In Frost's "The Road Not Taken," how does the fork in the road relate to the poem's theme?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," the central theme of the poem is making choices, and how those choices affect the rest of our lives.

The "fork" in the road is introduced in the poem's first line: this also, then, introduces the difficulty—deciding which road to take:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

As the speaker looks down each side of the fork, he is trying to find some indication about which would be the better path to take. But he finds that they are both very similar. Both paths are appealing. He thinks that one is perhaps less worn...though looking closely, they are worn down in much the same way—to the same extent.

The speaker finally decides to choose the road that seems not to have been traveled upon that much—and this is the reason he does take it...because less people have gone this way. He is a non-conformist.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by...

This is symbolic of following one's own bliss, not following the footsteps of many others. The speaker has the desire to be different and have his own unique journey. However, even before he takes a step, the speaker knows two things: while he wants to come back and travel the other path at some time, he expects never will. Second, he anticipates that he will have some regrets...

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence...

In the choosing of the one path, the speaker fate is sealed. His choice will impact the experiences he has for the rest of his life. Of course, this is true for everyone. However, the speaker seems conflicted with regard to the wisdom of his choice, but never gives us any information to know if the move was a good one or not: it was simply the "different" one.

The fork in the path is symbolic of making choices, decisions. The author is pointing out that we are always presented with a wealth of selections and must choose. The fork gives no clue as to which path is the better one to take. Life is that way: there are no answers or guarantees. However, we find that the speaker almost imagines that one path is more worn by the other. Though he admits they are worn very much the same, perhaps he wants to take that path—has made up his mind to do so—and simply needs an excuse to rationalize that selection.

Either road would, in fact, make all the difference. We cannot make choices and not be affected by them in some way.

However, the poem's title draws one back to the fork in the road. The title refers to the path the traveler does not take. This represents the opportunities that may well have been there waiting, that the speaker turned away from simply by taking the other road.

The fork in the path literally represents deciding which way to go. Figuratively, it symbolizes opportunity, the seriousness of the decision, and one's inability to ever make that same choice again. Once one makes a move toward one path or the other, his destiny is solidified by each subsequent step.  

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Frost once wrote:

Everything written is as good as it is dramatic. It need not declare itself in form, but it is drama or nothing.

His poetry usually has some of the elements of drama. The reader can feel that there is a conflict involved and will often wonder what the outcome will be. If, as someone has asked, the poem had been titled "The Road Taken" it might not have had dramatic overtones. The reader of "The Road Not Taken" is left wondering where that other road would have led, how the speaker feels about not taking that other road, and even about the roads all of us take and fail to take in life.

The fork the poet comes to on the road of life is what gives the poem drama. He has to stop and make a choice. It is late in the year (i.e. late in his life) and there could be extreme danger involved in choosing the wrong road. What might be the right road for some people might be the wrong road for the poet. "The Road Not Taken" is one of Frost's most famous poems because it deals with a theme that everyone can relate to, although only a poet might be able to see it metaphorically in such an impressive picture.