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All of this is understood to have contributed to the character of the woman who shuffles her way to town. Not until the end does Welty tell us that Phoenix is making this difficult trip in order to get the medicine her chronically-ill grandson needs in order to breathe. By the end of the story, the character Phoenix Jackson is seen as a fully developed human being despite the short space of time in which she is introduced. Through symbolic imagery and careful organization, Welty is able to present Phoenix Jackson in loving detail as a fully fledged human being rather than simply as a character.
At the opening of the story, the reader joins Phoenix at a point on her path where she is in an evergreen forest. This forest is described as being full of springy needles and bright sun. In this story, the pine trees symbolize the springiness and sunshine of youth. Pine wood is a soft wood which means it’s easier to bend it and shape it to new purposes. This is an example of what Phoenix was like as a young girl. In youth, she was still full of bright hopes and dreams that were often “almost too bright to look at” (142). However, pine wood is also very easy to damage with its softer skin, and Phoenix herself was also vulnerable to these dangers. However, she is no longer so vulnerable as she proves herself capable of defending herself against any rustle she hears in the thicket, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!’ … Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things” (143). The upward slope of the pine forest symbolizes Phoenix’s maturing out of childhood as much as it can be seen to be the struggle of the black race out of slavery. While that was a difficult struggle in itself, it wasn’t the last hurdle to be overcome