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Denotation & Connotation in "The Road Not Taken"


"The Road Not Taken" was written by Robert Frost in 1920. However, the poem has maintained its popularity since many people can relate to the message in the poem about choosing a different path in life. For most, the poem is an inspirational one that reminds them that even if making a different choice is difficult, it can lead to great rewards. However, this message is not spelled out in the poem. It is inferred from the connotative meaning of the words.

The Two Roads

The denotation of a word is its actual meaning, and the connotation of a word is the meaning that is implied. In "The Road Not Taken," the two roads that diverge in a wood are more than just roads. The connotation of "road" in the poem is both choice and the journey of life. Each road represents a different choice the narrator can make, and each choice will lead to a different series of events, or path in life. The narrator is not just choosing a road to cut through the woods, but a path to take through life.

Yellow Woods

The setting for the poem also has additional meaning. On the surface, the narrator is simply in a "yellow wood." The yellow implies that it is fall since the leaves are turning. However, the connotation of the wood is that it represents life itself, which can be confusing and make the clear choice we need to make hard to see. The fact that the woods are yellow also connotes that the narrator is nearing the end of life -- or the "autumn" of life. The yellow woods can also be a reminder of the narrator's mortality, making the choice of paths seem that much more important.

Weary Traveler

The poem's narrator is a traveler. While the denotation of the word means simply one who is on a journey, the connotation in the poem is that of a person on a journey through life. The word "traveler" also connotes weariness. The person has a way to go before being at the final destination and being able to rest. Using the term "traveler" with the choice represented by the roads reinforces the notion that the poem is about a person making a choice that will influence the trajectory of his or her life.

The Choice

The traveler's choice of path is about much more than a road going through the woods. The narrator says "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference." The connotation is that the narrator made a choice that may not have been popular or may have been difficult -- a choice that others wouldn't have made -- and that has brought some reward or satisfaction in life. The narrator chose to do something different and has had a different life for it.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.

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