How do such poems as  “The Road Not Taken,” work to discuss the individual and the culture?

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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I see the Frost poem "The Road Not Taken" in a very different way than the two previous posters. My reading is supported by at least two reputable sources, which are identified at the end of this posting. Both sources state that the poem can be read one way on the surface (readers often don’t move past this superficial reading, unfortunately) and a very different, more compelling and more complex way if the reader pays close attention to the language of the poem.

In 1961, Frost commented that “The Road Not Taken” is “a tricky poem, very tricky.” The trickiness may lie in the speaker's contradictions in characterizing the diverging roads. At first, the two roads seem very different, but upon closer analysis, these differences all but vanish. The second stanza opens by asserting that the one road is “just as fair” as the other and ends with the statement that “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” Stanza three includes a similarly contradictory statement. The two roads do not appear to be different at all; they “equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.”

What are we to make of these contradictions? A number of critics argue that the poem actually mocks (with good humor) our tendency to look back on our past (just like the speaker, who jumps forward in time in the final stanza of the poem) and to assign all sorts of significance to our past actions. In reality, we know that there are multiple ways to get to any one place; it often really doesn’t matter all that much which particular road we take.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is written from the first person point of view which the poet uses to suggest to readers that individuals are in control of making their own choices.  Each person must choose his own path; so Frost repeatedly includes "I" to demonstrate this.

In regards to culture, the last stanza suggests that it is also an individual's responsibility to pass along the wisdom that he or she has learned from past choices to help others know the consequences or rewards of taking various paths in life.  In lines 16-17, the speaker claims that he

"shall be telling [about his choice] with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence."

These lines suggest that by individuals verbally passing along their experiences, the culture or choices of past generations will continue with newer generations.

fernholz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost represents our character. The majority of the poem discusses individual actions, but towards the end he lets the reader know that the lesson should be passed down through generations. The poem is about choices we make and how they affect our lives. We should try to make the right choices even when we want to follow what our peers are doing. We can take the 'one less traveled' which may indeed be the correct path, or follow what everyone else is doing.

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The Road Not Taken

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