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The Road Not Taken
Transcript of The Road Not Taken
& Eileen Kafafian Stanza 3 Stanza 4 *Significant shift in poem* MEANING The last 3 lines summarize the poem, with a very significant change in the story's outcome. In line 20, the speaker says that taking the road less traveled by has made "all the difference."
However, in referring to his previous descriptions ("equally lay," "about the same," "just as fair"), we know that he did not take the road less traveled by because one has no basis to determine which road this was.
The speaker does not say whether this "difference" is good or bad, but the reader may note a sense of certainty, closure, and validation of his decision in this statement. It appears to be a ringing affirmation of nonconformity, a seemingly positive notion
His future self seems to be saying something along the lines of, "I was autonomous, a nonconformist, and I stand by my decision wholeheartedly." There is a sense of having made the "right" choice.
*WHY DOES THE SPEAKER BEND THE TRUTH?*
The word "telling" in line 16 lends itself to the image of an older man, "sighing" as if full of wisdom & nostalgia. It has a very 'showy' feel to it because it implies that there is an audience, and the speaker is aware of the impression of himself put forth by the choice he made.
In twisting the events that actually occurred and exaggerating the story, one may pick up on the speaker's need for validation, justifying his choice regardless of whether he is truly pleased with it or not.
***There is a sense of equivocation, and this happy rationalization reveals something about the dark underside of human nature.*** Elements
Poem The poem consisits of 4 stanzas with 5 lines each (quintains). HUMAN NATURE Realism Notes Form: Musical Devices: In each quintain, the rhyme scheme is ABAAB.
Iambic Tetrameter (4 "feet" per line)
The poem is mainly iambic
(1 unstressed followed by a stressed syllable),
but varies throughout.
Most of these variations would be considered anapestic (2 unstressed followed by a stressed).
Therefore, the poem is loose iambic. AN EXAMPLE OF THIS RHYTHM
AND METER IN STANZA 1: A READING: LINE 1:
4 & 5: The speaker introduces the setting. He is at a fork in the road in a "yellow wood," which is the first hint of Autumn scenery.
In saying he is "sorry" he could not travel both, the reader becomes aware of his desire to take both routes.
Because this season represents a time of change, we get the sense that he is making a particularly significant life choice (symbolized by the two separate roads).
Perhaps he wishes to take both because the decision would seem much less momentous (unable to regret if exploring both options, won't ever wonder what might have been, etc.).
The speaker stops to ponder, revealing that he is alone in making this authoritative decision. This brings about the notion that the outcome, be it positive or negative, rests entirely on his shoulders (there will be no object to blame if, in the end, he feels he made the "wrong" decision).
In looking down the first road, we discover that there is no end point in sight because the undergrowth has obstructed his view, leaving only the unknown. LINE 6:
7 and 8:
9 and 10: The decision is clear; the speaker took the second road.
Believed this was the "better" choice because the road was "grassy" and "wanted wear." The specific wording brings about some imagery, offering meaning beyond the actual text. It implies that the second road appeared more welcoming; we get the sense that the path was clearer and neater than the first (perhaps it seemed easier, less frightening and unfamiliar).
Not only does the reader get a sense that the speaker is a bit impulsive, spending quite a bit of time contemplating one path and choosing the other without the same amount of thought, but it seems he may have chosen the "easy way out."
These ideas are further reinforced when the speaker mentions that both paths seemed equally worn, revealing that his previous statements were merely matters of opinion.
* This is a key part in the poem because it is the first trace of rationalization (which is a recurring theme from this point on), and plays a part in the overall meaning. LINE 11:
14 and 15: The speaker further reinforces that there was no true visual distinction between the two paths, and thus, nothing to suggest that one was more commonly taken than the other.
More setting and imagery-- freshly fallen leaves on a crisp Autumn morning, too early for someone to have walked over them yet.
