TONE AND PERSPECTIVE IN A WORN PATH
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Tone and Perspective in A Worn Path
The tone and perspective that are adopted in a work of literature are usually indicative of the direction that the author intends the work to take. Apart from this the worth of the work as a piece of literature and the critical and popular response that it garners, depends, to a large extent, on the treatment of these two aspects. They are extremely significant parts of the work and the narrative. This paper shall deal with these aspects of the short story A Worn Path, by Eudora Welty. The story uses changes in tone and perspective during the narrative to reinforce its themes of racism and identity.
The tone of the short story remains one that emphasizes the grit of Phoenix Jackson, an old woman, who walks a long way to get medicines for her ailing grandson. Throughout the journey, we see the determination of the old woman in the face of the obstacles in her path. She faces dangers from animals and people with racist attitudes like the white hunter. The hunter is unwilling to accord her the respect that she deserves as even a human being and toys with her throughout their conservation, displaying an insensitivity that arises out of a consciousness that
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privileges the white race over any other and fails to recognize the humanity of any other. The tone of the story at these points remains grim and sardonic. This tone is a reflection of the attitudes of the Phoenix Jackson. The tone that Welty adopts as the narrator thus enables the effective narration of the story and its events. The narrator’s account of events does not give a lot of significance to the actions of the hunter and this results in the undermining of the stature that the hunter assigns to himself. The tone, even though it emphasizes the grit of the old lady, gives one a sense of tiredness. This fits in well with the theme of the story, where the Phoenix trudges on despite weariness. The story also underscores the love that the woman has for her grandson and the extent to which she is willing to go, for his sake. The weary but sardonic tone that the tale takes complements this theme fully.
The perspective is another extremely important facet of the short story in general and A Worn Path is no exception to this rule. The story is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator who is responsible for the adoption of the sardonic tone that is taken throughout the story. As a result of this, the perspective of the story is sympathetic to the protagonist, Phoenix Jackson and the travails that she has to face, primarily because of the attitudes of the people who live in the same place as she. The sympathetic perspective that is adopted towards the protagonist is something that enables the author and the narrator to subvert existing attitudes to people of races other than the whites and to women of other races in general. The perspective that the
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The narrator takes also does not hide the flaws that Phoenix has and reveals the theft that she commits. The perspective that Welty adopts is thus, one that incorporates balance and has very little bias. The journey that the protagonist of the tale undertakes has often been compared to a religious pilgrimage (Saunders). This enables the narrator to provide the perspective of somebody who is chronicling an event. The narratorial voice is not that of Phoenix. This is significant since this enables the reader and the narrator to maintain a distance from the events that are happening in the story. The essential critical view I thus maintained and the readers are not invited to assume a version of the reality that serves no purpose but to effect a catharsis that arises out of pity for the old black woman. The perspective that the narrator takes makes it amply clear that what the protagonist seeks is not pity but empathy. She is ready to accept money from the nurse but the narratorial voice makes it clear that Phoenix would not accept money that is given, out of pity.
The perspective of the narrator and the tone that the narrator employs is something that enables the articulation of Eudora Welty’s concerns in A Worn Path. The articulation of concerns about racism and its implications are done in a sensitive manner and Welty is able, through her story, to make a case for incorporating these marginalized sections into the society.
Saunders, James Robert. “A Worn Path”: The Eternal Quest of Welty’s Phoenix Jackson. The Southern Literary Journal. Accessed on 11th July, 2011.
Welty, Eudora. (1994). Thirteen Stories. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.