Journey through “The Road Not Taken” and “The Worn Path”
In the journey of life, everyone is faced with a unique set of decision that demand his or her attention at one point or another. In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” They both focus on the theme “Journey”. They both have the same theme yet the point of view is different. Both stories share a certain path that life is characterized by. The main theme of the two literary works is that we travel on our daily journey called life not knowing what lies ahead. The theme in a story is associated with an idea that lies behind the story (Clugston, 2010). The two literary works are similar in their core theme yet different in the ways that symbolism is used.
Summaries of the “The Worn Path” and “The road not taken”
Below are the summaries of the plots carried in the poem “The road not taken” and the short story “The worn path.” The importance of these summaries is to provide a snapshot of the plots of the literary works being discussed in this exercise. They are meant to help in piecing the different ideas of the works together. They also help in differentiating the two stories since confusion may arise from the similarity of some of their elements.
The Road not Taken
This is a poem about a man who is on a journey that takes him through the woods. In the course of his travel he comes across a forked road that splits into two. While this would ideally grant him the luxury of choice, he is forced to take one of the paths. What appears to bother him however is the fact that he failed to take the other road and this is what he constantly ponders on. There was no sign whatsoever to suggest that one of the roads was better or more travelled. The undergrowth on both of them suggested similar wear. As he is pondering on the future, he appears to be planning on how to fabricate a story of his travel on the road not taken. By ‘recreating this scene with a twist,’ the man may be implying that he looks forward for a chance to narrate his experience at the cross- roads to someone, probably younger like a son or grandson (Bernell, 2013)..
The Worn Path
This is a story about an old African American lady called Phoenix Jackson who is constantly on a journey across the woods in pursuit of medication for her grandson. The interaction she has with different people in the story emphasizes the point in history that this story is set in. She is repeatedly referred to as a ‘colored’ by the white hunter she comes across on the road. Phoenix Jackson gets to have several dreams that appear to be hallucinations since she can’t seem to separate from reality. In one of these dreams, a young boy, her grandson, tries to help her out of a ditch. She fell into the ditch while trying to fight off a dog that came in her path. As she stretches out her arms for him to pull her out, she realizes that it was only a vivid hallucination. Another incident of her hallucinations take place when the same young boy comes to offer her a piece of marble cake. She keeps talking to herself about getting him some medication for his throat problem due to his swallowing of a poisonous substance earlier in his life.
She also meets a white hunter who is in the woods. He is concerned about her frailty and the great distance she is travelling in the woods. At the same time this white man is condescending towards her and at one point claims that people of her race will only go to the city in search of Santa Claus. When he drops a coin, the old lady decides to pocket it when he goes in pursuit of the dog. She however gets guilt ridden upon seeing a bird which she believes is sent by God to watch her and found her doing a dishonest thing. From the flow of the story it is likely that the boy passed ago some time before but her love for him combined with senility leads her to continue experiencing his presence (Welty, 1940).
Life is a journey and we travel through ups and downs and some of us are lucky enough to reach our destination while for a few life is a never-ending journey. Robert Frost’s poem, “The road not taken” is about the journey of the narrator who is journeying from one place to other and how he comes across a diverging road and has to decide which road will be appropriate for him (Frost, 1916). The poem depicts the indecisiveness faced by most of us about the road to be taken through the journey of our life, the easier one or the harder one. As most critics have noted, Phoenix Jackson is a very old woman who walks from Old Natchez Trace into Natchez at Christmas time to get medicine for her grandson (Bartel, 1977). Similarly, Eudora Welty’s short story, “A Worn Path” demonstrates the journey of an old woman through a familiar pathway. She is well aware of the road and the difficulties she will be facing on this road, but still she has purpose in her footstep and she is ready to face all the ups and downs of the journey with determination (Welty, 1940). Frost’s traveler appears to be unaware of the road’s destination and he does not have any particular purpose to take that particular road, but Welty’s old woman traveler, Phoenix, is well aware of what lies across the road, she is not using a new path, but she is walking on a well-travelled pathway and has a particular work to be completed. She has traveled on this road many times, but Frost’s traveler appears to be stepping on the rarely taken road for the first time. Both have to face challenges on their journey through the woods, the challenges faced by Frost’s traveler can be imagined by the reader because it is not a well-known, well-constructed road, and the challenges faced by Phoenix are clearly described in the short story. Symbols as used in literature are meant to bring about meaning that is generally understood by the audience (Clugston, 2010). The journey for both the travelers is a symbol of multiple emotions. Both the story and the poem clearly depict in the climax and the last two lines respectively that the travelers reach their destination successfully. Welty and Frost have written wonderful description of the journey through the woods and the readers can enjoy the poem and short story and imagine the challenges a person can face while traveling through known and unknown roads.
