What are some techniques or language features in Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" that show that the success of a journey depends on the traveller?

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leospengler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Excellent question! Your inquiry evokes one of the primary debates about this classic poem by Robert Frost. This debate hinges on the idea that in "The Road Not Taken" (1916), the persona, or the traveler-speaker of the poem, surveys two identical paths in a "wood," or forest.

Yes, the paths are identical!

Though most readers view that the poem celebrates the "less-traveled" path, and thereby individuality and nonconformity, the persona clearly states that the paths are equal. The persona claims that prior travelers had worn each path "really about the same," and that the roads "both that morning equally lay" (10-11). One interpretation is that the persona is dishonest with himself about the significance of his choice of path; in the poem's conclusion, the persona considers how in the future, he will lie to himself and say, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference" (18-20). The poem thereby suggests that though the paths we take and decisions we make in life seem various and unique, they're all ultimately equal. After we choose our path, however, we tell ourselves that our path was unique, when really it was equivalent to any other path. There is no real success of the traveler then, since there is no real distinction between the two paths.

Now that we've established a stance on the poem's theme, let's analyze how Frost uses literary techniques to evoke this theme. The most apparent technique he uses here is verbal irony, or when a speaker says something opposite his or her actual meaning. The persona asserts that his choice of path has made "all the difference," although there exists no difference in the two paths (20). Frost also uses rhyme to emphasize key ideas. In the last stanza, he rhymes "sigh," "I," and "by" (16, 18–19). This could indicate the persona's regret about lying to himself.

I hope this helped, and please check out the eNotes guide to this wonderful poem for more information!

hmartin17 | Student

The continued emphasis on the traveller is our first clue that the success of a journey depends on the traveller himself. In line three, the speaker admits he is but "one traveller" who stands at a crossroads. The choice of which path to take is entirely up to him, and he weighs both his options equally in the first and second stanzas of the poem. When the speaker decides to take the road less travelled, the repetition of the word "I" in lines 18 and 19 puts further emphasis on the individual:

"Two roads diverged in the wood and I

I took the one less travelled by..."

The repetition of the word "I" at the end of line 18 and the very beginning of line 19 is proof that a journey - whether or not to take it, where to go, etc. - depends entirely on the individual. The inclusion of a hyphen at the end of the line creates a pause that requires the reader to linger on the individual as well.

The final line of the poem also contributes to the idea that the success of a journey depends on the traveller; the speaker's choice "has made all the difference." His famous sigh in line 16 allows the reader to make inferences about the true success of the voyage - is the speaker weary from his travels? Is it a sigh of content or of disappointment? Should the speaker have taken the road more travelled? 

The poetic content, repetition, and punctuation use prove that journeys are dependent on travelers.