Symbolism is an important aspect of literary works because through it the craftsman of the work is able to communicate his views and ideas which might not be apparent from the work unless thought upon from a critical angle. Through the course of this paper, I intend to analyze and compare the symbolism in two masterpieces namely Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” and Robert Frost’s “A Road Not Taken”. The reason for selecting these two works of art is because they demonstrate the depth and a variety of literary elements including Style, Form and Content which would form the centerpiece of my analysis. A Worn Path, one of Eudora Welty’s masterpieces is a story of resilience, will and determination. The story ponders on the importance of the said elements in achieving success in life. Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1909, being an exceptional student, graduated from the University of Wisconsin majoring in Literature and English.
Her initial career choice led her into becoming a journalist however; she soon realized her potential as a writer on human behavior. Her writing style is greatly admired and as a result, she was awarded the Pulitzer Award in 1972 for her fictional story titled “The Optimist’s Daughter”. In addition, she has also won various other awards including two American Book Awards and many O Henry awards. Her writing domain extended to include plays and poems to children books (Gale, 2002). Through the Worn Path, the author has been able to convey the story of an old African American woman who has faced many hardships in life. The literature is loaded with literary elements including symbols which help Welty convey her point of view to the reader. The woman’s life is a depiction of heroism and sacrifice and is a demonstration of how hardships can be dealt with in life. In her work we see various themes including the sense of taking up responsibility and the characteristics of a determined and strong willed individual.
At the time Welty composed her work, Jackson was a place riddled with racial profiling and discrimination and therefore as a result, her work demonstrates aspects of racism as well (Skyes, 1998). The star of her story is a woman named Phoenix Jackson, an old black woman living in a town full of white people. The story focuses on her journey to town which she makes in order to get medicines for her grandson. During her path, the woman encounters various problems including physical obstacles like trees, bushes and small animals. These obstacles try to block her path but she is persistent in her approach and determined in her will and manages to waive off all obstacles through the use of her umbrella. Through the course of the story we find out that this is not her first voyage in fact she has made voyages like such many times before in the past; although her will is strong but age has made her senses weak and given her a poor eyesight (Clugston, 2010).
Jackson has a vivid imagination as we see her imagining various outrageous themes and emotions throughout the story, for instance, we see her thinking about food and waltzing with a scarecrow. In addition, she also runs into a hunter in the woods who passes racial comments to Jackson. The Exposition of the story comes into view at the end of the story when we see that Jackson finally reaches the pharmacy to get the medicine; at that very moment we find out that Jackson’s grandson is dead; the old Negro woman is still in the phase of denial and does not wish to accept her grandson’s death. We see her not only getting the medicines for him but she came to town to buy a toy windmill for her grandson. The tale is highly tragic yet it defines the importance of purpose in life which drives us to achieve more than we are actually capable of. The story ends with Jackson’s last words which demonstrate the love she had for her grandson.
Her love is so pure that she says that all the hard work that she did was worth it and that if she had to do it again, she would do it in a heartbeat (Clugston, 2010). Literary elements like style and form are unique when it comes to Welty’s work. Welty’s work stands out because despite being so intense in its interpretations, it is simple. The way she structures her words are so simple yet it renders the readers in a state of deep critical analysis. The form of the story encompasses various literary devices which create an effect that leaves large room for interpretation i.e. to an individual reader; the interpretation might be different to another. The story is communicated from a neutral standpoint i.e. a third person view. The style of narration makes sympathizing with Jackson a lot more intense. The third person view however makes the main character seem blurred.
Phoenix Jackson is the protagonist of the story around whom the entire story revolves while the antagonist of the story is not a person but the environment in general which causes great discomfort to her in the form of physical blockages as well as racial abuse. In addition to the two, the story also consists of characters which are “Stereotyped” i.e. they present a biased point of view. Another important literary element demonstrated in the prose is Exposition i.e. the conveyance of the crux of the story which is revealed at the ending moments (Neil, 1963). In addition to the elements of form, Welty has also made use of various symbols in the prose. These symbols might not be easily apparent at first however once identified, they further refine the concept that Welty has tried to convey. The first such example in the story is the name of the protagonist herself i.e. Phoenix; Phoenix is a mythological bird which dies and then is reborn from its own ashes after a 500 year period. The name is fitting to the character because we see that the old woman, despite being worn out and battered is able to compete with all the hardships she encounters. In addition, her last name Jackson probably signifies Jackson, Mississippi.
