Last updated: October 6, 2015
A Worn Path
- Grade Level:
- Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
- Literacy and Language Arts
"A Worn Path,” is a short story written by Eudora Welty in 1940. The story is set on the Natchez Trace and the town of Natchez, MS. The protagonist is Phoenix Jackson, an elderly African-American woman who goes on a heroic quest to procure medicine for her ill grandson. Students will read “A Worn Path,” complete a comprehension quiz, discuss the layers of metaphor, simile, allusion, and allegory utilized by Welty.
Eudora Welty was a Mississippi author who was born and died in Jackson, MS. She wrote extensively about the Natchez Trace, living near the 'Old Trace' for most of her life. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Book Award, National Medal of Arts, and is a member of the French Legion of Honor, among many other awards. She claimed to have written "A Worn Path" after seeing a women walking down the Natchez Trace near Jackson. She imagined the life of the woman, where she might be going, and why.
"A Worn Path" is a story that is set on the old Natchez Trace and the southern Mississippi town of Natchez. The Natchez Trace is an ancient trail that served as a main artery for commerce, war, exploration, mail, lawlessness, and westward expansion. Many of the slaves imported to the cotton belt were marched down the Natchez Trace from the eastern plantations. It is inferred that Phoenix Jackson was emancipated by the civil war, settled near the Natchez Trace and uses it, as many did, as a country road to get to 'town,' in this case Natchez. The part of the trace that Phoenix is walking through is unique for the loess soil that eroded to many feet deep. She would have been surrounded by 500 year-old live oak trees covered in Spanish moss, long-leaf pine barrens, shallow bayous, and abandoned plantations. She is travelling to Natchez to a clinic to get medicine for her grandson who suffers from lye poisoning, a common ailment in those days in that part of the country. Children would mistakenly drink lye dissolved in water (a cleaning agent). The caustic liquid would destroy the lining of the esophagus, often leading to a slow and painful death from malnutrition. A physician of the day, Chevalier Jackson, fought congress to pass a law making lye manufacturers print a warning label on their product. It is possible that Welty named Phoenix Jackson after this man. Some interesting facts to discuss in class are:How do people refer to Phoenix? 'Grandma' was a term white skinned people used as a term of respect for dark-skinned old women. 'Aunt ___,' however was a term African-Americans used as a term of respect for elders. Does this mean the nurse at the clinic was African-American?
Enduring Understanding: Authors do not always say what they mean and may use literary devices such as allegory, metaphor, simile, and allusions to add depth to their stories.
Essential Question: What is this author saying when she does not really say it?
Objectives: 1. The student will use word recognition and vocabulary (word meaning) skills to communicate.
2. The student will apply strategies and skills to comprehend, respond to, interpret, or evaluate a variety of texts of increasing length, difficulty, and complexity.
3. The student will express, communicate, evaluate, or exchange ideas effectively.
4. The student will apply Standard English to communicate.
Attached are the quizzes, discussion materials, and worksheets for A Worn Path by Eudora Welty.
NOTE: The teacher will have to supply the story, as the story itself is not included here. A search on the internet may produce a copy of the story.
1. For homework, read the short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty. Read specifically for imagery, what pictures does Welty draw? If you were an artist, what scenes from the story would you want to paint?
2. Complete a classroom Quiz based on the reading.
3. Participate in class discussion: Below are several pictures of the Natchez Trace taken around the time "A Worn Path" was written. Have the class imagine the scenes Welty describes, and then show the pictures. Does their imagination match the images? What's the same? What's different?
4. Complete the metaphor/simile chart
5. Write a short essay
See an interview with the author here: