. Keep the bi wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction . I got a long way. ” (cited in Clugston, 2010). The elderly Phoenix Jackson has a great amount of love for her grandson. The story emphasizes her devotion and love to the little boy because she never stopped or turned around when faced with a problem. Many points throughout her journey, she stops and speaks to herself in short bursts on monologue, almost as a pep talk to herself.

One conflict Phoenix encounters is after falling into a ditch, a hunter helps her out, while his dog chases the other dog off. When the hunter is dealing with the dogs, Phoenix picks up a nickel that he had dropped. He then tells her to go home, because walking into town was to far for her. She refuses to listen and tells the hunter that she set out to go to town, and that is where she is going to go. The hunter points his gun at her, and “she stood straight up and faced him” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “A Worn Path,” paragraph 51). Surprisingly, she was not scared.

When he seen she wasn’t nervous, he asked if the gun scared her and she replied “No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “A Worn Path,” paragraph 53). “A Worn Path” shows the love and devotion that a grandmother has towards her grandchild(ren). It shows how a person can be undaunted by the various problems that they may encounter in there walk through life. It also touches on the racism issue that has plagued Mississippi for several generations. It shows the poverty of the elderly woman.

The story describes the elderly woman’s devotion to her grandson in fine detail. Jean Rhys’ birth name was Gwendolyn Rees Williams. Rhys was born in the West Indies, in Roseau, Dominica on August 24, 1890. She completed schooling in England while living with her aunt. She later got married and lived in Europe. She had multiples failed marriages, as well as a son that died at a young age, as well as a daughter. Jean Rhys later died in Exeter, England on May 14, 1979 (Savory, 1998). While attending school in England she was constantly teased because of her accent and because she was considered an outsider.

Her parents wanted her to return to the Caribbean and she refused. She worked as a chorus girl using the names Vivienne, Emma, or Ella Gray. During her life she experienced several problems. She had a son that died young, a daughter, and was married three times with none of the marriages going well. Jean Rhys died in Exeter, England on May 14, 1979 (Savory, 1998) Rhys’ writing were supported by a famous English author Ford Maddox Ford. Many of her writings reflected mistreated and helpless females from when she was growing up.

She was also dealt with depression and faced many trials and tribulations that contributed to her work. While living in England, Rhys may have dealt with issues of feeling out of place. She was teased and picked on because of her accent. This could have led her to also feel like she is stuck in between two worlds similar to what her character in “I Used to Live Here Once” did. Jean Rhys’ short story, “I Used to Live Here Once”, was published in 1979. The author uses setting and character throughout the story. The story speaks of a woman visiting her old home. She visits the pond, describing each stone in detail.

She then sees children playing and attempts to interact with them, although they do not respond. In the end, the use of characters helps conclude the story, showing the narrators view was from beyond death. When the woman approached the house she felt excited and noticed that some things were missing or were still there just like she remembered when she lived there. She started to feel strange when she noticed a car parked in front of the house (Clugston, 2010). When the woman gets to the house there are two white children playing and she attempts to tell them that she had lived there once.

She said hello to the children three times (Clugston, 2010). The children didn’t acknowledge her. In the end, the main question is why the children ignored her. It seems like the woman is a ghost and did not realize it. Jean Rhys did not have a very strong attachment to where she grew up. Dominica was still somewhat important to her throughout her life because she often wrote about it in her work. While she was living in Dominica, she was cut off from the Creole community. Maybe she was writing herself into the story to show how she felt disconnected throughout her life.

She was close enough to the children that she could have touched them. She stretched her arms out wanting to touch them. The young boy turned with his gray eyes and looked straight into her eyes. He said, “hasn’t it gone cold all of a sudden” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “I Used to Live Here Once,” Paragraph 8). He suggested to the little girl that they go inside the house and she agreed. When the author mentions “cold”, this is a clue that the character is dealing with life after death. Many people say, when there is a ghost around, it is cold.

As the woman watched the children run over the grass to the house she dropped her arms to her sides. The story ends with the statement “that was the first time she knew” (cited in Clugston, 2010, “I Used to Live Here Once,” Paragraph 11). That statement alone gives the impression that she is either dead and has just realized it and she feels very alienated. Throughout the story, there are several subtle hints that lead the reader to think the woman is dead. The two short stories that were written by Eudora Welty “A Worn Path” and by Jean Rhys “I Used to Live Here Once” both show the symbolism of a journey through life.

Eudora Welty goes into fine detail in describing the elderly woman’s love and devotion for her grandson in “A Worn Path”. Jean Rhys uses the experiences and feelings that she has had in her life to set the mood in her story “I Used to Live Here Once”. The two authors use very similar methods in telling their stories. Both women use the experience of a journey as a symbol of their life experience. Throughout these two stories, multiple symbols are used to explain both life and death. In “A Worn Path” Phoenix is an elderly women who has lived a life of wisdom and experience.

Phoenix shows sacrificial love when she faces many obstacles, none of which stop her from doing what she can to help her grandson. However, on the other hand, there is a lot more left unknown in “I Used to Live Here Once”. The two short stories that are told in third person, deal with death in one way or another. Phoenix faces multiple signs of death throughout her journey into the city. The women in “I Used to Live Here Once” seems to be past death already, and is facing the realization that she is no longer living.


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