The Quest Of Phoenix Jackson Essay Samples
In The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, SpongeBob and his friend, Patrick, must make their way from Bikini Bottom to the mysterious Shell City to recover the crown of King Neptune before the menacing monarch kills Mr. Crabs, whom he blames for the theft. He gives the young lads a few days to complete the task; along the way, they experience hardship, fall down into a deep crevice in the sea, come back up to their own world, develop a little bit of maturity, find the crown, elude the Cyclops (who’s really a diver with a giant round glass hole in his mask), cheat death, and make their way back just in time to save the day. While this is a children’s movie, it contains many of the classic elements of the quest, such as the call to action, tribulations, descent to the underworld (or something similar), dying and coming back to life, and returning to their original home transformed. Whether one considers the quest in Homer’s Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the elements of the quest remain the same. In Eudora Welty’s story “A Worn Path,” the journey that the elderly Phoenix Jackson takes to get medicine for her grandson is a quest in the same tradition as Odysseus’ journey across the sea and through the underworld to return home from the Trojan War and Gilgamesh’s epic search for the secret of eternal life. Her journey shares many of the same elements as these other grand journeys.
Odysseus faces a long journey home from the Trojan War. Along the way, he must find the humility that will allow him to enter his own palace disguised as a beggar and suffer the abuse of a group of men who all clamor to marry his wife, who they believe to be his widow. In the case of Phoenix Jackson, no such humility is needed. She walks the long journey from her cabin out in the mists of Natchez Trace all the way into the town of Natchez, Mississippi, to get medicine that her grandson needs to live. He had ingested some lye three years ago, burning his throat so badly that breathing is a difficult task for him. The medicine is necessary to keep him alive. While this journey might not be difficult for someone in full health, Phoenix is elderly, and her grandson is her only living relative. She undertakes this long walk to keep her family together. The fact that she cannot see well and often forgets what she is doing makes the journey even more difficult. Her weapon, rather than the mighty bow of Odysseus, is an umbrella that serves as a cane as well as an item to scare any opponents who would get in her way. She issues a mighty challenge to the animals who might bedevil her: “Out of my wal, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!Don’t let none of those come running in my direction. I got a long way” (Welty, web).
This is not the best time of year for a long walk, even in the Deep South. It is December – almost Christmastime. She has put on quite a few layers of clothes made from feed sacks. She has not tied her shoes because she cannot see the laces. The path winds through a wooded area and into a hollow before climbing a hill and going through more trees. The most challenging part is walking across a log that spans a creek. The difficulty of balancing requires that she take a break and rest for a while. She also has to crawl beneath a barbed wire fence. All along the way, she constantly asks God for protection. Ironically, it is when she gets to the paved road that she encounters trouble, as a dog frightens her, and she tumbles into a ditch – this would be her “descent,” as she also falls into a deep sleep. Finally, a hunter comes along and helps her out, although he talks to her in the condescending way a white man would have talked to an elderly black woman during that time period. When he drops a nickel, she cautiously picks it up, not feeling guilty that he has not noticed.
Once Phoenix finally makes it to the doctor’s office, she sits down, so tired that she forgets why she is there. Eventually, the nurse brings her back to the present day and gives her the medicine. Repeating the word “Charity” over and over, so loud that the whole office (and perhaps the whole block), the nurse bestows the medicine on Phoenix, who receives another nickel from the receptionist. Combined with the first nickel, this gives her enough money to buy her grandson a paper toy for Christmas. It is worth noting, though, that making it all the way to the office is only half of the journey.
Several aspects of Phoenix’s story mark it as a hero’s journey. The obstacles that she faces include animals, a creek, a barbed wire fence, the scary dog and the condescension she faces from the hunter and the nurse. Her descent into the ditch could have been permanent had the hunter not come along, and his help brings her back onto the path. She also saves her grandson’s life each time that she makes the long walk into town.
Unlike some hero’s journeys, though, this one is fraught with irony. The fact that the grandmother has to make the long trek into town to get the medicine and the lack of follow-up that the doctor’s office pursues to ensure the grandson has what he needs shows the stark nature of life for the poor, particularly blacks, during the time period in which the story is set. One wonders what will happen to the grandson when the grandmother passes away or simply cannot make the long walk into town anymore. It would be a simple matter to arrange a periodic delivery of the medicine; since it is free, it would not cost the doctor’s office much. However, the state of things in the Deep South was such at that time that the poor had to shift for themselves, and blacks even more than the rest of society. It would have been a much more satisfactory tale if the doctor or the nurse had realized how difficult it was for the grandmother to come in and decided to save her that journey from then on, or for the hunter to offer to help Phoenix make her way into town. The realities of their society, though, had not yet progressed to that point.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Dir. Stephen Hillenburg and Mark Osborne. Perf. Jeffrey
Tambor, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence. Paramount Pictures, 2004.
Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path.” http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/ew_path.html