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maturation process, but it comes easily only to a few. Of course there are choices that usually generate little anguish such as what to have for breakfast or which route to take when going home, but when a person is a diabetic or inclement weather makes every road hazardous, even these choices become difficult. This paper discusses a poem and a short story by two of the greatest American authors of the twentieth century. Both Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and William Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning" are about the difficult choices people are often confronted with. The stories reflect both real and intangible choices that the protagonists had to make (in Frosts poem the main character is assumed to be the author himself) and what the outcome of the choices were. This paper will begin with a literal summary of the two works, the real choices that had to be made, and finish with the intangible choices made by the characters in the narratives.
Paths always diverge at some point. Often, a path will split equally and go separate ways with no discernible distinction between the two. Taken literally, the paths in Frost's poem seem to be either some vague trail that both animals and humans used to traverse a wood and that both trails seem to be about equally used. However, he said that even though both trails had about equal wear, he assumed that the second was trodden less frequently than the first which "bent into the undergrowth" (Cornell). He chose to travel the second path.
William Faulkner is famous for his experimental fiction, but he is even more famous for the area of the country he comes from. Faulkner grew up poor in rural Mississippi and he wrote about the people he encountered throughout his childhood in many of the books and anthologies he completed. In his story "Burning Barn" he tells the travails of a family of poor white trash (Loges) which is dominated by a seemingly emotionless man. He displays no outward sign of sympathy, and definitely no empathy, as he takes his family from job to job. He does nothing to endear himself to anyone and he has few rules for his own conduct save one. He has a high personal sense of self, and he does not broke offense lightly. His weapon of choice is fire. When he feels insulted by someone else he burns their barn. The boy, Colonel Sartoris, who is the main character in the story has learned that he must just go along with the eccentricities of his father and that he must not cross him. The father sees a couple of times in the story that the boy is beginning to gain a conscience, something the father does not seem to possess, and he punishes him for it. The father warns the boy "you got to learn to stick to your own blood" (Faulkner). This lesson seems to be the only one that the father can teach besides that of not allowing people to insult you.
In both the poem and the short story, a decision has to be reached by the protagonist. The person on Frost's path must choose which path he or she wants to tread. The boy must decide if he will stick to what his conscience tells him is right or if he will continue to blindly follow his father. The person on the path looks at both and sees that one has been traveled by more people than has the other. Going the more travelled way would be the option that most people would take (as is obvious by the amount of traffic that has already crossed it), but this traveler decides that he wants to take the one which is less well traveled (Pauwels & Hess). The boy goes along with his father for many years (the reader does not learn how old the boy is so it is difficult to gage the level of his involvement in the family saga). He has always done as the rest of the family does and gone with whatever whim the father had. In the first part of the story, the boy is asked to be a witness at an improvised court session. The father, seeing that the boy will tell what actually happened, does not allow him to speak. It is after this that the father tells the boy not to go against family. Those are the two paths for the boy. Will he continue down the well-worn path of just allowing his father to continue getting even for insults, or will he take the untried path of conscience? The boy chooses to follow his conscience and the story ends with him being alone in the world and following his own path. In this way the two stories are very similar. Both protagonists choose the path that is less well traveled; they both want to see what is down a road unfamiliar to them, but hopefully better than the other. That is the tangible part of both stories; the part that is easy to see upon a simple reading, but there are many shades within both the poem and the short story that are only discernible after close examination.
Why does Frost say that taking "The Road Less Traveled" has "made all the difference" (Cornett)? It can initially be said that this is left up to the reader. It is difficult to determine exactly what Frost was talking about. Robert Frost was a well-known poet, acknowledged as one of the greatest in United States and possibly world history, who was descended from writers and teachers. He was born right after the turmoil of the Civil War, but he was raised in California which meant that the turmoil of the south was far from him. So what was the well-traveled path that Frost diverged from in the "yellow wood" (Cornett). Of course, there has been a lot of speculation, but probably only the author knows what he was talking about specifically. Since Frost is regarded as a realist it could have been that he walked that less traveled path in reality and found something along that journey that really did "make all the difference" in his life (Cornett). It is difficult to say. But from a more figurative reading, Frost was talking about not following the crowd. He was an individual who has inspired many other like individuals to go their own way.
The short story has the same message for those who look just a little bit deeper. Of course, the story can just be about a boy who chooses to do the "right" thing, but it is actually more than that. His life, no matter how difficult, was familiar. He may not have liked what his father did, he may have realized how weak his mother was, that his older brother was probably going down a worse road than his father (because they looked about the same but his brother was stockier (Faulkner)), the fact that his twin sisters were overweight and simpering, and that his aunt was made in the same mold as her sister, but he had lived with all of these for a long time. His father told Sarty that he was becoming a man, and the inference here is that he should act like it (Loges). But it is easier to go along with how dysfunctional his family was rather than attempt to go a different way and try to be a better person himself. But he did do it. He told the owner of the property what his father planned to do and that set him on his own path.
However, it is necessary to talk about how the two narratives are dissimilar also. In the poem, the author is having a pleasant walk through a "yellow wood" (Cornett). Frost says that he wishes he was two travelers so that he could go down both paths. He wants to see why more people have chosen the one path and not the other, and he also wants to know what lies along these two paths. He may have been debating because he liked the idea of the greater kinship he would find down the more traveled path, but he finally chose the other because he wanted to be his own person.
Faulkner's main character chose his path for different reasons. He was a boy growing into manhood and he knew what was right and what was wrong. He saw the two paths, unlike Frost, as definitely different. One had had more traffic than the other, but the difference of one being definitely right and the other definitely wrong makes the two stories diverge. Sarty knew that his father would not change, he also knew what his own path looked like of he continued to go down that road. More and more he disliked the way that he saw his own life turning out, and…[continue]
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