Study Guide

Design Fate and Free Will

By Robert Frost

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Fate and Free Will

We're big on freedom, sure, but everything has its limits. For thousands of years, humans have taken comfort in the idea that, while we might make our own choices, someone or something is still in ultimate control of the universe. We like the idea that not everything is just coincidence. It makes us feel like there's a good reason (even if we can't grasp it) why we missed our bus and got splashed by a passing truck in the process. But in "Design," Frost sees the scary side of that idea. If a creator is in control, that means that this god must have a hand in everything, including all the terrible stuff. It's not just saving kittens, after all.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Why does Frost repeat the word "white" three times in the first several lines of the poem? Do you think this is a coincidence, or something planned out? Why?
  2. What is the contrast between the phrases "assorted characters" and "mixed ready"? What might those word choices say about the poem's view of fate and free will?
  3. What does the allusion to Macbeth in line 6 add to the fate debate?
  4. What do the verbs in lines 11-12 tell you about the speaker's belief in free will?

Chew on This

Frost is clearly outraged that God would meddle in the tiny affairs of the world in such a violent way. Harumph.

The dark underside to the poem is the word "IF"—it is entirely possible that everything is random coincidence and we are here on our own. Yipe.

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