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An Analysis of “The Road Not Taken”

“The Road Not Taken” is one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems. The

imagery he creates is wonderful, and the pace and rhyming scheme make it pleasant to

read and to listen to. Deeper than that, this poem is about decision-making, and how the

choices you make will always lead to an outcome. Frost is pointing out that whether or

not the choice you make is good or bad, your choices are what make “all the difference.”

The poem begins with a decision that the narrator is confronted with, described in

the form of two diverging roads. The narrator is “sorry I could not travel both,” which

indicates that it is a tough decision, and he wishes that he could go both ways. He

“looked down one as far as I could,” and then “took the other, as just as fair.” This shows

that he is studying both options out in his mind, just as we are taught to do in Doctrine

and Covenants 9:8. “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your

mind…” The narrator goes on to say that “the passing there had worn them really about

the same.” This shows that the choices he had to choose from had seemingly the same

outcome. For example, when you’re deciding what to wear in the morning, or when

you’re choosing between toast or corn flakes for breakfast. Will these decisions really

affect your life in some dramatic way? Probably not. Unless, of course, you factor in the

temperature outside, or whether you’re going to the beach or to the supermarket. What

you eat for breakfast depends on when you’ll be able to eat again. If you’re going to be

eating within the next few hours, a piece of toast might be just fine to hold you over. If

you won’t be able to eat until much later in the afternoon, you might want to eat

something with a little more substance. These are very elementary examples, and Frost

probably isn’t talking about standing in the woods trying to decide what to eat for

breakfast, but it does show that not every choice has a definite black and white obvious

outcome. In every choice we make, there are multiple factors and variables that must be

taken into account.

The narrator goes on to say that both roads lay equally “in leaves no step had

trodden black,” which shows that no one else had made the decision, so he had no steps

to follow. The first road he had looked down as far as he could, and the second “was

grassy and wanted wear.” This shows that even though he could see further down one

road, or that one choice seemed more obvious to him, that the second one “wanted wear,”

meaning that it was the road he felt he should take. It’s almost as if the roads were

making the decision for him. This can happen to us in our own decision-making. We

can see all of the factors in one decision, yet; somehow we know that we should go the

other direction. So, he “kept the first for another day.” This is where he actively makes

his choice. He chooses to take the more grassy road, and decides that he will come back

and take the other road another day. But, as we all know, once we make a choice we can

never go back and undo it. The narrator knows this, and he says, “Yet knowing how way

leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” As much as he, or anyone, wants

to go back and try both roads, he knows that it would be impossible. He would already

have the experiences from the road he chose, so even if he went back and tried it out just

to see what might have happened, he would never really know.

He goes on to wrap up his journey by saying “I shall be telling this with a sigh

somewhere ages and ages hence.” I see this as the narrator being a relatively young man

speaking with wisdom beyond his years. Here he is, at a crossroads in his life, already

knowing that whichever decision he makes will affect his life in a way that he can’t take

back. It seems like such an obvious thing, but sometimes it can be easily forgotten and

we think that our choices don’t really have that much of an impact. This is apparent in

the people of my generation today. All you have to do is turn on essentially any reality

TV show and you can see decision-making at its worst. In the MTV show “The Real

World” almost every episode is filled with dramatic situations because somebody got

drunk and did something inappropriate or disrespectful, or somebody did something just

because they wanted to, without taking into account how their actions might affect any of

the people around them. Our narrator, however, knows that the choice he makes does

have an impact. He doesn’t say this directly, but the fact that he’s standing in the woods

thinking about what might happen in either direction shows us this.

Then we come to the most quoted part of this poem: “Two roads diverged in a

wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” At

first, our gut reaction is to think that he made the right decision. This is not stated

anywhere, and I do not think that is how these lines were intended to be interpreted. He

only says that the road he chose “has made all the difference.” Whether or not the choice

was right or wrong, good or bad, is irrelevant. The point he’s making is that the choice

he made set him in the direction that has made him who he is. From the first choice to

take that road, he has been faced with choice upon choice upon choice, which has

brought him to where he is, or where he will be, later on in life. This choice, for us, can

be where we decide to go to school, or who we decide to marry, or if we’re a vegetarian,

or if we shoot someone, or if we buy a car or a home. It can be a small decision or a

large decision; a decision made for yourself or for your entire family; or a decision made

for a small community or for an entire nation.

Beyond the light feeling of this poem—beyond the happiness an individual might

feel as they reach the end of this poem—lies the simple truth that our choices directly

correlate with the person we become.

Works Cited

The Doctrine and Covenants. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-

day Saints. 1979.

Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” American Literature Volume 2. Ed. William E.

Cain. Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. 399.

The Real World. MTV. New York, NY.