“A Worn Path” Lesson Plan and Analysis

It’s late and all you want is to enter the path from your classroom to your car, then just download this “Worn Path” Plot Analysis Lesson Plan.

Two sentences in and you’ve already gotten value. But you kept reading, so here’s another: A “Worn Path” Theme Lesson Plan.

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“A Worn Path” Summary

"A Worn Path" Lesson Plans

Check out the entire unit.

In case you need a refresher. Here’s “A Worn Path” summary.

On a cold December day, an elderly African-American woman named Phoenix Jackson makes her way along a remote path, narrating the journey to herself as she goes. She crosses different terrain—hills, forests, swamps, and fields—that test her strength and endurance. She comes across animals and people along the way, too. Some of these are real; some are her imagination.

An animal, a black dog, bowls her over, leaving her lying in a ditch for a while until a hunter, a young white man with a dog of his own, stops to help her up. The two chat, mostly about her age and where she is going. Although he seems nice, he’s really a jerk. He sets his own dog off to attack the black dog and he points his gun directly at Phoenix, which he thinks is really funny. The hunter advises Phoenix to go home, but she continues her journey.

She arrives at the town, which is decorated for Christmas and filled with busy people. Phoenix asks someone to tie her shoes. Phoenix climbs the steps to a big building and enters a doctor’s office where she is greeted by a rude attendant.

A nurse recognizes Phoenix right away. She makes the long trip into the city frequently in order to get medicine for her grandson who is sick with lye poisoning. Even though she doesn’t think it will help, the nurse gives Phoenix medicine for her grandson’s throat, and the attendant gives Phoenix a nickel in the spirit of Christmas. Phoenix buys her grandson a paper windmill to bring home to him along with the medicine.

“A Worn Path” Analysis

Here’s a brief analysis of “A Worn Path.”

  • Conflict. Phoenix Jackson’s determination is admirable. She’s battling herself, society, and an idiot with a gun.
  • Symbolism. This isn’t exactly the most riveting plot for a short story. Its enjoyment comes from looking below the surface.
  • Characterization. The reader learns a lot about Phoenix Jackson in a short amount of time. Through her, we get a sense of her society.
  • Plot and the Hero’s Journey. There’s definitely a hero’s journey element to this. I’m not sure how all the elements fit is all.

“A Worn Path” Lesson Ideas

  1. Imitation Writing Assignment. Assign a long journey narrative similar to “A Worn Path.” Start with a graphic organizer that sets up the attempts at solving a problem.
  2. Characterization. The author provides an excellent snapshot of the protagonist using various methods of characterization.
  3. Symbolism. Contextual and non-contextual symbols deepen one’s understanding of the story.
  4. Theme. What is Miss Jackson’s journey supposed to teach us.

“A Worn Path” Symbolism

Dead Man's Path Lesson Plan

Here’s another kind of path. Check out this lesson plan for Dead Man’s Path. Click the pic to see the entire unit.

Let’s take a closer look at symbolism in “A Worn Path.”

  • The Phoenix is a mythological bird that regenerates itself by combusting and healing itself. It’s a bird associated with time, immortality, rebirth/resurrection, and the circle of life. The protagonist’s age, healing mission, and fiery determination do honor to the bird.
  • While doves in general are used as symbols of peace, love, and spirituality/the Holy Spirit, this particular bird gets its sad name from its song, which sounds like a call of grief. It’s a fitting symbol for Phoenix’s journey since her trek is filled with love, faith, and sadness.
  • Buzzards are a symbol of death, which she shoos.
  • The path symbolizes Phoenix’s journey. The city of Natchez, Mississippi was an important slave-trading and slave-shipping center in the deep South before the Civil War. Her journey may symbolize the involuntary journey taken by slaves down south.
  • Lye poisoning strips individual of their voices. It can cause starvation and dehydration because it makes swallowing extremely painful and difficult. In literature, physical starvation and dehydration often stand in for other types of lack. Phoenix and her grandson lack all kinds of things—adequate medical care, education, transportation, financial resources, to name a few. Basically, the system is starving them of a dignified quality of life, and the grandson’s lye poisoning reminds us of this.
  • Trees can have different meanings depending on their type. Common symbolic meanings include life, wisdom, strength, and endurance. In “A Worn Path,” there is a mix of evergreens, trees that appear to live forever, and deciduous trees, trees that temporarily appear as if they’ve died when their leaves fall off.

“A Worn Path” Resources

There’s some stuff online that might help whether you’re teaching online or in person.

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