The Road Not Taken Themes
The main themes in “The Road Not Taken” are individual choices, the permanence of decisions, and uniqueness and narrative.
- Individual choices: The speaker initially hopes that his choice will be significant, though it is clear by the poem’s end that it hasn’t made much difference.
- The permanence of decisions: The speaker laments that he won’t be able to return to the fork in the road, emphasizing life’s linear movement.
- Uniqueness and narrative: With a touch of irony, the poem’s end meditates on the human desire to create a coherent narrative from experience.
People want to believe that their choices make a big difference in the grand scheme of their lives. When the speaker reaches the fork in the road he is traveling along, he spends a while considering his two options. He wishes that he could travel both, and he examines the nature of each road in order to make the best choice he can.
The fact that it takes the speaker thirteen lines—out of the twenty that make up the entire poem—to describe his decision-making process seems to indicate that the process of choosing was a labored one. He would only spend such a large amount of time on this choice if he believed it to be an important, even crucial, one in terms of the impact it will have on his life. Even though, in the end, readers know that he will be less than honest about the actual impact of his choice, he clearly must have hoped that the decision was an auspicious one when he made it. His final, ironic falsehood, that he’ll tell a story that he took the road which had been less traveled by others, may indicate that our choices do not really have such a significant impact.
The Permanence of Decisions
In the poem’s second line, the speaker expresses his regret that “he could not travel both” roads, being just one traveler. In the third stanza, he exclaims,
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Because one road (or one decision) tends to lead to another, then another, and so on, people are often unable to go back to the original decision point and make a different choice. The permanence of decisions is a function of time’s linearity, which, in turn, makes the road a particularly apt metaphor for the experience of life. The roads we travel—the decisions we make—change us and lead to unexpected possibilities, perhaps, that prevent us from returning to the places we used to live and the selves we used to be.
Uniqueness and Narrative
The speaker says that he plans to tell people “ages and ages hence” that he
took the [road] less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This statement implies that he wants to be seen as someone individualistic—a person who forges his own path. He’s already told readers that “the passing there / Had worn [the roads] really about the same” and that “both that morning equally lay” in untrodden...
(The entire section is 699 words.)