Data Analysis Chapter: Over the Movie the Dead Poets Society

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Frost in "Dead Poets Society"

An Analysis of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" in Dead Poets Society

Mr. Keating quotes Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" in a scene in Dead Poets Society, in which he instructs the boys to march around outside the school in any way they like. Keating's reading of Frost is a popular one, interpreting the poem as he does as a bugle cry to individuality. While Keating himself embodies this individualistic mentality, Frost's poem may actually be read in a very different manner. Rather than a call to abandon convention and conformity, "The Road Not Taken" was originally intended as a gentle mockery of those who quite literally take the wrong path. This paper will analyze Frost's "Road" and show Frost originally intended the poem to be read and why readers like Keating read it in a different way.

Described by Frost as a poem in which he was "fooling [his] way along" (Pritchard 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" (Pritchard 127). The problem for Frost's walking friend, of course, was the ambiguity of references within the poem. In other words, Thomas could not catch Frost's meaning without some guidance from the poet himself.

In fact, Thomas "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 128). Indeed, Thomas' remark was in one sense prophetic -- for the poem became a kind of marching creed of youthful exploration: an ode to stridently taking the road less traveled -- going off the beaten path, so to speak. Frost's poem took on a life of its own -- mainly because of that pregnant pause at the end in the last stanza: "and I -- / I took the one less traveled by" (Frost 18-19). 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" (Frost 20). Such a sense of exhilaration and satisfaction is read into the line that, for Pritchard, readers tend to forget the rest of the poem.

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'" (Pritchard 127). Thus, it is clear that what Frost intended was nothing more than a gentle mockery of his friend's inability to stick to the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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