Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

"The Road Not Taken" in Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"*1

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

"The Road Not Taken" in Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"*1

Article excerpt

Although the speaker of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" tells us that the road he takes is "less traveled," in the second and third stanzas, he makes it clear that "the passing there" had worn these two paths "really about the same" and that "both that morning equally lay/ in leaves no step had trodden black" (835). The poem is told from the point of view of a speaker who imagines that he will contemplate his life later, "I shall be telling this [...]," and whether he will have made the right choice or not. In fact, the only marker for the present tense is the word "hence." Ambiguity is felt in Frost's most famous words: "I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."2 We are never told whether or not the difference made in the life of that person was good or bad; whether it enriched his life or made it miserable. Even the few clues that we have-the telling all this with a "sigh" and that both roads were equally fair-are vague. Is the "sigh" an expression of satisfaction and contentment that the speaker has taken a successful path? Or is it an expression of regret and remorse that he has not taken the other road and has left behind the possibilities it might have offered? If the roads are equally fair, then why does the speaker say "that has made all the difference"? What about the title of the poem? Which road is "the road not taken"? Is it the one the speaker takes, which according to his last description is "less traveled by," i.e., had not been taken by others, or does the title refer to the supposedly better-traveled road that the speaker himself fails to take?

Frost never answers these questions, leaving the readers to create their own interpretations. Even Frost himsetf, after a public reading of the poem, admonished the public "to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem - tricky" (Thompson 14). An initial reading of the poem reveals a searcher-speaker who sees a forked road and chooses the nonconformist, "the less-traveled" path, thus discovering meaning for the seH; however, a close reading of the poem reveals that the speaker admits three times within six lines that the roads are the same and that they are indistinguishable: one is "just as fair" as the other, they are "worn reaUy about the same," and each "equaUy lay." The reader of the poem would like to beUeve in a world of clear, forked-road choices, but there is reaUy no other path in Robert Frost's most famous and most ambiguous poem "The Road Not Taken." There is only one path; the other path remains simply an iUusion, an abstraction, and a missed and lamentable chance. One interpretation of the poem could be that Frost wants the individual to make a choice (unless one wants to stand forever in the wood in front of the forked path!), and even if that choice will always be determined by fate, chance or destiny, one should make the best of it. Only then can one understand the nature of the choice made and the nature of the self that has made it.

The theme of the lamentable chance permeates Hemingway's fiction. In fact, his world is one filled with loss. On the surface, Hemingway's short stories and novels seem to deal with violence, death, tension and threat, but those aspects constitute just the tip of the iceberg or the surface structure; the remaining hidden and larger part reveals a sense of loss matched with a sense of longing, confusion, remorse and nostalgia. What can be noticed is that Hemingway develops his fiction from a sense of nostalgia for something that was there and is not anymore in his earlier writing to a sense of remorse at a missed chance, i.e., at something that never was. The short stories about Nick Adams, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and, finally, The Old Man and the Sea all deal with the first kind of loss; the emotional and spiritual aftermath of losing something one had before. This takes the form of longing and nostalgia. Nick Adams is involved in loss most of the times: be it the loss of a girl, older values, his country, his family and his friends, etc. …

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