Roland Barthes' seminal essay, "Death of the Author," has forever changed the way literary works are read and analyzed. The essay argues that readers should not rely on an author's biography, intentions, or historical context to derive meaning from a text. Instead, readers should focus on their own interpretations, bringing their own experiences and perspectives to the work. This essay applies Barthes' reader-response framework to two of Robert Frost's poems, "The Road Not Taken" and "Mending Wall," to demonstrate how reader-response theory can reveal new insights into these works.
"The Road Not Taken" is a poem that has been analyzed and interpreted in numerous ways, with many readers perceiving it as a celebration of individualism. However, a reader-response analysis challenges this conventional interpretation by emphasizing the role of the reader in shaping the poem's meaning. The poem describes a speaker who comes to a fork in the road and must choose which path to take. The final stanza of the poem is particularly famous, as it encourages readers to reflect on the choices they make in life:
Two roads diverged in
a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
While many readers view this as an affirmation of individualism and non-conformity, a reader-response analysis recognizes that the interpretation of this poem is subjective and varies depending on the reader's experiences and beliefs. For example, some readers might see the poem as a critique of conformity, while others might view it as a commentary on the importance of making thoughtful, deliberate choices. Ultimately, the poem invites readers to reflect on their own life journeys and the impact of their choices, regardless of how they interpret the poem itself.
"Mending Wall" is another of Frost's poems that lends itself to a reader-response analysis. The poem describes two neighbors who meet once a year to repair a wall that separates their properties. The narrator of the poem questions the need for the wall, but his neighbor insists that "good fences make good neighbors." The poem can be interpreted in various ways, depending on the reader's experiences and beliefs. For example, some readers might see the poem as a commentary on the value of boundaries and individual property rights, while others might view it as a critique of isolationism and the divisions that exist between people. By divorcing the poem from the author's historical context and intentions, readers are free to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the work, resulting in a more nuanced understanding of the poem's themes and meanings.
Through a reader-response lens, Frost's poems become vehicles for self-reflection and critical inquiry. The power of reader-response theory lies in its recognition of the active role of the reader in interpreting a text. By focusing on the reader's experiences and perspectives, rather than the author's biography and intentions, reader-response theory allows for a more dynamic and interactive relationship between the reader and the text. Frost's poems, when viewed through this lens, invite readers to engage with the works on their own terms and to draw meaning from them that is relevant to their own lives.
In conclusion, Roland Barthes' "Death of the Author" offers a valuable framework for critically analyzing literary works. By divorcing a text from its author's intentions and biographical context, readers are free to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the work. This essay has applied Barthes' framework to two of Robert Frost's poems, "The Road Not Taken" and "Mending Wall," to demonstrate how reader-response theory can reveal new insights into these works. By emphasizing the role of the reader in shaping a text's meaning, reader-response theory invites readers to engage with literature in a more dynamic and interactive way, resulting in a deeper understanding of the works themselves and their relevance to our own lives.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below