A Deconstructive Reading Of Robert Frost’s Poem “The Road Not Taken”
A deconstructive reading of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” reveals that the road not taken doesn’t make any diﬀerence at all. High schools have been using this poem to motivate students for decades, but what teachers and students never seem to notice is that both roads are essentially equal; therefore there is no moral to the story about the road less traveled making all the diﬀerence. Also Frost ‘s another poem “Fire and Ice” that commonly people say it is about the end of world, can be summed up from the ﬁrst line that written by “Some say the world will end …” Continued by the contents that show how it will end. If this poem is observed in details, it will show how Roberts Frost deconstructs about the end of world.
Deconstruction itself is refusing of logo-centrism that centers the hierarchy in a binary opposition of a sense or meaning. A sense or a meaning cannot be limited by a sign, because the sign just descends the real meaning. Therefore, deconstruction is a way of reading text with the result that text cannot sign a meaning in a hierarchy or single truth (Ratna, 2004:222, Al-Fayyadl, 2005: 68, Norris, 2006:14).A deconstructive reading of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” reveals that the road not taken doesn’t make any diﬀerence at all. High schools have been using this poem to motivate students for decades, but what teachers and students never seem to notice is that both roads are essentially equal; therefore there is no moral to the story about the road less traveled making all the diﬀerence. Did Frost make a fundamental error in his poem or did he deliberately write the last line in a clever attempt of chicanery to winnow out the scholars from the masses, or is he commenting on the illusion of independence, freedom, and originality in American society? I suspect the latter but that is a thesis for a diﬀerent essay. Also Frost ‘s another poem “Fire and Ice” that commonly people say it is about the end of world, can be summed up from the ﬁrst line that written by “Some say the world will end …” Continued by the contents that show how it will end. If this poem is observed in details, it will show how Roberts Frost deconstructs about the end of world. Brieﬂy, to the title of “Fire and Ice”, it looks like a binary opposition like black and white, men and women, hell and heaven, demon and angel, and bad and good. Robert Frost deconstructs this binary opposition of ﬁre and the opposition. The aim of this paper is to investigate these binary oppositions through these two important poems of Robert Frost.
In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” the central tension in this text is conformity versus nonconformity. This binary opposition is the key to the text’s main ideological framework, that nonconformity, or taking the path less traveled, is the desired choice in having a better life. However, the underlying theme of the poem, that taking the route to nonconformity is the best choice, it is also an illusion skillfully administered by American society; both paths are essentially the same, but Frost makes himself believe that they are diﬀerent and one is more correct than the other and that it has “made all the diﬀerence”. The same goes for American society, whose pave-your-own-way philosophy rests on the ideology of nonconformity and individualism. We like to think that we are being independent, free, and original-three hallmarks of American ideology and what it is to be an American-but in eﬀect it is all an illusion to make ourselves feel better, to make nonconformity, which is Frost’s point in the poem.
