Welty's Style Moves From Satire Towards Compassion
Frost's Style Moves From Satire Towards Self-Awareness
Welty Reflects all of life in her Thematic Structure
Frost Reflects a simple event, losing one's way
Form and Content
Allows for many interpretations
The content can be read in varying ways
Welty's short story
Allows a more intimate connection with characters
The story can be read as allegory, social commentary, or realism
Welty and Frost use the same symbol to reflect different facets of life
B. They initiate a journey for the reader, but the reader's destination is of his own choosing
An Analysis of the Symbol of the Journey in Welty's "Worn Path" and Frost's
"Road Not Taken"
Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" and Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" use the symbol of the Journey to produce separate effects: the former a representation of the transcendent value of love and sacrifice, the latter a representation of the folly of human reason. Although both employ the Journey symbol, Frost's poem is rooted in a spirit of misadventure and fun, while Welty's short story is rooted in a spirit of elevation. Ironically, Frost's poem has taken on a much wider and grander significance than it was originally intended to convey. Commonly viewed as a poem in praise of individuality and self-discovery, Frost's "Road Not Taken" has become a banner of liberality. Welty's short story has also been viewed in varying ways, from a condemnation of racial inequality to a reflection of the journey of the human spirit through a kind of Purgatory on Earth. This paper will compare and contrast the two works in terms of style, content and form, showing how both use the Journey symbol, which can be read with varying degrees of gravity, seriousness, and thematic consequence.
Even though the two works are of a vastly different structure, Frost's poem and Welty's short story share more than the ability to symbolize the Journey in their works. They also share the ability to satirize the human experience in terms of style. Nina Baym (1998), for example, notes how "like Robert Frost, Welty loves gossip in all its actuality and intimacy" (p. 1784). This characterization of the writers is telling for two reasons: first, it shows that both Welty and Frost take inspiration from one of the most common forms of human communication and narrative -- gossip; second, it shows that the two writers are grounded in the familiar human experience.
Yet, both writers approach their subject (the human condition) from a different perspective. Frost tends towards gentle satire and subtle mockery. His poems often provide a needling of another's idea, but in good fun. "The Road Not Taken," for example, was meant to poke fun at Frost's friend Edward, who always failed to choose the correct path when taking walks through the forest (Pritchard, 1993, p. 128). Welty, on the other hand, even though she had a natural flare for satire, her writings are composed not so much in a spirit of derision but rather in a spirit of compassion and love. "A Worn Path" contains elements of humor, but overall it is dedicated to illustrating the virtues of perseverance and the efficacy of a grandmother's love. Baym concurs when she states that "although [Welty's] attitude toward human folly is satiric, it is satire devoid of the wish to undermine and make mockery of her characters" (p. 1784).
One Journey, Two Themes
The maturity that Welty displays in "A Worn Path" is a kind that embraces life and its experiences in their entirety, not shying away from the tawdriness, but never failing to see through the bitter to the good. The Journey may be the central symbol of "A Worn Path," but the central theme is concerned with the goodness that can be found in the human heart, despite all obstacles that try to weigh it down. Welty's "Path" represents movement in the direction of the Eternal -- a place neither here nor there -- but somewhere above, removed from the endless repetition found in Frost's poetry of mischief and folly. Life is a journey, and as Welty herself states, the writer is himself somewhere in that same journey and all he can do "is simply [write] about life" (Baym p. 1785). The content of "A Worn Path" is a depiction of real life and real transcendence. It is so realistic, in fact, that it can even be read as a condemnation of social injustice rather than as an admiring portrait of one woman's journey to help her grandson.
Frost, on the other hand, is engaged in exploring a much different theme in the content of "A Road Not Taken." His Journey is not of one from point A to point B, as Welty's is in "Path." His Journey is meandering, deviating, and confounding. It is both puzzling in construction and in interpretation. Described by Frost as a poem in which he was "fooling [his] way along" (Pritchard, p. 128), "Road" was literally meant to be about Frost's friend Edward Thomas, who when they walked together always castigated himself for not having taken another path than the one they took. When Frost sent "The Road Not Taken" to Thomas he was disappointed that Thomas failed to understand it as a poem about himself, but Thomas in return insisted to Frost that "I doubt if you can get anybody to see the fun of the thing without showing them and advising them which kind of laugh they are to turn on" (Pritchard, p. 128).
Thomas' remark was in one sense prophetic: rather than being read as the simple jest it was meant to be, the poem has become a kind of marching creed of youthful exploration: an ode to deviating from the beaten path. It generates thoughts of liberality and individuality and for readers of Romantic literature, it reaches back to the Romantic/Enlightenment doctrine of Rousseau whose only law was nature itself -- and the fact that one's individual nature and choice was not to be tampered with or repressed.
An analysis of the form of the poem shows why it has been able to take on a life of its own. One of the biggest reasons for the popular interpretation may be found in the pregnant pause at the end in the last stanza: "and I -- / I took the one less traveled by." As Pritchard observes, however, the significance of the poem is largely viewed to be in the following final line: "And that has made all the difference." Such a sense of exhilaration and satisfaction is read into the line that, for Pritchard, readers tend to forget the rest of the poem. Indeed, to Pritchard, the poem is misread by many, including the president (Alexander Meiklejohn) of Amherst college, where Frost was invited to stay. Meiklejohn viewed "Road" was a rallying cry of liberal education (Pritchard, p. 128). Yet the poem was conceived as that at all. As Frost himself indicated: "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem -- very tricky," for it is a poem in which Frost is "gently teasing" his friend Thomas (Kearns, 1994, p. 160).
Journey of Being Lost
Pritchard attempts to maneuver the poem's "trickiness" by returning the reader to it's beginning, where, in fact, the two roads are nearly indistinguishable from one another: "The two roads [are] in appearance 'really about the same,'…they 'equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black,' and…choosing one rather than the other [is] a matter of impulse, impossible to speak about any more clearly than to say that the road taken [has] 'perhaps the better claim'" (p. 129). It is clear to Pritchard that what Frost intended was nothing more than a gentle mockery of his friend's inability to stick to the correct path, always taking "the wrong" one -- and that what impressed Meiklejohn was merely Meiklejohn's interpretation of the poem -- or perhaps a projection of his own beliefs onto the poem. Yet, such is understandable, for Frost himself puts the poem on such an ambiguous footing with the last line being uttered in a tone that does not match the rest of the work. The tone may be understood to be one of whimsy and shrugging shoulders -- or it may be understood to be one of solemn pride and satisfaction.
"Road" is a small, satirical poem that became a great, big poem, latching onto a popular kind of youthful ambition and sincerity (the Huck Finn kind -- embracing the wide open; rejecting confinement, rules, tradition). Frost himself seems to have embraced the second reading, taking joy in the poem's effect on individuals who saw it not as man's ineptitude to make his way through life -- but as man's…