Examine how "The Road Not Taken" promotes individualism and non-conformity.

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In "The Road Not Taken," the narrator is by himself when he stops at the fork in the road and has to make a decision about which way to turn. At that point, he has no community--not even one other person--to consult to help him decide which way to go. He functions entirely as an individual, entirely apart from the group. He never once wonders what his friends or the people he knows would do. He makes his decision on his own: this is the essence of individualism. As he says, and I would place the emphasis on his "I":

long I stood
And looked down one [path] as far as I could

As for non-conformity, the narrator says he took the road "less traveled." This indicates his conscious choice not to follow the crowd, which means he does not conform to the norm. He says he keeps in mind the thought that one day he will follow the other, more popular, path, but also recognizes that one path leads to another and once off the more common path, it is unlikely he will ever find his way back there again:

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
The poem promotes both individuality and non-conformity in the last line by implicitly, if ambiguously, praising the idea of choice. Taking the road less traveled "has made all the difference."
akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Certainly, I think that the poem is read as a praise of individualism and non- conformity.  "The Road Not Taken" is one in which people can see a non-conformist element present.  The idea that the path taken "has made all the difference" would also attest to this promotion.  

Yet, I think that a secondary reading makes it difficult to see how the poem explicitly promotes individualism and non- conformity.  There is a very serious tone and a strong element of reflection in the speaker's word choice and syntax.  This makes it unlikely that the speaker is a proud and bold advocate of individualism and non- conformity.  Additionally, the speaker is more pensive about choices.  It is not as if the choice on which road to take was deliberated on the basis of how many others made their choice.  Essentially, two paths diverged in a forest and the speaker made a choice based upon what was in front of him.  The decision was not made in the light of being a non- conformist or an individualist.  The speaker made a choice and the "sigh" indicates that such a decision has made all the difference.  It is here in which there is lack of promotion for the cause of individualism and non- conformity in the poem. 

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