The Instigator
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The Contender
Pro (for)
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Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" sends a positive message

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/22/2012 Category: Arts
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 22,440 times Debate No: 23078
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (2)




First round acceptance, second round main arguments, third round rebbuttles.

Precondition: Because there are no authorities for literature, do not use an outside source to defend your argument. Any citations posted will be considered to be an automatic forfeit.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; � � � �5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, � � � �10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. � � � �15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. � � � �20

You can find the poem here:

If you have any questions for me before accepting, ask in the comments. I've never really done a debate about literature before so I could be going about this completely wrong.


Debate accepted.
Debate Round No. 1


To make my case, I will attempt a line-by-line analysis.

Line 1:
This sets the theme for the rest of the poem. Depending on what you think this means, the poem can have entirely different meanings from person to person. Most, if not all people who read this poem interpret this line to be a metaphor for life choices and experiences. Each road is a different option or approach to an experience or a problem.

Lines 2-3:
The speaker is sorry that he can't experience both "roads", because he is only one traveler. This regret is gone by the end of the poem.

Lines 4-8:
The speaker looked at the pros and cons of both choices, and decided that it would better himself in the long run by taking the path that "wanted wear". This implies that the path was more difficult or a harder choice to make, which explains why the path didn't have many travelers.

Lines 9-10:
It appears that the speakers "steps" down this "road" made it look very similar to the other road in terms of wear. This is the turning point in the poem, where the speaker realizes that it doesn't actually matter which path he took. The path he was on wasn't more difficult, it just wasn't used in a while.

Lines 11-12:
By morning, all traces of the speaker's journey down this road are gone. There is no evidence of wear, and the path looks exactly like it did when the speaker first came across it.

Lines 13-15:
The speaker decided to continue down his path, because he knows that it will lead to the same outcome no matter what. Both of the paths are completely equal, so the speaker doubts that he will come back because the challenge that he thought he faced in the beginning was simply an illusion.

Lines 16-17:
This last part of the poem is a story that the speaker will tell sometime in the future "with a sigh". Why is he sighing when he recants this story?

Lines 18-20:
This part of the poem most commonly misinterpreted as the "positive message". Given two paths, one easy, and one difficult, it's true that they will both lead to the same conclusion, but the difficult path will provide a challenge that betters yourself as a person, and the same cannot be said about the easy path. This seems like a positive message, right? Well, with Lines 16-17 in mind, it doesn't look like the speaker recanting this as a genuine story. Keep in mind that these last lines are being told "with a sigh".


The beginning of the poem poses a dilemma for the speaker: take the more trodden path, or the path that showed no signs of wear. At the time, the speaker doesn't know anything about these paths except that people seem to prefer one path over the other. The speaker then incorrectly assumes that this must mean one path is more difficult than the other. It is only after journeying down this path that the speaker realizes that both paths are exactly the same. This is demonstrated by the speaker saying that by morning, the weather (or something else) had completely erased all evidence that the speaker had even traveled down that path in the first place. After realizing this, the speaker keeps going, because there is no point in turning back.

When the speaker recants this story (perhaps to his children or his grandchildren), he is doing so with a sigh. He is appealing to a false sense of adventure by telling his story like it was actually some sort of challenge, when clearly, it was not. It's unclear whether or not he's simply lying or being sarcastic, but it is clear that he doesn't mean anything he says in lines 18-20.


This poem isn't sending a positive message, it is in fact criticizing society and the people who erroneously think that not following the crowd will somehow benefit you as a person. Although it's true that there are some challenges in life that grant you benefits as apposed to taking the easy way out, it is my interpretation that the author feels like too many minor dilemmas are being given that description.

For this reason, I negate the idea that "The Road Not Taken" sends a positive message.


Where is the site of meaning in a poem?

The answer to the above question has been the subject of much debate in literary studies: is the meaning of a text located in the author's intention or in the reader's experience?

In Round 1, my opponent stated the following "precondition" for taking this debate: "Because there are no authorities for literature, do not use an outside source to defend your argument." My opponent has therefore conceded, as a precondition for taking this debate, that there are no authorities in the study and interpretation of literary works.

That said, conceded may be too weak a word to describe my opponent's statement, as it was my opponent who made the precondition a precondition in the first place. By agreeding to the precondition, I was forced by my opponent to not use external sources to support my argument. On the other hand, my opponent unwittingly agreed thatthere are no authoritiesin the interpretation of Robert Frost's poem, "The Road not Taken."

What does it mean to say there are no authorities concerning literature? For one, it provides a clear determination of the site of meaning in a literary text: the reader's experience. As such, the meaning of a poem can be understood to reside in the reader, and therefore, the meaning of any poem will be multifarious, each text having as many meanings as it has readers.

