On the first day of American Lit this semester, we studied and analyzed Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” In the poem, the speaker encounters a split in a wood’s road. They ponder which road they shall take, weighing their options to come to the verdict that both paths are about the same.
Contrary to popular belief, both roads in the poem seem to be weathered about the same. Eventually, the speaker chooses one, and carries on their not-merry way, promising to revisit the road they didn’t take some other time. But as they make their decision to go down the second path and resolve to return to the first path, they are cognizant that life has a way of transporting you to new possibilities and places.
Knowing this, they acknowledge that they will most likely never return to the path they didn’t choose. The speaker is cognizant that as life’s bumble and tumble picks up, it isn’t likely that they will ever be able to return to the decision they just made and to have a do-over with the other path. And perhaps because of this, the speaker foresees themself telling the story of choosing which path to take. With a regretful and melancholy tone, the speaker resolves to tell themself that they chose the road less traveled by.
Ambiguously, the speaker never says they’re glad to have chosen their path. Quite the opposite, they display a lot of uncertainty about which road they took. The speaker’s doubt comes through in the line “I shall be telling this with a sigh” (16) – translation: “I’m never going to be satisfied with my decision and not wonder the different outcome possible had I chosen the other path.”
The speaker signals their discomfort at the beginning of the last stanza with a sigh. The sigh gives us the sense that the speaker has some discomfort recalling the decision they made and its outcome. The obvious anxiety and uncertainty the speaker foresees themself experiencing in the last stanza can’t be the result of choosing to take the second path. I argue that the speaker finds discomfort in telling the story. In knowing that they will never be satisfied with their retelling of this event. In the midst of this discomfort, it seems to me that the speaker’s uncertainty creates a direct obstacle to the speaker’s happiness with their life and decisions. So to eliminate this, as most people do when telling stories, usually by ending it with a moral, the speaker pretends to be certain that the path they chose was worth it in the end. For the sake of a good story and a personal sense of closure.
And pondering this lately, I’ve wondered how the speaker’s story would have turned out had they not worried about failing to tell the story well. Or how the speaker would have felt if they had given up on making this story about making a decision pleasing to the eyes and ears of their audience. Or what about a story makes it pleasing to its audience in the first place? And how has the audience been socialized to anticipate a perfect story, and what that story looks like. But most of all, what is the risk of telling a story in its purest form?
To be continued.