‘A Worn Path’ by Eudora Welty and ‘I used to Live Here Once’ by Jean Rhys both have one subject matter in common: journey of life (Gottschalk, 2000, 256-260). The books both focus on the trip of life, that is to say, the way a person moves from one stage of life to another (Shurr, 2003, 201-205). It is so much evident in the books that regardless of the direction that a person’s life takes, the person is bound to encounter several setbacks that can demoralize their quest to strive for a better life. Therefore, a person has to possess a strong and a stable will in order to build his/her motivation toward the journey of life.
Different people have various perceptions about journey. The definition of journey goes further than the simple definition that is common to everyone. It is imperative to be conscious of the driving factors that propel one in a journey. The opportunities or challenges encountered through the journey process should not hinder a person from reaching the destination. The opportunities and challenges that are encountered in the journey process can change a person’s basic way of judgment in various aspects.
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The most dominant theme in these stories is journey (Orr, 2005). The theme has been portrayed in different ways by the two authors in their books. In Eudora Welty’s ‘A Worn Path’, the journey through life is demonstrated by a black American woman whose grandson had developed an infection after an accident. On this particular day, the woman was on her way to town with the aim of finding a healing medicine for her grandson who had suffered for long from an infection. Her journey to town was flawed by various setbacks as she traversed her way through the woods to town. These setbacks did not dissuade her from the quest of restoring her grandson’s health, given the amount of love and passion she had for her (Tischler, 2007, 127-139).
In Jean Rhys story, ‘I Used to Live Here Once’, the theme of journey is portrayed by a lady who finally decides to go back home. On her way back, she is faced with various setbacks and she notices that much changes have occurred to the environment that she used to be familiar with. Jean Rhys book portrays a lady who is in a memory lane of her childhood (Brown, 2010, 586-588).
As stated earlier on, the most dominant theme is journey. This theme has been described in different perspectives as far as the two stories are concerned. In Welty’s ‘A Worn Path’, the theme of journey is demonstrated by the black American woman when she sets off to town through the woods to look for medication for her grandson. In contrast, Jean Rhys’s ‘I Used to Live Here Once’ postulates the theme of journey in a new dimension. Here there is a woman who finally decides to go back home after staying away for quite a period of time. The woman here already has a picture of what the journey is going to be like, even though she finds out that several things have changed. Contrary to her expectations, she does not get a good reception at home.
In contrast to ‘A Worn Path’ where the black American had an option of choosing the preferred path to use to her destination, ‘I Used to Live Here Once’ portrays an unavailability of options; the woman had only one path to follow. She was dead, and her spirits have turned up to take the journey. She was driven by her strong will to reconnect with her people back at home. Even though she was amazed by the reception that she got back at home, she still felt relieved and satisfied because coming home is what she had really longed for (Brown, 2010, 588-589).
In ‘I Used to Live Here Once’, the main character is dead and her spirits are taking the journey back home. The woman is not even aware of the fact that she is dead and that it was her spirits that had been travelling throughout the journey. The woman is assumed to be dead because during her journey way back home, she noted the many changes that had occurred in her home town and as soon as he reached home, she met two little children who were playing on the compound; the children ignored her despite her efforts to try to speak to them. Therefore the fact that the woman felt ignored by the children is enough to deduce that the main character was dead (Yaakov, 2001). The woman’s spirits had travelled for a long distance but still, no one could hear the woman speak or even see her or talk to her or feel her.
In the story ‘A Worn Path’, the dominant character here, Phoenix Jackson, was a lady with a strong will. Despite all the many encounters she faces in the woods, she still does not give up. Every time she encountered trouble, she managed to get a positive benefit from it. For instance there was a time when she fought with a hunter in the woods and managed to steal all his money. Phoenix is a strong character and she goes for whatever she wants and gets it. No matter what comes her way, she deals with it courageously and she has no remorse at all.