So when my opponent claims that Robert Frost's poem does not send a positive message, my opponent has implicily accepted (by his own terms) an extraordinarly difficult burden -- my opponent must argue that the poem cannot send a positive message to any reader. For if a single reasonable reader believes, as a result of their reading-experience, that the poem sends a positive message, then my opponent has failed to fulfill his burden.

At once, readers of this debate may note that the poem can send a positive message because, as exemplified by the experience of many readers of the poem (including myself), the poem has provided a positive message for many of its readers.

How does the poem send a positive message?

Note: the fact that I examine my opponent's argument in more detail does not take away from the fact that, even if readers disagree with my reading of the poem, my opponent has already conceded that there are no authorities on literature, and therefore, that my reading is just as legitimate as anyone else's reading.

My response to the poem was positive. My opponent argues that the poem does not send a positive message because the last few lines are either a lie or sarcastic. To support his case, my opponent drects the reader's attention to the "sigh" in the last stanza. My only question is: how does this imply that the entire poem, in its reflection on the meaning of life, and the different roads one may take, is somehow negative?

Sighs are just as often related to good things as they are to bad things; for example, people sigh when they are in love, people sigh when they recount memories that are dear to them, when they look back on times with nostalgia. Sighs, in relation to memories, are almost always a good thing.

Consider what the poem is about: it is a reflection on the meaning of the choices we make in life. The poem concludes that, regardless of which choice we make, the choice itself was meaningful. The speaker notices that it is not the path or the conclusion that matters, but the choice. The choices we make have "all the difference," regardless of what happens afterwards.

The poem is a statement of the meaning inherent in making choices. This is a positive message, as it is attempts to locate meaning in a world plagued by ambiguity, uncertainty, and in the end, powerlessness. In the light of these factors, these aspects of the human condition, the poet nonetheless attempts to find some meaning, some "difference." And it is the search for meaning itself, exemplified by the poet's desire for a "difference" (even if he is lying, the fact he lies is evidence of desire for meaning).
Debate Round No. 2


My extraordinarily difficult burden of proof

My opponent starts his main argument by saying that I have given myself an extraordinarily burden of proof. Apparently, I must now prove that the poem cannot have a subjectively positive meaning towards any individual no matter what. I don’t know why my opponent misinterpreted the resolution to this degree, but clearly I am not required that individual meanings per person must all be negative. If my opponent truly thought this was the case, he would have given his main argument by simply stating "I believe this poem sends a positive message". There would have been no need for explanation or interpretation of the poem, because according to my opponent, he only needs to prove that this poem sends a positive message to at least one individual. Of course, my opponent didn't do that, which proves that even he doesn't think this burden of proof is fair or accurate in terms of the resolution.

Debates here aren’t judged by who is right and who is wrong, they’re judged by who was able to provide the best argument to support the side of the resolution they were assigned to. Thus, I am only required to provide a better argument than my opponent (with respect to the resolution) to win this debate. Nowhere in the resolution does it say I must prove that every individual’s subjective interpretation of this poem is negative in all circumstances, that is simply ridiculous.

My opponent’s main argument

The first thing I noticed about my opponent’s main argument is that more than half of it isn’t even a main argument, it’s a rebuttal towards the argument that I made. I’d like to point out that in the acceptance round of this debate, I outlined the structure of this debate so that rebuttals would be in the third round. This was done so that my opponent would have only one round to respond to my main arguments, just like I have only one round to respond to his. I urge voters to disregard everything that my opponent has said about my main arguments thus far.

What remains from my opponent’s main argument isn’t a lot to respond to. My opponent makes generalized claims about the poem’s meaning without even referencing specific lines or anything of the sort to demonstrate that what he is saying is true. He is expecting you, the reader, to take what he says at face value.

The first thing my opponent claims is that the poem teaches that all choices in life are meaningful. This directly contradicts what the speaker says at Line 11. In this line, the speaker reflects that both paths (choices) were completely equal by the time he got far enough down the path. If both choices give the same outcome with little to no difference to the chooser, then how can you claim that choices are meaningful in and of themselves?

The next thing my opponent claims is that there is, after all, a positive message in this poem, because the speaker is trying to find meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. However, as much as my opponent would like you to think that there is true meaning in the choices that the speaker makes, that doesn’t change what the poem actually says. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker is optimistic, and he has a hard time picking one of the two paths because he, like my opponent, thinks that there are benefits to picking one path over another. By the third stanza, this attitude changes. The speaker discovers that both choices are now completely the same, as they “equally lay”. Both paths gave no hint that the speaker was even traveling down them, which conflicts with the idea that the speaker supposedly choose a harder path to take. As a result, the speaker is disappointed that there wasn’t a reason to make the choice that he did.

To conclude, the speaker discovered that there is no reason to take the harder path, because it will just lead to the same outcomes with no noticeable benefits along the way. Does that sound like a positive message? I urge a negative vote.


