person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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How do poetic techniques help communicate the main theme of "The Road Not Taken"?

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The lightly satiric tone of Frost's line "I shall be telling this with a sigh" in "The Road Not Taken" suggests the theme of indecisiveness. That is, the reluctance of someone to make decisions lest the person make the wrong ones. Of course, the ultimate problem is that the ambiguity and lack of decision sometimes leads to more negative results than anything else. 

In order to indicate this thematic indecision, Frost employs certain literary techniques:

  • Repetition

    In the first stanza, the word And is repeated at the front of each line, indicating hesitation; for, the use of the same word "And" holds back the forward movement.
    In the second stanza, the word as is repeated twice in the first line, and then in the fourth line in such a manner that it pulls back the phrases following this word:

Then took the other, as just as fair,...
Because it was grassy and wanted [here "wanted" means "lacked"] wear;
Though as for that the passing there

    The word "same" and its idea in "just as fair" is repeated in this second stanza, as well.

  • Circuitous language

    In the second stanza there is no forward movement of thought as the speaker deliberates on the paths circling in thought with such words as "perhaps," "because," "though," and "really about the same."

  • Conditional words

    Such words as "knowing how way leads on to way," "doubted," and "if ever I should" are used in the third stanza.

  • Irregular meter in lines

    While most of the poem is written in iambs [unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (ta DUM), which is the normal pattern of spoken English, there is a slowing in each line with the insertion of an anapest [unstressed syllable, then another unstressed, followed by a stressed]. This slowing is suggestive of delay, hesitation, and indecision. 

  • Symbolism

    For Robert Frost trees serve as borders. His first line reads that there is "a yellow wood." The addition of the word "yellow" which often connotes danger and being overly analytical and the woods and later "undergrowth" suggest lack of movement, something that accompanies indecision. 
    In the third stanza, Frost writes that two paths "diverged in a woods," suggesting again the border and end of movement. Also, in the third stanza, the color black appears. This use of the black can symbolize negative conditions, too.  

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The main theme in the poem is that of personal choice. A traveler comes to a fork in the road and decides to take the less travelled path.

There are a lot of metaphors in the poem and these metaphors are indicative that the poem is metaphorical. The paths available to the traveler are analogous to the life paths that one chooses

Two effects that Frost uses are assonance and alliteration. The use of assonance reinforces the persistence that the traveler must have as he goes along his path and it also suggests a kind of continuity and fluidity to his path unlike the other more travelled path which “bent in the undergrowth”. Alliteration as in the phrase "wanted wear” and “first for" creates a musical effect which suggests the happy-go-lucky mood of the traveler.

Lastly there is personification in the phrases “wanted wear". A path cannot want. There is also personification in the phrase “having perhaps the better claim". A path cannot claim. The personification tells us how interactive our life journeys are. "Way leads on to way"   and as a result the traveler experiences doubt and begins to think he should have just followed the crowd. Yet the ending suggests that his outcome is favorable as he says "And that has made all the difference."

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