Studying The Choices People Make English Literature Essay


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Life, in all of its mystery, is riddled with different choices one can make. Often the effect of these choices is not immediately known; one can only speculate as to what will ensue due to their decision. Sometimes, however, choosing one path over the other can leave a person doubting or regretting their final decision. Such is the case in Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken in which the speaker stands at a fork in the road. Through an analysis of the text and the several literary elements Frost employs such as: imagery, personification, setting, and tone one can understand the figurative nature of the poem as well as the literal meaning. The choices one makes today can have both positive and negative effects on their life because just as a road leads to a destination, a decision too leads to final outcomes. Similarly, by analyzing the scansion of the text the structure of the poem and its meter add to how one both reads and interprets the poem and allows one to uncover the extended metaphor that represents life as a series of paths one chooses to take.

Immediately, the reader is confronted with a spondee at the beginning of the text: "two roads" (Line 1). This spondee emphasizes the inherent equality present between these two roads as the poem later reinforces. However, after declaring the two roads' equality by utilizing the scansion structure of the poem, Frost then declares that they "diverge" signaling to the reader that while the two may seem equal in appearance they lead to two very different places. Literally speaking, the traveler is confronted with a fork in the road and must decide which path to take.

However, the imagery Frost employs offers an alternate understanding of the traveler and his conundrum. He describes the woods as "yellow," which tells the reader that it is autumn (Line 1). This is important because as the leaves are changing the speaker's life is also changing. How it will change, however, depends upon his choosing one road over the other. As he looks down the road he is trying his best to understand the implications of his choosing. Unfortunately, the "undergrowth" conceals what lay beyond his sight and he must instead rely on an educated guess.

His decision to take the second of the two roads seems as though it was not entirely his decision. The speaker describes the second road as being "grassy and want[ing] wear" (Line 8). This alliteration emphasizes this particular path and so too; the act of "wanting" personifies the road and influences the speaker in his journey. However, "wanted" may also be defined as older English meaning "lacking." If the audience chooses the conventional definition it seems as though the road is acting upon the speaker. Contrarily, using the second definition signals that the speaker is action upon the road. Either way the setting is easily imagined thanks to Frost's careful choice of diction. It is easy for the audience to imagine the speaker standing at this fork weighing his options, trying his hardest to make the right decision.

However, this ease of imagining the setting also serves to make the audience aware that these are not two roads, but are rather possible paths to take in life. Had they been solely paths in the woods the intensity of thought and contemplation would not need to be there. Instead, it would be easy to choose one knowing that there is always the possibility to turn back. Contrarily, the tone of the poem signals to the reader the finality of his choosing one over the other. There is no turning back and taking the other course. Therefore, the "grassy" and unworn nature of the road signifies that the speaker has most likely come to a similar split in the road, in life, and has acted one way the majority of the time. Being in the autumn of his life as signaled by the changing color of the woods, the speaker chooses differently than he normally would.

The tone, however, takes a turn upon entering the last stanza. It states: "I shall be telling this with a sigh - somewhere ages and ages hence" (Lines 16, 17). Frost's choice of diction here: "sigh" coupled with the word "sorry" from the first stanza conveys a gloomy, foreboding, ominous tone (line 2). It becomes quite clear then that this poem is in actuality this retelling he speaks of at the end of the text.

Therefore, a sigh is inherent throughout the poem. Knowing this, the tone of the poem seems to become more regretful than it is gloomy or foreboding. The last line of the poem is crucial to the final successful understanding of the text. "I took the one less traveled by, / and that has made all the difference" (Line 20). Because we now know that the whole text is actually a retelling, a flashback, the last line is the only part of the poem that seems to be in the present text. This line signals that because of his choosing one over the other he is where he is now.

However, the tone adds to this statement the qualification that he is where he is now, but he could be somewhere else which could possibly be better. It is safe to say that the tone is one of regret due to this inherent addition: I am here, but I could be somewhere else. This notion is solidified by the title of the poem: The Road Not Taken. The "not" signifies that the poem is not about the path the speaker chooses, but is rather a look back at the road not taken, which the speaker seems to think would have afforded him some greater experience in life. This, however, seems to be fuzzy logic. It is unfair to blame each subsequent decision on one. In the immortal words of rock legends Led Zeppelin "yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there's still time to change the road you're on" (Lyrics, Stairway to Heaven).

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