For example, as the narrator in the poem comes to a fork in the road and has to choose between two paths and looks carefully at both of them before making his decision, he accedes that both of them are “just as fair” and that those passing through had “worn them really about the same” and that both of them “equally lay”. Look as hard as he might, and “long he stood”, he really could ﬁnd no diﬀerence between the two paths. However, he tried to convince himself (or his audience) that they were diﬀerent paths in order to justify his choice and to make it seem as though he took the more diﬃcult yet more rewarding one. He wrote that he took the other path because it had “perhaps the better claim/Because it was grassy and wanted wear” but to be truthful he had to go on to admit that “though for the passing there/had worn them really about the same” so he tried to justify his choice but couldn’t quite do it. However, by the end of the poem the narrator has convinced himself that he made the ideal choice by saying that he took the one less traveled by, “and that has made all the diﬀerence”. There is no contextual evidence in the poem that shows that one of the paths was less traveled than the other. When the narrator tried to compare them he couldn’t admit to there being any signiﬁcant diﬀerence, so by the end of the poem he just asserted a falsehood; that he took the one less traveled by. Frost illustrated and challenged the artiﬁce of the ideology of nonconformity being the privileged binary opposition by showing (through the narrator in his poem) that it is so ingrained in society that it is better to make yourself and others believe that you have taken the more diﬃcult and original route than to admit to being ordinary and following in the footsteps of countless others. His narrator conforms to this ideology by trying to convince himself and his audience that he took the ideal, the “less traveled” path in order to save himself the humiliation of admitting that he didn’t do anything particularly interesting, original, or diﬀerent from what others would have done. Another, less important binary opposition present in the poem is temporality versus permanence. The narrator is acutely aware of the fact that he can only choose one path and cannot go back and take the other path because even if, as he tried to experiences leading up to that decision. Although the narrator knows that (hence the long deliberation at the beginning of the poem before ﬁnally choosing a path) he tries to tell himself that he can always go back and take the other path as well. Therefore he is attempting to immerse himself in the illusion of permanence-that he could always go back and take the other path if the one he chose turned out not to be of his liking. In American society there is an ideology that if a person doesn’t like their career or chosen path, they can always go back and change it. Although it is true that one can always change career paths or choices in life, it is not possible to go back in time to change a decision; the experiences, personal feelings at the time, and the moment itself cannot be relived. At the end of the poem the narrator says that the decision he made in choosing one particular path over another “has made all the diﬀerence”. However, how could he know that it has made all the diﬀerence when he could not go back to that exact moment in time and take the other path? We like to think that we have made the right choices in life based on what our lives are like now, but we cannot truthfully make that assertion because we cannot go back in time and relive all the alternate possibilities to successfully determine whether or not we have, indeed, made correct decisions. Therefore, the narrator illustrates the artiﬁcial ideology that not only can we make truthful assertions about the correctness of the decisions we have made in our lives, but also that we can go back and change the decision if it turns out to be undesirable.
“”Fire and Ice” is also Frost ‘s another poem that commonly people say it about the end of world. It can be summed up from the ﬁrst line that written by “Some say the world will end …” Continued by the contents that show how it will end. If this poem is observed in details, it will show how Roberts Frost deconstructs about the end of world. Brieﬂy, to the title of “Fire and Ice”, it looks like a binary opposition like black and white, men and women, hell and heaven, demon and angel, and bad and good. Robert Frost deconstructs this binary opposition of ﬁre and the opposition. If looking at the binary opposition, it can be known that “Fire” should opposite with “water” not the “Ice” because “Ice” itself is the water that reaches the minimum of temperature. Shortly, “Ice” is the alteration of water while for the “Fire” only has a form of “Fire” itself. Fire that has very high temperature will keep being “Fire”, because it has no the other of form. Based on it, paradigm of binary opposition of “Fire and water” has moved to “Fire and Ice”. Continuously, in binary opposition, there is always one thing that is hierarchy. This hierarchy is considered as the center or ordinate while another is subordinate. However, this hierarchy is not totally the center. Based on the concept of decentering of Derrida, center is not singular but it is plural. In other word, decentering is structure with no center and hierarchy (Ratna, 2004: 225). In “Fire and Ice”, the hierarchy or the center is in “Fire”. “Fire” is powerful, symbol of brave, identical with red. Red is a symbol of brave. “Fire” is like men that are more powerful than women are. Women are as “Ice” that is powerless. However, in this