By Christina Z., 10th Grade
Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund both demonstrate that choices have a permanent impact on the course of our lives, and because choosing involves forgoing other possibilities, we often feel regretful.
Both “The Road Not Taken” and Narcissus and Goldmund emphasize the lasting and powerful effect of choices on people. The speaker of the poem “The Road Not Taken” confesses his thoughts after choosing a certain path in life: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, /Took the one less traveled by, /And that has made all the difference” (Frost l.18-20). The poem ends with “that has made all the difference” to demonstrate the profound and irreversible choices that the narrator has made in his life. By choosing one path, one has to forgo all the other paths, similar to the situation presented in Narcissus and Goldmund where one lives the life of a thinker and the other of an artist: the path of a thinker requires “looking away from the sensory, an attempt to construct a purely spiritual world… to come closer to God by pulling the mask of the world away from His face” while an artist doesn’t “look away from the world” but gives into it, “… loving His creation and re-creating it.” Narcissus’ life in the cloister is strict and orderly with no room for fun. Goldmund, however, embraces the natural human desire for relationships, which allows him to live fully. As Hesse puts it, “Both [of their lives] are human endeavors, and necessarily imperfect, but art is more innocent.” Art is more ‘innocent’ because it is a direct visual to reality. Goldmund is able to live a fulfilled life because he views the world as it is. Narcissus, on the other hand, is unable to perceive the real world because of his devotion to God and to celibacy. Goldmond has transformed his life when he chose to travel with a gypsy woman: “I’m going to her, but I’m not going because of her. I’m going because I must, because I have heard the call” (115). It is at this moment that Goldmund realizes that he must leave the cloister because it is his destiny to be a wanderer and explore the world. Narcissus, on the other hand, had his life set in stone from the very beginning: “I feel bigger, now I have my work and am no longer a nobody. And since I am living in a cloister, I’d like to submit myself to the rules” (393). Neither Goldmund nor Narcissus can retrace their steps because of the permanent effect of their choices.
In addition, Frost and Hesse highlight the natural human tendency to dwell on one’s former decisions, demonstrating that the path that one chooses is rarely entirely satisfactory. After living his life, the speaker in the poem reflects on his choices: “I should be telling this with a sigh” (Frost l. 17). His reaction is not one of excitement nor sadness but a sigh, demonstrating that it is not possible to experience all that life offers. Both Narcissus and Goldmund also display similar reactions to that of the speaker in Frost’s poem. After learning about Goldmund’s growth, Narcissus begins to doubt his own choices in life: “Had man really been created to live a regulated life, with hours and duties indicated by prayer bells?… Had God not created him with senses and instincts, with blood-colored darknesses, with the capacity for sin, lust, and despair?” Narcissus begins to question his life on the basis of God-given human tendencies and feelings such as “sin, lust, and despair.” He, therefore, no longer has the certainty that his path is the right one. Goldmund also does the same; he believes that because he has spent the majority of his life as a wanderer, never once settling at a place for a long time, his life is wasted: “I have squandered my youth like a spendthrift and little remains. I have killed, I have stolen, I have whored, I have gone idle and have eaten the bread of others.” Both Goldmund and Narcissus have feelings of regret for the paths that they have excluded in life. However, they each discovered their identity and the path that was best for them. In choosing a path, one is excluding other options, and even though one is giving up other possibilities, there is still bliss and fulfillment in the chosen path.