How is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" a metaphor for life?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many people have interpreted Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken" as a metaphor, or extended comparison, for life. In the poem, a man who is out taking a walk in the morning comes across a road that diverges, and he must decide which way to go. One path seems "less traveled by," although not significantly so. The man debates a long time about which way to go, knowing that he won't get a chance to try the other way once he makes his decision, and finally chooses the less traveled way. Then he imagines a point in the future when he will tell "with a sigh" that choosing the less traveled way "has made all the difference." 

The process described in the poem is a lot like life. We start out in the "morning," or in our youth taking the standard path that our culture offers us. Then there comes a point where a significant choice looms ahead. It could be whether to go to college and where, or what profession to pursue, or what friends to associate with, or whom to marry. To follow the analogy of the poem, the decision is made on the basis of doing something that not everyone else has chosen. This reflects making a decision that is right for one's personal preferences and talents--not just pursuing what everyone else seems to be pursuing. In this sense, one makes an individualistic, non-conformist choice. It's a choice that can't be undone--once a person heads down a certain path in life, it's often hard, if not impossible, to go back and start over. What is the outcome, then? Later in life, the person looks back and sighs, realizing that the choice to follow his own path has "made all the difference," hopefully in a good sense--that it has produced a positive outcome and satisfaction by the time one reaches old age. Thus the poem can be interpreted as an extended metaphor for a significant decision that influences a person's life.