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The Quest Motif in Eudora Welty’s a Worn Path

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Paige Porter

Professor Meade

English 102U

8 March 2019

The Quest Motif in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”

 A quest is defined as a journey towards a specific goal or mission. The word quest has served in mythological and fictional literature as a difficult journey towards a goal and often allegory and symbolism appear. The quest motif appears in the folklore and ethnic culture in every nation. In literary works, we find that the quest typically involves lots of travel, where the hero encounters exotic locations and experiences extraordinary interactions with lots of people and things. The quest motif has appeared in some of the world's greatest works of literature. The oldest literary folk epic poem using a quest motif is the Sumerian epic, written in Cuneiform around 2100 BC. This quest was about a mythological king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who was searching for eternal life. The myth arose between 2850-2500 BC. The second important epic folk quest motif is The Odyssey of Homer (750 BC), which is a story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who had fought for ten years in Troy and has a quest to return home. He encounters ten years of obstacles before he returns home to his son and wife. The art epic differs from a folk epic, that it is composed of a specific person to glorify a patron. The earliest and most important art epic is the Aeneid, written by a Roman poet Virgil. This is a mythological story of Trojan hero, Aeneas, who after the Trojan War gathered a group of Trojans to find a new homeland. On the way there they encountered many obstacles and finally arrived on the west coast of the Italian Peninsula, located at the mouth of the Tiger River, and founded Rome. The last important quest is The Divine Comedy, a religious epic, written by a Florentine-Italian writer named Dante around 1320 AB. He began a quest to search for Paradise and his beloved Beatrice. Throughout his quest, he had to go through hell, infernal, and purgatory until he eventually reaches Paradise. Each of the three places he explores is depicted of 33 cantos, which together represent 99 cantos and a concluding one canto reaches 100. The quest motif has continued to be used as the motif in literature up to the modern age. One of the most important modern short stories in American modern literature using the quest motif is Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" written in 1941. In the story, the main character Phoenix Jackson, a negro grandmother, goes routinely on a quest from her country shack to the city of Natchez on a quest to get medicine for her sick grandchild. Granny Phoenix sets off on her quest to secure medicine for her sick grandchild on a December day close to Christmas. On Granny's quest, she encounters nine natural and human obstacles.

         Granny’s first obstacle is quivering in the thicket. Granny says, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons, and wild animals!” There were a variety of different animals in the thicket and Granny was making sure none of the animals could get underneath her and cause her to fall. She made it through without any animals getting to her.

Granny’s second obstacle is her struggle on the path up the hill. In this obstacle we see Granny complaining about her own human condition of being old and having troubles with her feet. Granny states, “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far.” Granny also mentions that something always gets ahold of her though, and she makes it to the top every time. She gets to the top of the hill up through the pines and down through the oaks. At the bottom of the hill, she encounters her third obstacle.

The third obstacle is a thorny bush. The bush catches her dress and Granny had to work very hard to get her dress uncaught. Granny is concerned that the bush could possibly tear her dress, and she doesn’t want to turn back home now. Her dress was so long and full that once she got one part unhooked, another part of the dress was caught. “Never want to let folks pass, no sir,” Granny said to the bush. Granny finally became free and continued on her mission down the hill.

The fourth obstacle is when granny arrives at the foot of the hill and discovers a log laid across the creek. "Now comes the trial," said Phoenix. Granny had to cross a log to get over the creek. Granny reflects problems of old age while trying to get across and not lose her balance. She closed her eyes and opened them to find herself safe on the other side. Granny was shocked she made it over and then sat down to rest near a tree. While sitting near the tree, Granny imagined that a little boy brought her a piece of marble cake. She tells the boy, "That would be acceptable." When she reaches for the cake, she discovers it was just her own hand in the air.

After the experience with the little boy and the cake, Granny Phoenix encounters her fifth obstacles. Granny had to go through a barbed-wire fence. She had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby crawling. She talked loudly to herself and told herself that she couldn't let her dress be torn this late in the day and that she could not pay to have her arm or leg sawed off. At last, she was safe through the fence and made it out.

The sixth obstacle involves a scarecrow. Granny went into a field of dead corn and had to go through a maze because there was no path. In the maze, she met something tall, black, and skinny. When she first approached it, she thought it was a person but then discovered it was a scarecrow. "You scarecrow,” Granny stated. Her face lighted. “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said with laughter. Granny continued on her way and reached a wagon track. She walked on the track for quite a while and said, “This the easy place. This the easy going.”

The seventh obstacle shifts from natural impediments to impediments of living creates. Granny was meditating, and a black dog came out of the weeds by the ditch. The dog came at Granny and she hit him a little with her cane. Over granny went in the ditch and she laid there for quite a while. Eventually, a young man finds her and helps her up off the ground. He asked Granny where she lived and told her to go back home. The young hunter drops five cents and Granny manages to pick it up and slip it in her pocket without him seeing. The young man walked away and came back pointing a gun at Granny. Granny admits that she isn’t scared and states, “I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done." The author is reflecting on race relations in this part of the story. The man is kind to Granny, but there is a lack of respect because she is a colored woman.

The eighth impediment is untied shoelaces. Granny made it into town and paused quietly on the sidewalk. An upper-middle-class lady walks by Granny and she stopped her. Granny held up her foot and said: "Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?" The lady puts down her packages and helps Granny tie her shoe. The lady respected Granny as if she were her own grandmother.

The ninth impediment is when Granny arrives inside the health office. "A charity case, I suppose," said an attendant who sat at the desk before her. The attendant did not know why Granny was there until the nurse came in and said, "Oh, that's just old Aunt Phoenix." The doctor allows Phoenix to have the medicine for free as long as Granny came to get it. Granny is a charity case in two different ways. She gets the medicine for free from the state, and then she takes it and gives it to her sick grandchild. Granny gets another nickel from the nurse and states, “I am going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper.” Granny walked out of the doctor’s office and began to head back to her grandson.

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