It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her.
This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird. This the most meanignlful paragraph in the entire story, because it summarizes all of the symbolic meaning Wetly wants the reader to connect with Phoenix Jackson. She is characterized as an old woman who is one with nature. She is humble and practices humility in her daily life. The spiritual connection Jackson has his nature is shown to the reader in multiple ways in this paragraph.
For instance, the name Phoenix has always held connotations of wilderness, and the outdoors. This idea is further enforced by the fact that Wetly says she walks with a balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum. This is a poetic way of saying she has a systematic and natural stride, very similar to the systematic and natural cycle of life carried out in the wild. There is a sense that Jackson belongs, and is welcome, among nature. Wetly further stresses this nature motif, when she refers to Jackson tapping of the ground with her walking stick as meditative and likens it to a bird chirping.
Here the reader is directly told that the influence Phoenix has on world outside her house is no different from a bird, or another part of animal life. Ironically, this opening paragraph puts her character in direct opposition to the only other human in the woods and the main person who insists she doesn’t belong there, the white hunter. He is actual the one who is out of place. He is loud, brash, and he is causing disruption with his gun and unruly dogs. He is also in the woods to hunt the very connection Jackson maintains with the world.
The hunter is built up through the events that happen to Jackson as her complete opposition. While she is one with nature, he destroys it. He feels that she doesn’t belong because he is blinded by societal ideals, as well as caught up with the prestige that society has granted him. This is very compatible with the idelas of Martha Minow. Her essays reveal the ever segregating nature of our country, while she takes a clear stance in favor of the universal individual.
Her essay takes an in depth look at the attitude that is truly necessary for one to make a lone effort towards furthering the genuine full racial integration of America. It puts characters like O. J. Simpon (murder aside) and Othello in a positive light for their rebellious loner-like natures, and their fearless inclination towards cross cultural confrontations. Her essay condemns all those who settle into social tribes of convenient sameness. To encourage those who oppose conforming to the common American culture of segregation, she describes in detail the trials of a young Nathan Marx.
The story also suggests how an identity is founded on both the views of others and the individual; Marx is treated as a Jew both by his non-Jewish fellow officers and by the Jewish trainees. Both kinds of treatment influence his sense of himself as a Jew. Although he resists both, he defines himself in the course of that resistance (Minow, 1997). Both Othello and Simpson are absolutely identical with Minow’s Marx. In a world defined by white and black, sociologically, they all three tread a shade of grey.
Minow’s essay does a good job of identifying this correlation. By being fearless toward cross cultural interaction, they create an identity separate from a solely ethnicity defined existence. This is what they all have in common, and on this they can build a relationship. Those who isolate themselves from anyone different and congregate in their same race unions conform along with a growing distance from cross cultural understanding. “This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper.
He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand. “She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor’s office. Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down. Phoenix Jackson has an admirable love for her nephew, but this quote is more about her acknowledging the significance of the natural oneness she maintains with the world around her. She survives on bare necessity and will power, no different from animals.
The windmill she buys for her nephew is represents her. It can be symbolically seen as her life cycle, or even how the relationship she has with nature is compatible to the relationship between the windmill and the wind. By her giving the windmill to her nephew, she is passing on the true essence that is her. The reader has no choice but to assume that through a genetic connection with Phoenix Jackson he will be able to understand the value of the way she has lived her life, through this windmill.
Wetly appears to end this story very openly; but in truth, this is the underlying meaning. It appears to be an open ended meaning because it implies promise of the future. It is also pointed out on multiple occasions, through Jackson’s physical stature, clothing and situational circumstances that she is not very well off financially. It is a common pattern in Western culture to be able to pass something on to your children; usually this is wealth, but in Phoenix Jackson’s case, this is something abstract but deeply meaningful.
This is further emphasized by views held during, and within, the Antebellum South. Phoenix Jackson represents a product of this era in the fact that she is never truly educated. An example of this from the text is when she says, I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender. This is a direct connection to the civil war and a further example that Jackson is a product of all of the sociological results of it. These results involve the confinement