The poem’s stanzas feature the use of rhyme which makes it more interesting by giving it somewhat of a tune. This makes it easier to read the poem and at the same time concentrate due to the flow that is achieved by the rhyme. The man in the poem says, “And be one traveler, long I stood; And looked down one as far as I could” (Frost, 1916), thus the poet is not sure which road is to be taken. He is also feeling sorry that he cannot take both the roads, M.K. Rukhaya says, “At the outset he comprehends that he is sorry could not travel both: “And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler.” His first impression is that it is not practical “ (M.K.Rukhaya, 2012). It is evident that that the traveler is not able to conclude which road would be better for him and he is all alone, so there is no one to advice him and at the same time he is lone traveler, so he cannot take two different roads simultaneously. On the other hand, Phoenix, the old heroic black lady, from Welty’s short story is well aware of the worn path. She has traveled on it frequently, so she knows the hurdles she may face. She is aware of all the dangerous animals she can meet through the woods, and also knows about the snakes and time when they will be sleeping in winters and when they will be slithering in the summer. The old lady says, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals! . . . Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites. . . . Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way” (Welty, 1940). She is walking sure-footedly because, “Her feet have slipped into the groove of habit, and she trusts them to take her where she wants to go — to retrieve medicine for her sick grandson, yet her senses pull her back” (Hardin, n.d.). Wendy’s phoenix is alone and scared, but sure about the road while Frost’s lone traveler is not so scared, but he is unsure about the road. These statements show her boldness and to some extent also illustrate the determination she has to accomplish her mission.
The journeys of the travelers, Frost’s lone traveler and Welty’s Phoenix, are not simple. They are in fact full of challenges. Through the poem, “Frost shows that human beings face numerous challenges everyday that affect their life. Examples of challenges identified by Frost are ethical decision making, making choices in life and individualism. The challenges identified by Welty are racism, prejudice and challenges elderly people face in life” (How The Road Not Taken And A Worn Path Differ Based On Content, 2013). Frost does not describe directly the challenges his traveler may face, but when he says, “And looked down one far as I could; to where it bent in the undergrowth” (Frost, 1916), this suggests the vast length of the road. His journey will be full of surprises because it is still full of undergrowth and the road is not visible at all. People traveling through such new roads may come across unknown obstacles and will have to face strange challenges, but the traveler is ready to face all these challenges. Phoenix is also well aware of all the challenges she is going to face while traveling through the woods, though the road is well-worn, and has been traveled and used by many people, she is all alone on the road. There is hardly any human being in sight, and even a scarecrow is enough to scare out her wits, but bravely she faces all the challenges like the lone traveler of Frost. When a hunter comes across her and saves her life, she is calm, and even when he points his gun at her, she is composed because she has seen many hurdles in her life, she answers the hunter in this manner when he points the gun at her and asks if she is not scared, “No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” she said, holding utterly still. He smiled, and shouldered the gun. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you” (Welty, 1940). This conversation captures the ironic combination of racism and genuine concern that the white hunter has for this old lady.
Robert Frost’s traveler does not appear to be on a mission, he is just passing through the woods, but why is he passing is not described by the poet. The poet describes the journey in such a way that it seems the traveler is enjoying the journey and just happy to pass through the woods. His mission is achieved becomes clear in the last two lines because he says that he is happy he took the road, which was not well-used. Phoenix on the other hand takes the difficult journey through the woods with an important mission. She has to bring medicine for her sick grandson who is suffering from some throat problem, and may even die if he does not get the medicine on time, “Her grandson’s need is the reality which precipitates her journey, yet the reality which haunts her steps on that path is the fear, perhaps even the recognition, that her boy is dead” (Hardin, n.d.). Thus, Phoenix starts and continues with her journey with a strong mission in her heart, and Robert Frost’s traveler’s mission is not clear in the poem, but definitely he reaches to some destination after crossing the “road not taken.”
The journey is a symbol of the human lifespan which is constantly progressing with challenges and dilemmas along the way. Frost’s traveler and Phoenix have different hopes while crossing the roads through the woods. Frost is crossing the unknown road through the woods with the hope of finding a way, a path while Phoenix is crossing the known woods with the hope of getting some medicine and a cure for her grandson.
