Susan Glaspell’s “The Jury of Her Peers” and Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” are great examples of the use of symbolism in short story literature. “The Jury of Her Peers” tells the story of a murder investigation that takes place in Dickson County in the 1910’s, in which Minnie Wright is the main suspect. Welty’s piece, on the other hand, is a narration of an old black woman’s long journey to get her sick grandson a Christmas present, a selfless deed on Phoenix’s behalf. In both stories, the use of symbolism is clearly reproduced, in a similar manner, to develop the character and the situation.
However, the depth and the complexity of those symbols, provides “A Worn Path” with a much better content-symbol relationship, which in turn, works better for the plot of the story. A character’s personality and main traits are amongst the most important elements in any literary piece and the use of symbolism is an excellent tool toward accomplishing roundness in a character. In “The Jury of Her Peers”, the bird (a canary) is the symbol used to describe Minnie’s character as “Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery” (208).
This symbol embodies Minnie before she got married and was taken away by her husband to live in total isolation. Although the symbol is well presented in the story, it is done so in a literal way, which takes away from the meaning and interpretation to be given by the reader. The female characters in the story make allusion, in parts of their speech, to this symbol. This can be observed when one of the characters (the sheriff’s wife) says “She [Minnie] – come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself” (208), which covers in a few words, the meaning of the bird symbol.
In contrast, in “A Worn Path”, the meaning of the symbol proposed to define the main character, is implied rather than literarily presented. Phoenix, which is the protagonist’s name, is also a mythical bird that is characterized by its strength, long life and the ability to rise from its own ashes after it dies. This interpretation, or any other that can be drawn in accordance to different mythologies, is not mentioned in any way along the story. It is implied and can only be deduced through the knowledge of the protagonist’s determination and drive.
As she travels “up through pines” (6) and “down through oaks” (6), this old lady never even considers giving up and returning home empty handed. Similarly, the situation presented in both stories is also exposed through the use of symbolism. In “The Jury of Her Peers”, this symbolism is introduced in the form of a cage, which is home to Minnie’s canary but, at the same time, represents her current situation. The symbol in this case is used to show the isolation and confinement in which Minnie is living “down in a hollow… lonesome place” (198). It is a universal symbol and, as such, can be easily interpreted. However, it is not a very deep one; it is does not take much effort for a reader to realize its meaning. In contrast, “A Worn Path” uses an authorial symbol, which only applies to the context of the story. This in no way means a better way of presenting the situation, but the way the symbol is put in the story does give it a deeper meaning. The paper windmill is, in this context, set to represent Phoenix’s situation.
She is a “very old and small” (1) woman, frail and poor, which is exactly what the paper windmill is used to symbolize, a very fragile and cheap object. This symbolism can also be analyzed from Phoenix’s grandson’s point of view, as to him, it would be a symbol of generosity and kindness. No matter how poor they are, his grandmother spent money and effort to surprise him. As old Phoenix told the nurse in town, “He going to find hard to believe there such a thing in the world”, such is his perception of his grandmother.
As shown before, symbolism is a great tool that, when used properly, can provide a short story with a lot of meaning and depth. It is an excellent way to imply significance to a simple element in a story and to provide a deeper sense of the reality to the reader. Welty’s piece, “A Worn Path”, achieves a higher level of connotation than Glaspell does in “The Jury of Her Peers”, where the meaning of the elements used as symbols are either explained within the piece, or too simple to have a deep meaning.
Also, the combination of universal and authorial symbols provides “A Worn Path” with more ideas and conclusions to be drawn from the symbols presented. In conclusion, Welty makes better use of symbolism to accomplish a more complete piece. “A Worn Path” is an excellent example of the proper use of symbolism to deliver a story that is both deep and interesting. It provides the reader with an attention-grabbing plot as well as, implied ideas that give the reader a better sense of the significance of the symbols used without actually explaining them.
WORK CITED Glaspell, Susan. “The Jury of Her Peers”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 5th Compact ed. Toronto: Pearson Longman, 2012. 170. Print. Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 5th Compact ed. Toronto: Pearson Longman, 2012. 270. Print. APPENDICES OUTLINE I. Introduction: Thesis statement the use of symbolism is clearly reproduced, in a similar manner, to develop the character and the situation.
However, the depth and the complexity of those symbols, provides “A Worn Path” with a much better content-symbol relationship, which in turn, works better for the plot of the story. II. Body: A. First paragraph * Key idea: use of symbolism to define the protagonist. * “The Jury of Her Peers” * “A Worn Path” B. Second paragraph * Key idea: use of symbolism to set the situation in the story. * “The Jury of Her Peers” * “A Worn Path” C. Third paragraph * Key idea: Personal opinion on which story uses symbolism best. III. Conclusion The essay is summarized and a conclusion is presented from the points exposed throughout its content.
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