Character in Place: Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”

Sense of place gives equilibrium; extended, it is sense of direction too. Carried off we might be in spirit, and should be, when we are reading or writing something good; but it is the sense of place going with us still that is the ball of golden thread to carry us there and back and in every sense of the word to bring us home.

—Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty, whose life spanned most of the 20th century, represented the world of the deep American South in multiple genres. In stories, novels, and photography, the Pulitzer Prize winner was especially interested in the relationship of place to character. Her art explores the impact of place on the life of the individual depending on race, gender, and economic status, as well as the reverse influence of the individual character on environment. The short story “A Worn Path” is marked by intense and dramatic imagery that illuminates one character’s difficult and triumphant journey through a single day. It opens a complex landscape that evokes both the character’s passage and others’ larger pilgrimages. This lesson invites students to describe and analyze Welty’s use of characterization and setting to communicate the struggle and reward of that journey for Phoenix Jackson—poor, black, and elderly—during the Great Depression.

Guiding Questions

How does Welty use characterization and setting to advance meaning in “A Worn Path”?

Learning Objectives

To describe and analyze character and setting in a short story

To substantiate and extend analysis through graphical representation

To write clearly, skillfully, and convincingly about connections between characterization and setting