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In contrast to structuralism, which holds that a literary work has specific meaning, deconstruction is based on the premise that language, or "signs," can never be nailed down to a single meaning, and that truth is impossible to determine because "meaning is irreducibly plural." Although this approach to literary criticism, pioneered by Jacques Derrida, stops short of a philosophy of complete nihilism, which denies the existence of meaning, its basis is the idea that "meaning is always uncertain." In a deconstructive approach to analyzing literature, it is the job of the critic not to illuminate meaning in a given text, but to look for "slippage," or breaks from the linguistic and thematic rules it has set up internally.
In the poem "The Road Not Taken," Robert Frost describes himself at being on a crossroads where he has to choose between "two roads (which diverge) in a yellow wood." Knowing that he cannot travel both, he makes his decision with a realization of the momentousness of his choice. Frost knows that he most likely will never come to this point again, and after his choice is made, he will never know what would have happened had he taken the road he does not travel. Frost notes the significance of his decision, concluding that that fact he took "the one less traveled by...has made all the difference."
Using a deconstruction in analyzing this poem, it must be considered that perhaps it does not matter which road the author chooses. The course his life would have taken had he chosen the road more commonly traveled does not exist, having been negated the moment he decided not to go in that direction. It is impossible to predict what might have happened had the author chosen the other road at the crossroads. The important focus in this poem is not which road the author chooses to follow, but the fact that he makes the choice at all in determining the course his life will take.
The Derridean deconstructive approach is supposed to read a text against its grain, but more than the potential for doing something of that kind, what I see in Frost's poem is a thematization of some of the Derridean deconstructive notions.
1. The road not taken is the hypothetical. It is an unchosen supplement which still determines our trajectory. This is the post-structuralist notion of the inassimilable supplement.
2. The bifurcation of the roads and the choice in front of the poet is a presentation of the undecidable as a category of life. Whatever route you take, you have to take one and you can never decide because the supplement like a road not taken will keep haunting you.
3. The poet's choice to tread the rather untrodden and the unusual of the roads is also a deconstructive subversion of a given cultural binary. In the emphasis on the unchozen supplement, the binary figuration is unmade.
4. The poem has an open end. In terms of determining the positive or the negative bearing of the choice in the long run, there remains a potent ambivalence, which resists any semantic closure. Quite fittingly the end-note of the poem is a very Derridean and deconstructive term---'difference'.
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