The Road Not Taken Message

What is the message of the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost?

The message of Robert Frost’s poem "The Road Not Taken" is to be true to yourself when faced with a difficult decision although some regrets will be inevitable. The speaker reviews an incident from their past when they had to choose between two very similar alternatives. At the end, they reveal that they chose the unconventional approach, the road that was “less traveled by.” Sometimes, however, they still wonder about the other option.

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"The Road Not Taken" is traditionally taken to mean that it can be better to take the less conventional path in life. In the poem, a man is walking through the woods, when he comes to a fork in the path. He has to make a decision about which way to turn. He takes a long time trying to decide, and notices that one path is slightly less traveled, saying,

it was grassy and wanted wear

However, he also notes that the differences between the two paths are subtle—they are "really about the same"—and both were untraveled that day:

And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black
Nevertheless, the speaker decides to take the road "less travelled by." While he wishes at the time he could take both paths, and while he reflects that there is little likelihood he will ever come back and take the other path, he states that it has "made all the difference" to take the less traveled route.
While the poem is most often interpreted as a metaphor for the very American, Emersonian ideal of nonconformity and breaking with tradition, as many critics and Frost biographers have noted, he wrote the poem while living in England as a gentle ribbing of an indecisive walking companion.
While Frost may have written the poem as a light-hearted joke—and the speaker's emphasis on how really alike the roads are supports this—the poem is a good example of how readers can determine meaning once a work of literature is let loose in the world.

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Robert Frost’s poem "The Road Not Taken" can be interpreted in regard to any difficult decision that a person might be required to make. The poem is literally concerned with walking down a road through a woods. Figuratively, this choice may be interpreted in relation to any personal or professional decision. It is sometimes hard to see a clear difference between the available choices, but each person must decide for themselves which option best suits their own identity. Even though one is certain about their choice, there will be some second-guessing later.

The key to this interpretation occurs at the poem’s end, when the speaker states that the road they chose was “the one less traveled by,” and that the choice has proved significant: it “has made all the difference.” When the poem begins, however, the speaker is struggling to identify any important difference between the choices. The speaker notes that they wished they could take both roads, as they are both attractive.

As they observe the roads more closely, they consider that the apparent differences are insignificant. Each turned out to be “just as fair” as the other one, and the previous walkers “had worn them really about the same.” They also note that they imagine they might return and try the other option, but then “I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Thinking about the long-term impact, the speaker acknowledges that they may have some doubts or regrets: “I shall be telling this with a sigh” in the distant future. These second thoughts tie in with title, which emphasizes the road they did not choose.

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The main focus of this poem is the narrator's indecision. Evidence of this is found early on when Frost describes the yellow wood—yellow is a color that is often used to symbolize confusion. The narrator is presented with two paths, and he is confused as to which way to go. Should he take the path that is well traveled and worn down, or should he diverge from the majority and take the road less traveled?

Many people argue that the narrator comes to a resolution after he follows the road less traveled—he predicts that he will look back on things and see that where he is is the direct result of the road he decided to take. However, I would argue that there is lingering uncertainty in the narrator's mind. One strategy for analyzing a poem is to look back at the title after you have read the poem to see if you understand it any differently. The title of this poem is "The Road Not Taken," not "The Road Less Traveled." This implies that the narrator is still thinking about the other path—he took the road less traveled, and the actual "road not taken" is the one that was chosen more often by others.

Hence, I would say that this poem focuses more on retrospective uncertainty and self-doubt than on encouraging someone to diverge from the majority.

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The speaker in the poem is faced with deciding which of the roads that "diverged in a yellow wood" will be followed. After studying both paths, the speaker chooses to follow the road that appears to have been used less often ("it was grassy and wanted wear").

It's often thought that through this poem, Frost is encouraging readers to not fear following their own paths, regardless of what is done by the majority. However, it's important to note that the speaker then says of the two paths

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

These lines are crucial because they reveal that these paths were actually equally trodden. This changes the meaning of the poem, suggesting that it's not a poem about how we should make unique choices but a poem about how we choose to remember our choices and—by extension—our lives. Many years in the future, the speaker will look back on this moment and claim that he chose the unique path and that his decision was significant, when this really wasn't the case at all.

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