10. Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Famous Quote: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
The United States’ most famous poet’s most famous poem is a timeless ode to the American ideals of “individuality” and “forging your own path.” It’s one of those poems that’s so famous, even people who hate poetry can quote it. These are the reasons it appears on The Academy of American Poets’ list of top poems for college graduation.
Except aside from that last part, everything we just said isn’t true. Frost is actually using an old technique known as the “unreliable narrator,” and he isn’t even being all that subtle about it: in spite of the famous quote’s insistence that one road is “less traveled by,” the second stanza of the poem clarifies that both roads are “worn… really about the same.” Oh, and also, Frost himself admitted that he was actually mocking the idea that single decisions would change your life, and specifically making fun of a friend of his who had a tendency to over-think things that really weren’t that big a deal.
So what you thought was life-affirming was really just another poet/hipster condescendingly saying “you think you’re an individual, when really you’re just a cog in the machine, man!”
9. William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
Famous Quote: “Star-Crossed Lovers”
Aww, Romeo & Juliet: two teenagers in the throes of what could possibly be the most pure love in literary history. This is why when a magazine wants to comment on, say, Justin Bieber’s love life or the relationship between a little boy and his horse, they’re likely to reference the sonnet that opens Shakespeare’s most famous play by calling them “Star-Crossed Lovers.”
And sure, this is totally appropriate, if you’re expecting these people to die. ”Star-Crossed” doesn’t mean “brought together by fate,” it means “fated to die,” because the stars (fate) have “crossed” you. Shakespeare is intentionally reminding everyone at the beginning of his play that this is a frickin’ tragedy, you guys, and you’re in for a miserable ride.
8. Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
Famous Quote: “Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go round.”
This is an amazingly misunderstood line from an amazingly misunderstood writer. Pretty much everything about the life of Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) is shrouded in confusion and slander; rather than being about drugs, Alice in Wonderland is most likely a criticism of then-new forms of mathematics that were becoming popular at Dodgson’s own Oxford College. In addition, though he was commonly accused of pedophilia, The Annotated Alice and The Carroll Myth makes the argument that Dodgson was actually asexual, and preferred the company of children because he was extremely uncomfortable with courting and any form of sexual innuendo.
Finally, and perhaps fittingly, his most famous quote is the one here about love making the world go ’round, and it is directly contrary to all of his pessimistic and strictly logical real-world values. In context, this quote is said by The Duchess, a character who is introduced as a potential child murderer. Hardly the kind of character a writer would want to speak the moral of his story.
Finally, need we remind you that Dodgson was a mathematician? Almost every detail of his biography — as well as the actual context of this story — show that this idea of love as a geo-revolutionary repellant is supposed to be scoffed at, not adored.
So it’s true that you might believe this to be true, but if that’s the case then it’s also true that one of history’s greatest writers is making fun of you.
Follow the link to read all 10.