How does Robert Frost use "The Road Not Taken" and "Mending Wall" to comment on society?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Many of Robert Frost's poems are concerned with personal and cultural identity; his "The Road Not Taken" and "Mending Wall" certainly treat these themes.  In both these poems, Frost creates a revelation of human character.  For instance, in "Mending Wall," he examines the rural New Englander who feels that "good fences make good neighbors."  However, the speaker questions this philosophy:

There where it is we do not need the wall:/He is all pine and I am apple orchard./My apple trees will never get across/And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him....Before I built a wall I'd ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offense.

The next line, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," expresses the theme that blind adherence to tradition may not be wise; performing an action out of habit mitigates choice and decision-making, two actions that make people individuals.

Likewise, "The Road Not Taken" deals with the choices people make.  However, this examination of people's choices deals much more with individual personal identity.  The reader of this poem does not have so much a sense of the recalcitrant New Englander as in "Mending Wall."  Instead, the speaker of "The Road Not Taken" is not identified as from any particular section of America; he has a universality as an individual who has made a choice which has "made all the difference in his life."  There seem to have been no external influences upon him, unless they were very subtle in his thinking that he should choose to break from what was expected of him and tread the path "less traveled."

At any rate, in both "The Mending Wall" and "The Road Not Taken" Frost's admiration for the individual who has the courage to "walk alone" is evident.

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