In mentioning that no one had been out to "dirty" the leaves on either road, the speaker implies that there is no fellow traveler's footsteps to follow in (nothing to ease the anxiety over this decision, reinforces feeling of being alone).
Being that the speaker is on his own, the sole decision maker in this scenario, we can draw a parallel to Huckleberry Finn on his journey, who was essentially left to his own devices and forced to think for himself (need for autonomy).
The speaker declares he will return to travel the first road another day, but the satirical nature of this exclamation is evident (very much in line with the 20th century literature we've studied so far).
He is attempting to ease the weight of his decision by convincing himself that he can return to the same place and try the other route.
Beginning of poem first reveals desire to take both paths, but here the speaker's awareness of his situation comes to surface . In choosing one door, the abandoned one inevitably closes; every decision has the capacity to change one's course, rendering it impossible and/or futile to return to the point of origin. Therefore, he doubts he will be back, but his former rationale allows him to make the decision with less crippling uncertainty. Up until this point, the speaker is referring to a recent occurrence; we know this because his tense is such that he is speaking at a time not long after, relaying his thoughts/actions and reflecting on them. HERE, he jumps forward to the future, saying that he "shall" be telling this story many years after.
Repetition- the first line is repeated, bringing us back to the beginning, and allowing the speaker's future self to retell the tale. We must keep in mind the two versions of the speaker in interpreting these last 3 lines.
Crucial revision to the story in saying, "and I" at end of line
The future speaker claims to have taken the road "less traveled by," but all evidence prior to his future account contradicts this statement. 16 and 17:
LINE 19 : Speaker twisting story:
awareness of ability to be judged based on decisions
nonconformity appears to be highly regarded based on tone = will receive praise, able to feel validated, erase uncertainty/ compensate for possible feelings of regret in retrospect if accepted by peers.
Desire to make "the right choice." Even if one does not, he will sometimes do anything to create a happy rationalization. (Speaker is convincing himself by convincing others)
Believe if we say it with enough pride/ assurance, may actually start to believe it
Easier to cloud the truth in one's memories with time, lying to oneself and others in order to live with the consequences of our actions without such unbearable regret.
Fear of the unknown, so appearing to have conquered this fear is the closest one can get to having actually conquered it. The poem is characterized by ambivalence:
The 2nd road is grassy, then both are equally covered in leaves
One wanted wear, but both were worn the same.
The second was less traveled by, but there's no way of knowing which is more commonly taken.
Ambiguity comes to a head at the end, when last 3 lines contradict the poem that precedes them = literally reflects the themes/ notions of uncertainty, rationalization, ambiguity laced throughout the poem (ultimately suggesting something about our fallible human nature in always striving to view ourselves and our decisions in a positive light when, in fact, we are least certain of our values and choices.
Subtle humor at the end:
poking fun at humanity & dissatisfaction regardless of our choices, never enough, always wanting more.
sheds light on finality of choices and unavoidable loss of other opportunities as a result
need for validation in all that we do, put up a facade in the face of judgement, wishing to appear noble without the work involved, tendency to rationalize, twist reality to suit our needs
role of regret in the decision-making process
Desire to be free of freedom of choice in order to avoid possibility of negative outcome (**NOT in line with American ideals**):
Contradiction of traditional American values // two contradictory stories
2 contradictory people (speaker and speaker's public persona), 2 roads, 2 tenses = emphasis on the silly, absurd nature of human condition
This commentary is perfectly in line with 20th century realism. Manners: actions vs. internal psyche (breaks surface portrayal)
Values of others impact our decisions
-Judgement (speaker on the defensive // Daisy Miller
-Inability to admit making "wrong" decision // Winterbourne
-Avoiding risk/ vulnerability // Winterbourne Society: *Just as all James' characters avoid taking leap into life & love, the speaker avoids the unknown path*
-Individual fear in face of society // James
-Not momentous decision but represents bigger picture// James -Writer's vision of world is limited (cannot choose both roads)
-nonconformity contradicts American TRADITIONAL ideals