The two names in conjunction refer to the racial profiling that Mississippi was subject to in the late 40’s. The Similes used in the prose also call upon various comparisons including the comparison made between a buggy whip and the cane carried around by Jackson; we also see Jackson’s movements in the forest being compared to a figure which would be seen parading in a festival (Gale, 2002). In addition, Welty has set the stage using various elements of imagery. Through imagery an author is able to create an environment in the minds of the readers through mere words. The imagery in the prose includes the use of physical elements like plants, animals and objects like barbed wires which makes the readers think if Jackson would be able to reach her destination or not. Eudora Welty has also made use of “Apostrophe” through which she was able to bring dead objects to life.
The reason behind the use of such an element is to enhance the reading experience so that the readers are able to relate to the characters in a more accentuated way; example of the same include the use of the scarecrow and her dance with it and the imagination of a boy bringing sweets to her etc. All these elements help us realize that despite being old, she was determined and that her imagination helped her reach her goals (Hardin, 2000). The comparison between the two chosen literary pieces takes an important twist because I aim to compare an item of prose with an item of poetry. The Road Not Taken is a poem with a structure constituting four five lined stanzas. As with the case above, the poet has used simplistic language yet the meaning hidden in the poem is quite intense and requires a deeper analysis. Robert Frost, the composer of the poem, was born in San Francisco, in 1874; the timelines between the two artists quite significant demonstrating a complete contrast of views. Frost, being an excellent student became a tutor after completing his education. The interesting aspect of
Frost’s work was that although being a US poet, his work did not gain as much popularity locally as it did internationally i.e. specially in the UK. For his efforts in the field of poetry, he was presented with the Pulitzer award four times. Frost is considered to be one of the iconic poets of his time (“The Road,” n.d.) The scene set by the poem is of the month of autumn. The outline described in the poem is greatly similar to the countryside where Frost himself settled down once he had moved to the UK. The poet is not abrupt in his thoughts and presentation but rather the crux of the poem is revealed subtly and slowly. The poem starts out with Frost describing the scene of a pathway which is surrounded on all sides by Yellow trees. The trees exist so that Frost can describe the month of autumn i.e. we see leaves wilting away. The path ultimately leads to a double crossing i.e. the path leads to two distinct paths and the poet is seen to be in a place of decision i.e. he has to decide which route to take.
The poet does not want to select a path but has to do so. This aspect presented by the poet demonstrates a fact of life i.e. in the life of every man comes a time when he has to select a path. He might not like the decision he makes, but the decision is so important that he has to stick by it and try to make it work. This describes the true essence of life i.e. “who we are” is based on the decisions we take in life (“The Road,” n.d.). An interesting aspect of the content of the poem is that during the description of the two paths, the poet is of the opinion that one path seemed more worn out than the other. The poet shows his willingness to follow the former because he wants a life that is new i.e. he wants to live in a way no one has ever done before. He ultimately does pick a path however; he states in the poem that he would always remember the “Road not taken”.
This is again a reality of life because there comes a time when every man ponders on the decisions he made in life. It makes him realize if the decisions were worthwhile or not, however whatever the outcome, the consequences of the decision cannot be undone. The end of the poem sees the poet sigh however, the meaning of the sigh is still unclear because we are unable to identify if it was a sigh of relief or an expression of resentment. The name of the poem is self-explanatory however, the poem does not only describe the decisions we make but describes our approach to our decisions and the usual feeling of “what if” that humans are so capable of developing. The choices that we make define who we are and make us known in the world around us. The poem is an indication to the reader to be careful about the choices made in life because one bad move can render life to move in a direction which might not have benefits attached (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008).
The poem is a beautifully composed with the use of simple words and stanzas yet in conjunction are able to generate a profound impact on the readers. The crux of the poem focuses on the importance of decision making in life. Our choices define our existence and poor choices would make us regret our decisions and the scars that these decisions leave on life might not be comprehendible. The poem is structured in the form of quatrains i.e. 4 five lined stanzas. The stanzas complement each other and help develop and uncover the meaning of the poem in a slow manner. The initial stanzas of the poem focus on the environment created by the poet while the latter stanzas focus excessively on the poet’s emotions and decision of choosing the path that he did. The poem has an A-B-A-A-B rhyme scheme which is quite unique. The couplets within the poem describe the issue at hand in the poem i.e. the path to be chosen while the final versions of the rhyme describe the resolution of the problem.
