person walking through a forest

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

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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.

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How does Robert Frost convey the message of choice in "The Road Not Taken"?

In "The Road Not Taken", the speaker is walking through a forest and comes to a fork in the road. He says that he wishes he could choose both forks, but admits that this is not possible. As a result, he decides to choose the road less travelled.  However, in making this choice, he voices regret about not choosing the other route. He says that he wishes he could return to take the other road at another time, but admits that this is not likely to happen. Through this dialogue, Frost is discussing the finality of making choices. He is demonstrating that choices are irrevocable.

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How does Robert Frost convey the linear nature of life in "The Road Not Taken"?

For Robert Frost in "The Road Not Taken," life is lineally designed by the choices we make.  Frost suggests that our existence and identity is defined by these situations where we progress and are faced with situations that his speaker is situated.  In these scenarios, our notion of self is bound to change with the fork in the road and the two paths.  Once we make our choice, we progress on that path until another fork confronts us and another choice is compelled, and the path continues.  The single, linear dimension that defines our lives is choice.  This is the problem, and the solution.  We continue in our progression of choice after choice.  When confronted with this decision, we can rely on whatever criteria we want, yet we must know that the choices are ours, and ours to make.  They become a part of us for they define the next series of paths/ choices that have to be made.  We cannot escape having to choose because the linear design of life, as suggested in the poem, tells us that we will come upon a fork in our own roads that cannot be overcome without choice.  The cycle continues once our decisions have been made and that will make "all the difference."

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