Both characters exhibit desperation in their different quests. Frost is desperate to find what he may find on the other side of the road, which has been used less, while Phoenix is desperate because she has left her grandson all alone at home and the medicine is essential for him. They both are scared on their journey. Who will not be scared while traveling alone through the woods whether the path is known or unknown? Frost may be scared of the unknown challenges he may have to face while crossing the less traveled road and Phoenix is afraid of the challenges she has been facing every time she has traveled on the worn route. Frost may not have been guided by love on this journey because throughout the poem he has not mentioned anything about love, his poem is purely about natural surroundings and the curiosity in human nature. This is seen in the lone traveller’s constant wondering about what would have become of his taking the other road. In the short story, Welty has described the love of the old grandmother for her grandson who does not have enough strength and courage, but with the power of love for her grandson helps her to cross the woods and walk towards her mission, “Seen in one light, an old woman, for the sake of love, ignores her own safety and marches across a log; seen in a harsher light, an old woman, ignoring her own safety, marches across a log, because she cannot refuse” (Hardin, n.d.). One thing is sure that both the travelers are full of persistence, determination and have a sense of achievement in their hearts. Both are determined that they will complete their journey successfully, both persist throughout the journey and face all the hurdles that come their way.
The wonderful thing about the poem and the story is that they both end on a happy note, both the travelers are able to complete their journey successfully, accomplish their mission and reach their destination. The lone traveller is desperate to maintain control over circumstances and this leads him to ‘rewrite’ the story to suit his curiosity and this is captured in he last two lines of the poem , “I took the [road] less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference” (Frost, 1916) have a sense of accomplishment , that the traveler was ultimately happy that he took that unused road, which has made a great difference in his life, “Furthermore, these lines inspire the young person traveling through life to make that same courageous decision, to go the way that a lesser man or woman might pass up, because it’s too hard, or too perilous, or too ambitious, or too self-sacrificing—the final line is vague enough for anyone to fill in with a particular, favorite value” (Bernell, 2013). It seems that the decision taken by the traveler in Frost’s poem brought some kind of satisfying success because he is ultimately happy that he chose the less used road. Phoenix is also happy at the end of the journey. Her mission is also accomplished since she gets the medication she came for. The author has created a kind of anti-climax after Phoenix reaches the hospital. She completely forgets why she had started on this journey, but later she remembers the reason of her journey and is satisfied that her hard work was finally awarded and she could avail the medicines on charity for her ailing grandson. The author confuses the reader by telling that the grandmother is not sure whether her grandson will be alive or not, but still she wants to buy a toy for him. However, the writer and the poet are sure that both the travelers have a complete sense of satisfaction after they end their journey.
In closing, a journey always inspires people. And every journey has some kind of mission attached to it, which may be optional or a necessary mission. In the poem “The Road Not Taken” and in the short story “A Worn Path”, it is clear that the travelers have a mission. The mission of Phoenix is clearly defined, while the mission of the traveler in the poem is not well-defined. They face different challenges, overcome them and reach their destination. They journey is a symbol of multiple emotions for the travelers, and at the same time it is the measurement of their endurance. The readers can thoroughly enjoy the story and the poem and visualize the journey of both the travelers through challenges and finally take a deep sigh of relaxation when they are assured that both the travelers have reached their destination after a difficult journey through known and unknown paths. The two works show how life’s ups and downs can be presented through different literary devices which aid in bringing meaning as intended by the author to the audience.
Bartel, Roland. “Life And Death In Eudora Welty’s ‘A Worn Path’.” Studies In Short Fiction 14.3 (1977): 288. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Bernell, L. (2013, Dec 2). The Road Not Taken: Robert Frost’s Walk into Self-Delusion. Retrieved Dec 2, 2013, from suite101: http://suite101.com/a/the-road-not-taken-robert-frosts-walk-into-self-delusion-a400174
Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Hardin, S. (n.d.). “A Worn Path”: A Journey Through the Real and the Not Real. Retrieved Nov 29, 2013, from PIPA: http://castle.eiu.edu/ipaweb/pipa/volume3/hardin.htm
How The Road Not Taken And A Worn Path Differ Based On Content. (2013, May 17). Retrieved Nov 30, 2013, from Customwriting tips: http://customwritingtips.com/component/k2/item/14012-how-the-road-not-taken-and-a-worn-path-differ-based-on-content.html
M.K.Rukhaya. (2012, 11 9). Symbolic Overtones in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. Retrieved Nov 30, 2013, from Literature Study Guides: http://www.brighthubeducation.com/homework-help-literature/124076-symbolic-overtones-in-the-road-not-taken/