The poem also consists of various literary devices which exert a great influence on the readers. The why in which the rhymes are structured provide an insight on the way the poet thinks. The rhythm of the poem is iambic which gives the poem its pace. In the poem an unstressed syllable is immediately succeeded by a stressed syllable indicating the iambic structure of the poem, for instance, “roads, diverged and wood”. Although this structure is consistent throughout the poem, the organization of the syllables throughout the poem varies. This gives the poem an element of surprise and keeps the readers intrigued (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). There is also use of symbols and metaphors in the poem which makes it quite interesting to read and visualize; for instance, Frost gives examples of wood and forks which are found on the pathways.
These are indicators of the problems that all decisions carry. We see identical forks being used in the poem; this highlights the ability that God has given humans i.e. the ability to choose and select a life path due to free will. The poet has also made use of Ironic tone in the poem. Ironic tone as the name suggests is the way in which an aspect is presented in the poem in one way yet the meaning of that aspect is meant to be something completely different. The poet believes that his life would be one to absorb the changes brought about by the decisions he has made and that his life would be an example for others to follow. However, inside he believes that when the time comes, he himself would betray himself. Another interesting aspect which is described in the poem which leaves the readers in a state of thought is the sigh let out by the poet at the end.
The sigh can be seen to have a dual meaning i.e. it can be a sigh of relief that the poet was able to pick a choice that suited him and that he was able to dodge a bullet by not choosing the alternate path. In contrast, it can also be a sigh of resentment because there are thorns in the life decision he made and he regrets not taking the path sacrificed (Holman & Snyder). The structure of the poem, the rhyming sequences, the diction and the choice of words used by Robert Frost leaves the readers at an impasse i.e. he leaves the story open to be interpreted. While Eudora Welty’s masterpiece was magnificent, it had a definite ending where we realize the hardships that the woman suffers.
However, Robert Frost’s interpretation of the path not taken leaves the readers thinking about not only whether the poet made the right call but whether they themselves are making good life choices or not. The poem highlights the impact decisions have on the structure of life itself and the severity of the consequences if the decisions taken are not adequate (SparkNotes Editors, 2002). The beauty of literature is that it is a celebration of life and life experiences. Literature provides various platforms for expression and each platform carries with it distinct elements and devices which help the expressionist express their point of view in the most profound manner.
Through the paper, I have been able to contrast two contrasting literary platforms i.e. prose and poetry. The prose was a masterpiece concocted by Eudora Welty who has described the resilience and sacrifices of one, Phoenix Jackson, who despite racial profiling, age restrictions and physical barriers was able to get to her objectives no matter how farfetched and impossible it was. In contrast, we see Robert Frost in his poem describe the importance of life’s decisions and its impacts of the overall quality of life. In the life of every man there are times when we have to select among alternatives. It is these times which are defining moments and can lead to life taking complete turns. It is therefore paramount to think about choices and making profound decisions.
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. The Short Story: Setting and Character. Gale (2002). A Worn Path. Retrieved on November 24th, 2012 from http://www.pljulianhs.net/ourpages/auto/2007/3/11/1173643688271/A_Worn_Path_notes.pdf Holman, B. & Snyder, M. (n.d.). The “Tricky” Poem: A Guide to Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. Retrieved on November 24th, 2012 from http://poetry.about.com/od/poems/a/roadguide_3.htm Hardin, S. (2000). A Worn Path: A Journey through the Real and the Not Real. Retrieved on November 23rd, 2012 from http://castle.eiu.edu/~ipaweb/pipa/volume3/hardin.htm Neil, D. (1963). Life for Pheonix. The Sewanee Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Winter, 1963), pp. 75-81 Retrieved on November 24th, 2012 from http://www.jstor.org/pss/27540842 SparkNotes Editors. (2002). SparkNote on Frost’s Early Poems. Retrieved on November 24th, 2012 from http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/frost/ Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008).The Road Not Taken Rhyme, Form & Meter. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://www.shmoop.com/road-not-taken/rhyme-form-meter.html Shmoop Editorial Team. (November 11, 2008).The Road Not Taken: Stanza 1 Summary.
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