person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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Can we examine "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost using Freud's Oedipus complex theory?

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The question implies that we can read "The Road Not Taken" as expressing the Oedipus Complex.

In Freud's Oedipal theory, all little boys unconsciously want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers. Boys repress this desire, and, in that way, join the social order. They do this because of an unconscious fear that their fathers will castrate them if they oppose the father, as obviously (to the little boy's unconscious mind), the fathers have castrated all the mothers.

Most pieces of literature that open themselves up to an Oedipal reading, such as Hamlet, have a mother or mother figure the son seems to have unresolved attachment or sexual desire for.

"The Road Not Taken" has only one character, the speaker. The only way to construct an Oedipal reading is to interpret one of the roads as the road of capitulating to an unresolved Oedipal complex—that would have to be the "road" of killing the father and having sex with the mother—or more likely, choosing between two women (two "roads") the one that most reminds the speaker of mom. While many readings of this poem can be constructed, when I look at the text, I can't find much evidence to support the idea that the speaker, consciously or not, is writing about picking a mother figure as a life partner. The best would be to note that he chooses the road less traveled, which could be taken to mean the more virginal—Madonna-like—motherlike figure, and has been happy with the choice, but that is a huge leap. I would want at least one more piece of evidence from the text to even begin on that theory.

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This is an interesting question, but I think the story of Oedipus as told in Sophocles' Oedipus the King would be a more apt comparison than Freud's Oedipus Complex.

Freud's theory was inspired by Jocasta's statement in Oedipus the King that all men have had dreams in which they have slept with their mothers. Freud, in his Interpretation of Dreams, expressed the belief that all males desired their mothers sexually and, because they viewed their fathers as sexual rivals, wanted to kill their fathers. Sexual desire, though, and a desire to kill one's father strikes me as having no place in Frost's poem.

Frost's poem does, however, recall the situation that Oedipus found himself in when he did kill his father (Laius), because this event occurred "at a place where three roads meet" (line 861 in Johnston's translation).

Frost's situation is different from Oedipus', though, because Frost is unsure about which road to take. Frost could have taken either road, but he chose to take "the one less traveled by." Sophocles gives us no indication that Oedipus deliberated about which road to take. Oedipus was simply trying to avoid his parents, whom he mistakenly thought lived in Corinth. It just so happened that Oedipus' father was travelling the same road and a hostile altercation between the two men led to Oedipus unwittingly killing his father.

So, whereas Frost seems to have had a choice about which road he could have taken, Oedipus was not faced with a similar choice. Had Oedipus happened to have chosen a different road that still probably would not have made any difference because his destiny eventually would have caught up with him on another road.

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