There are no authorities for literature? Precondition accepted.

As a "precondition" for taking this debate, my opponent clearly stated: "there are no authorities for literature." This strongly implies a theoretical framework of interpretation in which the meaning of texts are located in the reader's experience, not the author's intention (as the author's intention would be an "authority").

By way of response, my opponent claims: "nowhere in the resolution does it say I must prove that every individual's subjective interpretation of this poem is negative in all circumstances." In saying this, my opponent completely ignores the substance of my argument and refuses to clarify what exactly is implied by the "precondition" for taking the debate.

As such, my opponent has fully dropped my argument that the lack of authorities in literature implies a theoretical frame in which the meaning of texts is located in the experience of individual readers. There is no single correct reading because there are no authorities on literature, and therefore, multiple readings may be correct.

What's more, as long as the poem can produce a positive message in a reasonable reading, the poem can be said to send a positive message.
my opponent's reading of the poem is irrelevant because the only relevant question is whether a reasonable reading of the poem can lead to a reader believing the poem sends a positive message. By instigating this debate, my opponent accepted the burden of proving there are no reasons to believe Robert Frost's poem sends a
positive message.

Some good reasons to believe the poem does send a positive message

My opponent's argument rests on the assumption that, because two distinct paths lead to the same outcome (supported by line 11 in which the speaker states both paths "equally lay"), the "choice" to take either path makes no difference.

But my opponent's reading of line 11 is inconsistent with the rest of the poem. Read in conjunction with the final lines of the poem ("I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference"), it seems more reasonable to say equality does not imply sameness. In other words, just because two paths are "equal" does not mean they are the same or that the choice to take one over the other makes no difference. According to the last lines, the choice makes "all the difference."

This produces a reading of the poem that sends a positive message, as it affirms the meaning inherent in the act of making a choice, regardless of whether the outcomes are the same. Even if the universe is deterministic, and all our actions produce the same results, the fact that we had the ability to make a choice is affirmed as something that makes a difference. Our inherent ability to choose is inherently meaningful, so much so that it evokes a "sigh" from the poem's speaker when he thinks about it.

My opponent claims the "sigh" in line 16 demonstrates the speaker's sarcasm/inauthenticity when saying the final lines. But think about it: does the "sigh" in line 16 signify sarcasm/inauthenticity, or does it signify sincere personal feeling? To me, it seems more reasonable to say the "sigh" represents the speaker's sincere emotional anxiety as he recalls and relives a powerful memory.

The "sigh" is a sign, not of inauthenticity, but of the deepest, most sincere authenticity the poet can muster. Indeed, the "sigh," as I pointed out in the previous round, is associated with "love" and "nostalgia," and that clearly demonstrates the huge emotional importance the speaker gives to the final lines.

Which is more reasonable: the speaker of the poem is lying at the end (because of the "sigh")? Or the speaker sighs because of a sincere experience of emotion and meaning before exposing his personal thoughts to the world? Either way, the point is that the poem contains the potential to send a positive message to readers who interpret the sigh as sincerely felt, and that is what matters for the purposes of this debate.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by haert09 5 years ago
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Posted by famer 6 years ago
OMG. I <3 that poem. I'm going to have a look at this debate soon. Unfortunately, I won't be able to cast a vote with it.
Posted by Scorbie 6 years ago
Yeah, lol it wasn't like that it was a youtube video and articles that had nothing to do with poetry at all. My i agree it has a positive message i was just going to argue that its not positive because it could lead to an increase in missing persons and Bear mauling.
Posted by Mrparkers 6 years ago
Someone already accepted, but I'll answer anyways.

I didn't want people to appeal to someone else to make their argument for them. Rather, I wanted people to analyze and interpret the poem for themselves, or at the very least, put someone else's argument in their own words.
Posted by Scorbie 6 years ago
It doesn't defend my argument directly it just serves a visual purpose to support where i am coming from.
Posted by Scorbie 6 years ago
I will debate your Mrparkers but i have one question can i link videos? It has no third opinion on the poem and is loosely related to the poem.
Posted by Maikuru 6 years ago
This is my favorite poem and I would love an opportunity to discuss it. However, I find your precondition somewhat ridiculous.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by imabench 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: disregarding the crapshoot over the BOP shared by both sides, the con had to explain why the poem doesnt send a positive message and convince voters for wht it doesnt. His interpretations though were debatable and were not convincing enough for me to believe this poem sends a negative message. So however you define the BOP, the con didnt meet it, so i give arguments to the pro
Vote Placed by thejmanjman 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: The "Extraordinary Burden of Proof" aside, given Con's limitations on the debate regarding outside sources, this becomes simply a comparison of opinions where both debaters win. However, I believe Pro stated his position more clearly, particularly concerning the meaning of the "sigh."