poetry, this hierarchy is moved to the other. The other here is the “Ice”. The “Ice” itself is not very powerful than “Fire”. Both of them can destruct the world. “Some say the world will end in ﬁre, Some say in ice” (Line 1-2). This means that both of them can destruct the world. “To say that for destruction ice, Is also great And would suﬃce” (Line 7-8) here shows “Ice” is also great. The word of “also” means the similarity and it does not mean it is more powerful to destruct. It ﬁnally shows that the center or the hierarchy of destruction the world is not only the “Fire”. It moves to the “Ice” while the “Ice” itself is not the only thing that destructs the world because it has same power with the “Fire”. Next, the word of “FIRE” here implies in perishing or ending the world and it is compared with the “ICE” that has same power. It must be more than the “Fire” commonly, because “Fire” is commonly compared with water not “Ice”. To sign “the thing” that can destruct the world, water can become “ICE” while “Fire” will keep being “FIRE” to destruct. In this case, “ICE” is more powerful than water while “FIRE” is more powerful than “Fire”. Looking at the word of “FIRE” (powerful ﬁre in this poem that destructs the world) and “Fire” (commonly), it shows how weak the sign of “FIRE” here. The sign of “Fire” itself never changes although the power, the temperature increases to destruct. It will be keep being signed with “FIRE”. It means that there is no other sign to explain the “FIRE” whereas the “FIRE” here has the other that is unsaid and is not revealed through any signs. The other here is the power to destruct the world. In other word, sign has limit or is very limited to show the real sense. Sense is always free and unleashed with sign because sign cannot hold all of the real sense up. Therefore, meaning indirectly exists in a sign. Because the meaning is attributed in text, so the rest is trace. Trace is considered as absence of presence (Ratna, 2004:226). When the word of “FIRE” is erased, then the meaning of it will always exist in memory, the memory of the ﬁre’s power. This is known as term of diﬀerEnce/diﬀerAnce. It is from the word of to diﬀer and to defer (delay). Derrida (Ratna, 2004:226) relates space and time to the signiﬁer and the signiﬁed. It means that the signiﬁer is the representative of the signiﬁed or the thing. This signiﬁer represents the presence that is delayed. In this case, “Fire” that has power to destruct the world is signiﬁed with “FIRE”. The sign of “FIRE” here does not perfectly represent the “Fire” that destructs the world. There is something that is unsaid clearly in the sign such as ﬁre with full of power, power with full of pain, pain that can perish, and many realities. These unsaid things are the presence that is delayed. Then, the meaning of “Fire” that destructs the world has diﬀerent thing. This diﬀerent thing is the presence that is always delayed. The presumption of those does not emerge with oﬀ hand; it also purposes to show about destruction that is caused by it. In hierarchy opposition, “Fire” always places itself as the hierarchy of breaker, desolation, dangerous. Through inter-text way, it can be proven the hierarchies of it. Inter-text itself is linking a text with the other texts (Ratna, 2004: 172). Devil is always identical with ﬁre in all of mythology, Shidarta is asked to walk through ﬁre path to test his proper power as Buddha before entering the world (ﬁre is the symbol of desire of human that will destruct the world). The “Ice” is closer to impression of cool and fresh that contains of pleasure than destroying. In Islam and Christian, there is belief of Hell and Heaven, where Hell is the place to punish the bad people with ﬁre while Heaven is pictured full of pleasure. In this poem, those assumption does not exist anymore; “Fire” is not totally as the hierarchy of destruction, it seems as if doing shift to the “Ice”. “To say that for source of destruction moves to the “Ice” as the source of destruction. All of these are ﬁnally concluded, deconstruction is a thought that is used to reject against logo-centrism. Derrida, with concepts of decentering, trace, and diﬀerence/diﬀerance has shown the weaknesses of structuralism where there must always be a center and a meaning can be signiﬁed in a sign. This thought also can be used to analyze the literary works, one of them is poetry.
Poetries of Robert Frost always show a deep understanding and deconstruction. One of them is “Fire and Ice”. In “Fire and Ice”, Frost tries to give assumptions that the most dangerous thing of desolation world is not only from a single hierarchy. In this poetry, Frost gives two things that will end the world, “Fire and Ice”. Although, “Fire” is identically considered as the hierarchy of destruction than “Ice” but in this poetry, Frost delivers that it is not only from “Fire”. It is also from “Ice” that can destruct the world. The position of them is same to end the world. “The Road Not Taken” also reveals that the road not taken doesn’t make any diﬀerence at all. ? We like to think that we have made the right choices in life based on what our lives are like now, but we cannot truthfully make that assertion because we cannot go back in time and relive all the alternate possibilities to successfully determine whether or not we have, indeed, made correct decisions. Therefore, the narrator illustrates the artiﬁcial ideology that not only can we make truthful assertions about the correctness of the decisions we have made in our lives, but also that we can go back and change the decision if it turns out to be undesirable.
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