Symbolism in Eudora Welty’s Short Stories

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Words: 1442 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2018

Words: 1442|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2018

The term symbolism is nothing but a literary element used in literature. It helps the readers to understand a literary work. Symbolism is everywhere. Symbolism exists whenever something is meant to represent other meaning. In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a bird with a long span of a lifetime. This Phoenix is often used as a symbol for regeneration or reborn. The Phoenix is a bright red and golden color bird. While nearing the end of its life it travels to Heliopolis, the city of the sun, to die and reborn from ashes. This is just one instance. Phoenix in literature is often used as a symbol, One can take the Southern Writer Eudora Welty's works as an example of study symbolism. Eudora Welty uses many themes throughout her literary work to illustrate racism, responsibility, initiation, belonging and coming of age etc. Welty is often influenced by Greek mythology and beliefs. She also uses simple symbols like a key and exhibits it strongly as a symbol of happiness.

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Therefore, the major aim of the paper is to explore the mythological symbols and other elements in Eudora Welty's short stories. Phoenix Jackson is walking to Natchez, Mississippi, in order to obtain medicine for her grandson. Despite her advanced age, she undertakes this increasingly difficult journey out of unconditional love. Phoenix the African American Woman starts her difficult journey in a bright frozen day early morning in the month of December. Phoenix Jackson coming along a path through pine woods. She was old small, her head tied in a ‘red rag’, she wore a long dark colored striped dress and a bleached sugar sack as an apron, carrying a thin, small cane made from an umbrella. She looked straight ahead. Wrinkles on her face promise us her age. She went on up and down the hills She boldly warns "Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits and wild animals... Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites... Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don't let any of those come running my direction. I got a long way.". She undertakes this difficult journey for her sick grandson. Finally, with never dying aim and high spirit, she reaches her destination to get medicine for her grandson. Lets us look over the hardships of this mighty old woman’s.In this difficult journey, her first task was a thorn caught her dress, trembling all over, she freed herself.Again she sees the log which was laid across the stream. “Now comes the trail,” said Phoenix. With endurance she put her right foot out, closing her eyes she mounted on the log. Lifting her skirt, balancing her cane, like a festival figure in some parade she began to march across. Our heart flutters and makes astonish when she bravely overcome. This time she had to go through the barbed-wire fence, she crawled like a baby. She went on into the cornfield. There was something tall and black moving before her. First, she taught it was a man. Again mistakenly taught a ghost but she never scared, instead she reached out her hand and touched it. Then she realized it is a scarecrow. “You scarecrow”, “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said with laughter. With new obstacles, a black dog with a lolling tongue came before her. With all the spirit she tried to hit the dog with her cane. However a young white man, a hunter helped her. Though Phoenix received cordial words from him, here she faces racism. “I know you old colored people wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus”.p 246. After sometime he came back and playfully lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix. She stood straight and faced him.

Similar to Phoenix bird Welty portrait this character as never-give-up attitude and endurance to overcome the obstacles. In mythology, the bird phoenix lives for centuries before burning into ashes. Many countries believe in mythological stories about phoenix bird. Great people are compared to Phoenix because of their tireless dedication, confident and hard work. Even common people are enchanted with this mighty bird’s story.

In Eudora Welty’s short story ‘worn path’ she named her character ‘Phoenix Jackson’. Phoenix Jackson, as a character is an epitome of what the phoenix symbolizes, hope security and a promise for the future. Phoenix Bird has a different name in different countries they believe in the different history of Phoenix bird, however, the conclusion of this mighty bird is 'immortal'. Like Phoenix bird’s enchanted strength, Welty's Phoenix moving towards her destination. She kept moving strongly. Phoenix the woman has many similarities to Phoenix the bird. Additionally, she is wearing a ‘red rag’ on her head. This clearly symbolizes the color of the Phoenix. Phoenix bird undertakes a journey to ‘Heliopolis’. Similarly, Welty’s Phoenix advanced age suggests that she is on her own journey.

Repeated references are made to Phoenix, age, she describes herself as the oldest person she knows. She says "My senses are gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know”. Any kind of injury suffered out in the open and alone like she was in the middle of the winter could have resulted in death. Unfair obstacles that Phoenix must have confronted in her entire life. Yet she made it through them all unharmed and her spirit still intact. The Key: Pulitzer Prize-Winner Eudora Welty’s short story ‘The Key’ is taken for the symbol. Like many of Welty’s stories ‘the key’ set among people from the poor, rural south and explores the depth and limitations of human communication. This story is set in 1930’s train station, Albert Morgan, his wife Ellie Morgan and the other passengers are waiting there. It is about the key and how each individual responds to it particularly Albert takes it as his possession and overwhelmed with enjoyment and satisfaction. Keys are an important object in our daily lives, though never give them a second thought. They open doors and beyond the doors are things that provide us with comfort and happiness. Welty successfully explores how a small object can give a deep enjoyment and can unlock the lost happiness of an individual.

Almost treats the key like his second life and his happiness is infected with his wife also. Keys are commonly associated to unlock any locked objects. Here we can find this lifeless small object add a new life to the protagonist by triggering and lost happiness and delight. It is a custom to visit the Niagara falls on a Wedding trip, to start a happy life. In a railway station, the passenger is waiting along with this deaf and dumb couple. Everyone is waiting with patience. A red-haired young men standing in the corner of the room playfully tossing a key up and down in the air. Then in a moment, he drops the key on the floor. Everyone, except Albert and his wife, looked up for a moment. On the floor, the key had made a fierce metallic sound.

Albert picks it up quite slowly with wonder written all over his face and hands as if it had fallen from the sky. His fingers clumsy and blurring while touching it. In an excitement, with overflowing of an happiness he says. "It is a symbol of something-something that we deserve, and that is happiness. We will find happiness in Niagara Falls". This makes him own whelmed with happiness, he sees it as a symbol of ‘happiness’, the key he sees to unlock the cost of happiness. With a feel of electrification, he secretly hides the key in his pocket. A small object key is symbols of opening and closing.

Locks and keys affect our lives in various ways. Endora Welty beautifully employs how a small object can sometimes make a great change within the individual. The short story "Worn path" ends with of Phoenix Jackson's destination, where she confronts the physical and mental hardships of her age. She undertakes this challenging Journey for her little grandson. Endora Welty magnificently portraits this mighty Phoenix character similar to the immortal bird Phoenix. Finally, Welty proves her skills by adopting a mythological symbol and a common symbol.

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In the story "The Key" the Protagonist was enchanted with happiness and treats the key as his beloved possession. His enjoyment infects his wife Ellie too. Perhaps he had even decided that it was a symbol not only for happiness with Ellie but of something else-something which he could have alone, for only himself, in peace, something strange and unlooked for which would come to him.

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Symbolism in Eudora welty’s short stories. (2018, August 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Symbolism in Eudora welty’s short stories.” GradesFixer, 02 Aug. 2018,
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