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What does the poem "The Road Not Taken" symbolize?

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j-ade67514 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 22, 2012 at 1:42 AM via web

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What does the poem "The Road Not Taken" symbolize?

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meetkalkat | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted August 22, 2012 at 4:37 AM (Answer #1)

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Robert Frost, in this poem, talks about the choices we have in life or decisions we make. He says what we decide today is going to affect our future. Though this poem is filled with irony and criticism. The traveler wants to opt for the road less travelled by as he wants to see how being different from the rest of the world will change his future. The uncertainty and lack of faith in his decision is clearly visible when he says 'I shall be telling with a sigh'. Here sigh does not clarify whether the decision he took was right or wrong. Another theme can be 'carpe deim' (sieze the day). The poet says that one must grab the opportunity he gets in life. Sometimes the decisions we make can be wrong but that is way better than standing and not choosing anything. The traveler in this poem debates with himself as to which path to select. This shows that he is keen on choosing one instead of just going back with the fear of selecting a wrong one. Frost uses a lot of symbolism in his poetry. His solitary travellers in a few poems, especially this one, symbolize that one has to travel alone in his life. He might have companions but when it comes to making decisions and choosing something for himself, he stands alone. Nobody but he will shape his future and nobody but he will be affected by it.
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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 22, 2012 at 3:54 AM (Answer #2)

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"The Road Not Taken" is often misunderstood as meaning that the speaker believes he took the "road less travelled by." Some have interpreted this to mean an allegory: taking the less travelled road leads to a different and perhaps more rewarding experience. I do favor the reader response theory which states that the reader, not the author, has the freedom and responsibility to interpret a poem, novel, etc. in any way he/she sees fit. However, I think this analysis is a misreading.

This "take the harder road" analysis really misses the meaning of the poem. Note that earlier in the poem, the speaker says that the two roads were worn "about the same." When he came to this decision, both paths looked similar. It would be incorrect to say that he chose (or believed that he chose) the "less travelled" road because they looked equally travelled. 

This poem is not about triumph from having chosen the more difficult road. It is about the uncertainty we sometimes have in making decisions and how it is sometimes impossible to know which path will be the most rewarding. In the same respect, this poem is about the "what ifs" of life. What if he had taken the other (seemingly identical) road? He can only guess. He also concludes with a "sigh." Knowing how "way leads on to way," the speaker knows that he probably can't go back and choose the other path. (For an obvious example, at 50 years old, you can't go back and take the other job at 25. But this could be about a trivial or monumental decision.) The sigh might indicate regret, second guessing, or even just a playful imagining of what his life would have been like had he chosen the other road. 

 

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