A journey can be a physical movement from one location to another or movement through time. A journey can be a path to understanding or awareness. In the stories “The Swimmer” and “The Worn Path”, the main characters go through a journey on multiple levels. In “The Swimmer”, the main character goes through a physical journey through town as well as a mental and emotional journey of self-discovery.
The main character in “The Worn Path” goes on a similar experience, but for selfless reasons. Both characters, Neddy in “The Swimmer” and Phoenix Jackson in “The Worn Path”, went on a physical journey, Neddy’s journey was a self-reflection on his social status and circumstances by interacting with his circle of friends while Jackson’s journey was selfless and focused on providing comfort and happiness for another and not being deterred by social, cultural and personal circumstances.
“The Swimmer” describes the journey of the main character, Neddy, who decides to take a swim through all the pools in his county to get to his home. He swims through multiple pools, speaks to the owners of the pools, and occasionally drinks alcohol. The initial importance of this journey for Neddy is to fulfill his itch for exploration. However, this journey is also mentally important to Neddy.
As he continues through his journey, the reader begins to learn he has some memory problems. For example, when he reaches the Welchers’ pool, he finds that they are gone and the pool is empty. There he starts to realize that some failure to recall past events may be occurring. In fact, he contemplates if “his memory [is] failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth” (256). In addition, when he interacts with some of his friends and acquaintances, he learns tidbits of information about himself that he seems to have forgotten.
This is shown when Neddy interacts with his former mistress, Shirley Adams. He cannot remember when he had broken things off with her, but he expects her to be friendly. She is not happy to see him and tells him that she will not give him any more money and rejects giving him a drink when he asks for one. Neddy is confused by this interaction. Neddy’s journey is important because he begins to realize that his ‘reality’ does not match how his friends and acquaintances now view him. His self-importance has greatly diminished in the eyes of those he interacts with on this journey.
In the story “The Worn Path” the main character, Phoenix Jackson, travels to town. The path to town is riddled with different terrains and danger. Although this is unknown to the reader at the beginning of the story, the importance of this journey is for Jackson’s grandson, who is suffering from lye poisoning. In order to ease his sickness, Jackson decided to go into town to get him some medicine to sooth his throat. This journey is important to Jackson for this reason but also because it gives Jackson a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Even though she has taken this trek many times before, she does not complain, but focuses on the good of the mission.
The journey in “The Swimmer” represents a physical passage and also an emotional revelation and enlightenment for the main character, Neddy. In the story, he travels throughout his county swimming through pools on his way to his house. He is making a very real, physical journey throughout the county. However, the journey he makes is more complicated.
Although the journey should take roughly a day, it appears he travels through different time periods. This is evidenced by the different seasons he senses throughout the story. In the beginning of the story, it is described that Neddy is in midsummer. As he begins to travel, he notices signs of fall such as yellow leaves on the Levy’s lawn and smelling and seeing fall constellations as he gets out of Shirley Adam’s pool.
Neddy does learn something about himself within “The Swimmer”. It seems that over the course of the story, what we understand about Neddy and what he understands about himself may not correlate to the story’s reality. How he perceives himself is not the same as how others see him. When Neddy goes to swim in the Biswangers’ pool, we learn that he and his wife are frequently invited to parties there. They always refused these invitations however because they are of higher social standing than the Biswangers.
There is a party going on when he arrives, and Grace, who is the hostess, and the bartender are both unfriendly to him. He begins to question his own social standing due to their rudeness to him. Grace also mentions that someone has lost their fortune, and had asked her family for a loan. This hints at Neddy being the character asking for loans and was confirmed when his mistress automatically rejects to give him any money without him asking.
Neddy does not connect all the dots himself. He seems to realize that his social status is different, seasons are changing, and people are different. I do not think it had fully connected that his life circumstances are different. He is under the impression that he has a family, wealth, and a house. By the end of the story, none of that seems to be apparent. He also seems confused. This leads the reader to believe that while he does learn some things, he still does not fully understand his condition.
Looking deeper into the story “The Worn Path”, Jackson’s journey is a complicated one. The journey conveys that although Jackson is old, black, female and poor, her life has purpose that is greater than herself and her circumstances. Jackson’s focus is not on herself during this journey, but on accomplishing the important task of obtaining medicine for her grandson. When she came to acquire the two nickels in the story, she does not use the money for herself. Instead she thinks about her grandson again and making him happy by buying a pinwheel with the two nickels. Jackson’s journey represents the importance of living a life to love and serve others and not simply a life measured by wealth, social-status, race, gender, or age.
Jackson in “The Worn Path” does learn something about herself from her journey. She learns quite a bit about her own physical endurance as she traverses through the woods in the winter months. The journey seems arduous for anyone in good physical standing. Not only is she old and frail, but she has difficulty with her eyesight. I do not think she is completely blind, but her vision is clearly impaired. As she navigates through this trial, she learns how her body holds up during this journey. When she gets past a point, she states “something always take hold of me on this hill.” This shows that as she is learning how her body handles the journey she has committed to.
If the journey represents an accounting or reflection of how a person lived their life, then Neddy’s story may portray a failed journey. He has lived his life for self-satisfaction, excessively drinking, disrespecting others, cheating on his wife and squandering his money. Neddy in “The Swimmer” did achieve his physical journey. His goal was to swim through every pool in the county. He was exhausted by the end but did succeed in this task.
However, I think he only partially met his mental and emotional goals. By the end of the story, he still seemed confused as to most of the events in his life. It seems he had not come to the full realization that his life has changed significantly over the course of his journey. When he arrives at his house, he is surprised to find that his wife and family are gone. His home was in disrepair and empty, just as his life had become.
Along with Neddy in “The Swimmer”, Jackson in “The Worn Path” also achieves her physical journey. She successfully travels from her home, through the woods, and into town to secure the medicine for her grandson. She also learns new things about her physical status, and how this journey to town now affects her. She understands that at certain points in her journey, she is going to get tired and that it is a normal part of her journey. Jackson is content to love and serve others and her journey was a success.