In the story, ‘A Worn Path’, the main character symbolizes phoenix, which was a mythical bird, the only one of its kind that burnt itself on a pyre and rose from the ashes to live again. The birds strong will and determination is likened to the main characters. In the story ‘I Used to Live Here Once’, solitude and free will are used as symbols (Yaakov, 2001, 560-561). The woman travels all by herself and has no interest of finding any companion. She feels comfortable that way. She feels so happy and relieved when she finally gets to her destination, but she still feels so lonely because no one would talk to her or hear her or even feel her presence.
Both the books, ‘A Worn Path’ and ‘I Used to Live Here Once’ have elements of history. Both writers have portrayed the theme of journey in different aspects, but it is worth noting that in each book, the theme of journey is in line with the historical proceedings that were taking place at that particular time. These historical proceedings provided a major motivation to both the writers to come up with these stories.
Historical context, therefore, proves to be a major contribution to the setting and plot of the story as it provides the authors with a way to link up all the elements of history to come up with the best story. Every piece of literature nowadays has an element of history since the authors want to make their stories to appear real and to make a lot of sense to the readers. This makes it easier for the books to be understood effectively and at the same time enlighten the readers about the past events and how people managed to cope up with those events.
‘A Worn Path’ that was written by Eudora Welty in 1941, coincided with the year when the United States government started its participation in the Second World War. This provided a relevant setting and plot of Eudora Welty’s story. The story has a rural setting even though its plot revolves around the proceedings of the Second World War. When the writer, (Eudora Welty) was still a photographer, she witnessed the tribulations that were faced by the black women in the fields and it is against this background that the idea to come up with this exciting piece of literature emerged. During that time, poverty was a major threat to the society, particularly to the rural black communities (Orr, 2005, 59-61). Thus, the main character (Phoenix Jackson) had poverty and rural background as the two main outstanding elements of her traits. Phoenix Jackson was a slave and she worked for wealthy white men in their cotton and tobacco plantations. She received much hostility from the whites and this developed an attitude on her of becoming self centered and determined.
In the other story, ‘I Used to Live Here Once’ by Jean Rhys, the element of history is a combination of three contexts: the First World War, the Second World War and the author’s (Jean Rhys) exile from Dominica (Yaakov, 2001, 560-561). Even though the author hailed from a British family, she still identified a link between the Dominican Republic and herself (Shurr, 2003. 182-184). This is evident by the fact that the author has published various articles that talk about the Dominican Republic. It is in line with this context that the author got the setting of her story, ‘I Used to Live Here Once’. It has been portrayed that despite the background that a person hails from, there still exists a strong link with the place the same person has grown up in (Gottschalk, 2000, 302-305). In the story, the woman had a very strong connection to where she had grown up in and that is the big reason why she felt so happy and relieved when she finally arrived back home to her people. Every piece of literature should, therefore, strive to interconnect with a historic event to provide more insight and education to the readers.
The two authors, Eudora Welty and Jean Rhys, demonstrate how one theme can have different perceptions and interpretations. In their books, ‘A Worn Path’ and ‘I Used to Live Here Once’, the theme of journey has been highlighted as the dominant theme. Both the authors have explored various dimensions to bring out the difficult nature of journey in their stories. A reader cannot fail to point out that the definition of journey goes beyond the common meaning that is always known. Therefore, it is imperative to be conscious of the driving factors that propel one in a journey. The opportunities or challenges encountered through the journey process should not hinder a person from reaching the destination. The opportunities and challenges that are encountered in the journey process can change a person’s basic way of judgment in various aspects.
Eudora Welty exposes how a person can engage in a difficult and risky journey all because of the undying love the person has for a suffering family member. On the other hand, Jean Rhys exposes that no matter where a person goes to or no matter where a person stays, there will always be a link to the place where the person grew up in; thus, at one time, the person will have to travel back to his childhood home. These two pieces of literature, therefore, portray the same theme, but with different destinations.