After struggling up a hill, extricating herself from a thorn bush, and crossing a log over a creek, Phoenix Jackson, the aged and infirm protagonist of Eudora Welty's short story "A Worn Path," sits down on the banks of the creek for a rest:
Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. "That would be acceptable," she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air. (143)
Most explicators of this passage have focused on an interpretation of the little boy's gesture; for example, Roland Bartel suggests that Phoenix is having a vision of her grandson (290), while Neil D. Isaacs argues that the slice of cake is an allusion to the Christian rite of Communion (77). Only three critics, however, have attempted to explain the possible significance of the mistletoe above Phoenix's head. Isaacs sees this image as part of "a pattern to underline the idea of Christmas time" (76). Similarly, Alfred Appel, Jr., claims that the mistletoe relates to Phoenix's journey "as a kind of Christmas pageant or pilgrimage" (169). In tracing the story's allusions to the mythological phoenix and the regenerative power of the sun, Frank R. Ardolino points out that, as an evergreen, the mistletoe symbolizes immortality (3). While making valid points, these commentaries, however, do not fully explicate the allusive significance of this particular botanical image. The presence of mistletoe in this story, in addition to providing another Christmas image and a symbol of immortality, further supports the interpretation of Phoenix ...
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... (Summer 1977): 288-90.
Evans, Ivor H., ed. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 14th ed. London: Cassell, 1990.
Gordon, Lesley. Green Magic: Flowers, Plants, and Herbs in Lore and Legend. New York: Viking, 1977.
Huxley, A. J. "Mistletoe." Man, Myth and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown. Ed. Richard Cavendish. New York: Cavendish, 1994.
Isaacs, Neil D. "Life for Phoenix." Sewanee Review 77 (January-March 1962): 75-81.
Keys, Marilynn. "'A Worn Path': The Way of Dispossession." Studies in Short Fiction 16 (Fall 1979): 354-56.
Lehner, Ernst, and Johanna Lehner. Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees. New York: Tudor, 1960.
Trefman, Sara. "Welty's 'A Worn Path.'" Explicator 24 (February 1966). Item 56.
Welty, Eudora. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. New York: Harcourt, 1980.
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