Narrative Elements in "A Worn Path"
All stories contain elements of narration, which create a particular kind of story. The main narrative elements of any piece are narrator/point of view, characters, plot/structure, setting and theme. Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” is a short story set in the rural South about a poor, elderly African-American woman who travels through woods to get medicine for her grandson.
The theme is the central meaning of the narrative, or what the story is about. The plot/structure are elements of the narrative that show the reader how and why different events and incidents occur within the story. The setting shows the reader where the story takes place. The point of view or narration comes in a variety of forms, including first-person, third-person omniscient or third-person limited. Characterization focuses on how the characters in the story are portrayed and what events or actions allow the characters’ true natures to emerge.
The theme of “A Worn Path” is strength in the face of adversity. It is relayed from the third-person point of view, giving the reader just enough distance from the main character and her conflict to see aspects of conflict that she does not. The plot is driven by Phoenix Jackson, an elderly woman who travels a familiar path through the woods to town during Christmas. She is in a hurry to get medicine for her grandson and return to him, and she faces many obstacles over the course of the journey. The tension of the story stems from the obstacles she encounters, which come from nature, society and herself, including barbed wire, a dog, a white hunter, and flashbacks or hallucinations that involve her grandson.
Jackson is the protagonist of the story, which presents a realistic portrayal of an extremely caring grandmother with possible dementia. The dementia is never stated directly; rather, it is implied through other narrative elements, namely the flashbacks. The story suggests that the grandson died many years ago after swallowing lye but that Jackson continues to believe that he is alive, suffering and in need of medication.
Setting and Structure
“A Worn Path” is set in the rural South, containing elements of both nature and society. In particular, Jackson travels both through the woods and into town. These two aspects of setting pose different kinds of obstacles for Jackson to overcome. In the woods, she faces the white hunter and the barbed wire, and in town she faces questions that she has trouble answering from the staff in the doctor’s office. The chronological structure of the story shows how she faces and responds to obstacles in present time, and the flashbacks show how she responds to thoughts about her grandson.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.