“The Road Not Taken” and “Mother to Son” are both parables meant to teach lessons already learned by the experienced narrators. They are meant to teach the lesson that life is precious and once a decision is made it cannot be taken back. Therefore, make decisions careful because they will steer the course of your life.
Also, both poems are narrated by a single person, implying that the choices that they have made and the hardships they have endured have been alone. This implies a strength and individuality from either narrator.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a lyrical poem about the decisions that one must make in life. When a man approaches a fork in the road on which he is traveling, he must choose which path to take. The choice that he makes, as with any choices made in life, affects him in a way that “has made all the difference.” Thematically, the poem argues that no matter how small a decision is, that decision will affect a person’s life forever.
Frost uses the images presented in the poem in a very involved and general way. The paths and the fork no longer refer to their definitions, but instead as keywords in a description of life. Through the poem, Frost is defining life as a series of decisions. Some of these decisions may, at the time, be thought of as insignificant, while others could be thought of as very significant. Frost argues that a decision’s significance at the time is not really important, for any choice will change one’s life. Every day, people, including the narrator of the poem, are presented with “Two roads” that diverge “in a yellow wood.” These roads are not concrete or physical, but rather represent choices. The fact that one road is “grassy and wanted wear” while the other was commonly traversed shows the reader that some choices require one to choose something that is not commonly sought or to do something that is not commonly done. The total of these decisions leads people, like the reader, down a new path: a path that the narrator himself created. The narrator comes to the realization that every decision affects him when he says:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
The narrator also comes to the realization that once a choice is made, it is almost impossible to change that choice: “Oh, I kept the first for another day! / Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Frost recognizes something that everyone should realize. The simple picture of a man deciding which path to follow is suddenly changed into a description of life by the mastery of Frost’s poetic hand. No matter how small a decision appears to be at the time that it is made, that decision will affect a person’s life forever, or as Frost puts it, each and every choice will make “all the difference.”
Langston Hughes makes use of an extended metaphor, the staircase, in “Mother to Son.” There are a multitude of possibilities as to what lies at the top of the staircase. In the context of the timeframe that this poem was written, the top of the staircase may represent the goals of the blacks. This could, for example, be a successful life.
The narrator in the poem is a mother. She describes to her son that no matter what obstacles come in her way, she keeps climbing the stairs. “Tacks,” “splinters,” and other obstructions impede her ascent, but she refuses to “set down on the steps.” The nuisances could represent instances of discrimination.
To delve deeper into the metaphors used here, a tack on a staircase is an item that must be placed there by another party. The tacks placed in the mother’s path could then be a specific oppressive incident performed by a white person. A splinter in the staircase is a negative by-product of the staircase itself. Therefore, the mother’s “splinters” may have been the results of her actions upon her ongoing journey towards success. The mother also makes reference to “boards torn up.” If part of the staircase were torn up or missing, then that particular step must be skipped. One small step does not comprise an entire staircase, so it is not necessary to actively use each and every step to make it to the top. Some other parts of the stairs may not have carpeting on them. This would mean that if the mother fell, there is nothing to pad her fall, just the hard wood. Not only would it hurt to stumble and fall, knowing there is no kind of “safety net” degrades one’s sense of security.
Despite the hardships that the mother faces, she keeps climbing towards her goal. She turns corners, unknowing of what might lie just beyond each bend. She continues on to where she is “sometimes goin’ in the dark.” She cannot see what might happen next, but her only two options are to go further or turn back.
At this point, the mother advises her son, “don’t you turn back.” Clearly, the only thing to do is remain on course up the stairs. She insists that he is not to deviate from walking up those steps. If he stops and settles in one spot, he will find out that it is much harder to continue from this point. Near the end of the poem, the mother is stressing to her son that it is imperative that he strives to reach the top of the stairs, regardless of the difficulties. She has done the same and even to this point she continues to climb.
The mother is faced with only the choices of succumbing to a difficult life or triumphing in it. The poem is clearly a testament to her perseverance in that she can tell her son what she has done and that she is still trudging up those stairs.
In general, both poems show how there really is no such thing as fate and that making decisions will affect a person for the rest of their lives. In fact, these choices will help guide the course of their lives. They tell us that even if one’s choice seems like the less likely one, someone else has probably already made this decision. They also tell us that every decision, even a small one, is important.