A Restless Spirit Analysis
At first glance, Frost is a logical choice for a young adult biography because he is probably the United States’ most famous and familiar poet. Yet Frost’s poetry is deceptively difficult, even for adult readers, and is generally misunderstood. Bober’s book does little to repair this problem; in fact, A Restless Spirit perpetuates most of the common misconceptions about Frost and his work.
After he secured an audience and started to gain fame, Frost was a conscious and expert self-promoter, creating the persona of a genial and grandfatherly New England nature poet. This image made him more marketable, but it led people to misread his poetry. Frost’s poetry is not genial, sentimental, or even pastoral, and as an introduction to his poems, Bober’s book is fuzzy and inaccurate, reinforcing the idealized portrait of Frost as an essentially nice man and his poems as essentially pleasant object lessons in how to live a simple life.
As Bober weaves introductions of the poems into the narrative of Frost’s life, she occasionally elucidates, as with the short but evocative lyric “The Pasture.” More often, however, she oversimplifies and even misrepresents, as when she perpetuates the common, simplistic, and woefully inaccurate reading of “The Road Not Taken” as a poem about nonconformity. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, and perhaps unnecessary to introduce young adults to the dark, tragic vision in Frost’s poetry, so for a younger age group this book is probably suitable as an introduction. Older and more mature students, however, should attempt to understand the real Frost or be satisfied with truly genial and sanguine poets.
Also more appropriate for a younger audience is Bober’s style, which uses specific detail, the careful manipulation of tenses, and hypothetical constructions to create an immediacy that makes the text read more like historical fiction than biography. This style is exemplified by the following passage: “As the train pulled out of the station Rob must have blinked back tears as he waved good-bye to his father, and watched him standing on the rear platform of the last train, so handsome as he waved in return and doffed his new top hat to his well-wishers.”
Readers familiar with adult biographies of Frost will immediately realize that Bober’s book also understates the conflicts between Frost and his wife and four children. Frost’s passion for success created much more familial tension than A Restless Spirit suggests, but given the book’s target age group, it is perhaps accurate enough on such delicate matters.
Nevertheless, Frost was in many ways a very wise man, and Bober is able to transmit much of this wisdom in her generous use of quotations, anecdotes, and paraphrased statements. Especially pertinent are Frost’s observations on education. Although young adults will not have an extremely accurate portrait of Frost after reading this book, they will have a lively and, in many ways, useful introduction.