Themes in The Road Not Taken

Fate: The poem’s central conflict arises when the speaker encounters a crossroads. The first line tells of how “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” a classic conceit for a life decision. The speaker then begins to weigh the two options trying to select the better choice. However, Frost’s poem makes the subversive claim that our choices are less real than we think. Our power to discern meaningful differences is negligible—the two roads are “as just as fair.” According to the poem, fate continually guides us forward despite our attempts to exercise free will.

Choice and uncertainty: Frost’s poem succeeds in conveying the uncertainties we encounter in making decisions. Faced with a dilemma, one never has quite enough information; one can never truly predict what each choice will bring. Frost’s imagery gives these uncertainties a shape. Just as a potential choice will not reveal its consequences, a potential road will not reveal its destination because of the way it “ben[ds] in the undergrowth.” The poem is compelling in part because it captures the anxiety we all experience as we step forward into uncertainties, again and again, throughout our lives.

Themes Examples in The Road Not Taken:

The Road Not Taken 3

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,..."   (The Road Not Taken)

The repetition of “I,” accentuated by the long dash and the line break, serves two purposes. It can be read as a moment of hesitation. Facing the “two roads”—a reiteration of the poem’s opening line—the speaker falters when forced to make the final decision. The two “I”s can also be read as a statement about the fluidity of personal identity. As a person moves through time and makes decisions, her identity changes. Thus, the repetition of “I” represents the two different versions of the speaker: one before facing the fork, one after.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh..."   (The Road Not Taken)

The speaker is resigned to a sense of wistfulness in the future. Even if the speaker will not experience regret outright, the possibilities that lay down the road not taken will forever remain in mind. Another interesting aspect of this statement is that the poem itself seems to be equivalent to the phrase “telling this with a sigh… ages and ages hence,” particularly considering that the poem describes the events in the past tense.

"Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back...."   (The Road Not Taken)

These lines illustrate the speaker’s irrational confidence in the option to reconsider his decision later, jauntily marked with an exclamation point. This optimism is quickly sobered by the reality that “way leads onto way,” meaning that the future will just offer more branching decisions.