9th-12th Grade

FOMO in the Classics

Claire O.
July 2023
9th Grade
Two paths in a forest

Fear of missing out makes people dissatisfied with their lives and envious of others. Whether it be wishing we were at a fun party or the biggest sleepover of the year, fomo can strike and make us feel that our own lives are boring, lame, and pathetic. In fact, the concept of fomo is nothing new.  Twentieth century authors Herman Hesse and Robert Frost communicate the idea of regret that people tend to feel at the end of their lives. Hesse’s novel Narcissus and Goldmund and Frost’s poem “The Road not Taken" have shared messages about choices we make in life. Because it’s impossible to predict the consequences of our decisions and choosing one will exclude the other, our life choices will leave us wondering about the alternative. 

The symbol of the paths and Goldmund’s character development allow the authors to show that we don’t know how choices will shape our future. By making the ultimate decision of running off with Lise, Goldmund takes a step towards his nomadic lifestyle, but at the time he has no idea how his life will unfold. Goldmund only knows that he wants to leave the cloister to experience the life around him, but he could not have predicted that he would go on to become an artist. He knew he had to make the choice of whether to continue his devout Christian life or live up to his destiny to follow the footsteps of his mother. Frost’s poem relates to the book when it says, “And be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” Frost uses the symbol of an undergrowth to communicate how it's impossible to see where the path ahead will lead. Goldmund and the traveler of the poem have to make a decision based on what they think is right in the moment because there is no way they can predict the future. Goldmund has to make one final decision, and once he chooses he can never go back. 

The metaphor of two diverging paths in the poem and the characterization of Narcissus and Goldmund allow both writers to communicate that choosing one path in life excludes the other path. Goldmund realizes after years of pursuing his artist life that you can’t have it both ways. He notices that you can only choose one way of doing things, and that life is based on choices. He observes this when he says:“All existence seemed to be based on duality, on contrast.” The duality that is most evident in the story is the artist and thinker lifestyle. Hesse claims that one can only have one identity, which requires one to give up all others. Cloister life requires all of a man’s attention to practicing his faith, and being devoted to God while the artist's life is made up of a new adventure everyday. Robert Frost portrays this duality with the opening lines of his poem: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both.” Frost uses the metaphor of taking two roads to reveal the necessity of the predicament of only being able to choose one path. He uses the word sorry to emphasize the desire of wanting to take both roads, but being one person makes it impossible. Hesse proves this point through the character of Goldmund who tries to live a dual life while in the cloister, but this proves impossible. 

The discontent Narcissus and the traveler experience allow the reader to understand that no matter what choice one makes, there will always be some sort of regret. After their reunion, Narcissus spends enough time around his friend Goldmund to notice the differences in how they lived their lives. Narcissus starts to question a monk’s life: “Had man really been created to study Aristotle and Saint Thomas, to know Greek, to extinguish his senses, to flee the world? Had God not created him with senses and instincts with blood colored darkness, with a capacity for sin, lust, and despair?” (Hesse 297) Narcissus knows that he followed his destiny, yet he still wonders what could have become if he had lived the life of the senses, and became a wanderer like Goldmund. The traveler from the poem faces the same feeling of regret when he says, ”I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.” Frost recognizes that part of growing older is reflecting and questioning the choices the traveler’s past self made and how these choices shaped his future. Both authors seem to believe that everyone wonders about the opportunity that they gave up for the one they chose. So despite living a meaningful life, questions about what if will always linger. 

Both authors express through their works that the choices one makes can affect their life, and can alter the course of events. The message the authors communicate has a much deeper meaning than one would assume. It relates to the famous butterfly effect which illustrates how even seemingly insignificant decisions can have such dramatic, life-altering effects. Even thoughtless decisions can affect our lives in permanent and significant ways. The healthy way to go about life is to accept that we can’t control everything, so you might as well go with the flow.

© XXXX Lena Rabinovich. All rights reserved.
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