Explain the problem the person faces in "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost was the foremost poet of his time.  Speaking to the common man about seemingly ordinary events in a person's life, Frost permeated his poetry with wit and wisdom.  Probably the most quoted poem in American literature is "The Road Not Taken."

The poem is deceptively simple in reading it; however, Frost provides both a literal and figurative meaning for the reader.  On the surface, a man is in the woods on an autumn day. Here is his problem:

He comes to a fork in the road, but he does not know which way to go. Bending down, he looks as far he can until he comes to bushes, trees, that prevent him from seeing any further.  He decides to go on the other road. Reasoning that maybe it is the best choice. 

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.

Really, there is not much difference between the two roads:

  • Both were covered by leaves
  • Neither had recently traveled because they were covered by leaves
  • Both were equally traveled

He hopes that someday he will be able to travel down the other road, but it is unlikely.

In the future, the man in his old age will be telling why he made the decision to go down this particular road. Because he took the one that appeared to have been used less, it made a difference.

Now, the poem must be re-read for its figurative meaning.

The poet uses several metaphors to represent a person's life:

  1. The wood signifies a person's life...where a person finds himself at a particular time.
  2. The roads sysmbolize the choices a person has before him
  3. The road he chooses quickly corresponds to a quick decision unclear about why the choice was made.
  4. The road he actually travels characterizes a life altering resolution
  5. The other road represents what might have been if the person had decided differently. 

Again, this is the dilemma the man faces:

A man finds himself needing to make a decision.  He has two choices. The reader does not know what the decision refers to--a career, education, military, marriage.  He examines one option realizing that he can only see so far into the future. Without much other introspection, the man selects the other way.  Wishing he could go both ways, he understands that for now he can do only one thing. 

Then, he thinks that sometime in the far distant future he will explain about his opportunities and why he chose the one he did.  The unnerving part about any decision is that a person will not know if it was the best one until it is too late.  Interestingly, he will tell the story with a sigh, which may imply that he wishes that he gone the other way.  He does say that his choice made all the difference in his life.  

Some byproducts of the poem should be considered.  The poem takes place in the fall of the year.  Symbolically, this may epitomize the end of the person's youth and the beginning of his adulthood.  In addition, the setting is the woods and nature.  Man is a part of nature which has its own set of complications.  Possibly,  this man would rather be a part of the natural world  like Thoreau, rather the chaotic world of human civilization.

The poem speaks to people who have a quandary in their lives...and a decision to make.  What a delicious poem!

dmahesh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The problem the person faces in "The Road Not Taken" is about making a choice between two seemingly attractive options in any given situation of life. Similarities in the choices make it extremely difficult on the part of a person to pick  one up easily. A wrong choice would mean a life full of repentance, remorse and rebuke. Therefore, the decision must be given a logical support. It must be given careful consideration, contemplation and commitment. In the poem, the narrator does just that and finds that 'it makes all the difference.'