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Analysis of Robert Frost’s 'Mending Wall'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1765 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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A Critical Analysis of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall

Robert Lee Frost was a Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, who was born in San Francisco on March 26 1874 to Isabelle Moodie and William Prescott Frost Jr. (Dreese) William named his firstborn child after his personal hero,Robert E. Lee who was the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. Frost’s had only one sibling which was his younger sister Jeanie who was born two years later. Their father, William, was a rough-around-the-edges journalist who was a hard drinker, always carried a pistol, and kept a glass jar of pickled bull testicles on his desk at work. Growing up as a child, Robert was introduced to fear at an early age as his father was a violent drunk. Although his mother was quite the opposite and was very caring it did little to help elevate the pain and fear that Robert went through in his childhood. Nurtured in a house of fear, Robert was a highly sensitive child who often suffered from stomach pains and other mysterious ailments. When he found going to school too much to bear, he was frequently home-schooled by his mother. (Dreese) His mother was very fond of geography and the natural world and this is where young Robert obtained his love for nature.

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After entering high school in Lawrence he began reading and writing poetry. This interest followed him all through his years of education at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1892, and later at Harvard University in Boston. Although very educated, Robert never obtained a formal college degree. After leaving school, Frost became a drifter and had a number of different occupations ranging from a teacher, newspaperman and even the editor of the Lawrence Sentinel at one point. In 1894, he published his first poem called My Butterfly in the New York newspaper called the Independent. One year after publishing his poem, he married and fathered 6 children with Elinor Miriam White, whom he was friends with in high school and who happened to be the key inspiration in his poetry till her tragic death due to breast cancer in 1938. After moving to England in 1912, Robert meet a number of influentially poets such as Robert Graves and Ezra Pound. Through them, Robert was able to publish many of his works that helped jumpstart his career. By the time Frost returned to America in 1915, he had published a couple of collections of poems including North of Boston, which was one of his most successfully collections. By the early1920’s Robert Frost became one of the most well-known poets in America. He continued to publish great throughout the remainder of his life time such as; In the Clearing, Steeple Bush, and New Hampshire. Robert Lee Frost died in Boston on January 29, 1963, of complications from prostate surgery.

“Mending Wall” is the opening poem of Frost’s second volume, North of Boston. This poem like much of his work, invites a range of conventional interpretations; readers may be tempted to meet its homespun wisdom with moralizing humanist pieties, or to match its smug wit with equally condescending judgments about the two characters and their psychological portraits. (Dwokin) The term “two opposites attract” resonates with analyzing Mending Wall. The poem depicts “one who seizes the particular occasion of mending as fuel for the imagination and therefore as a release from the dull ritual of work each spring and one who is trapped by work and by the past as it comes down to him in the form of his father’s cliché.”(Lentricchia)

This poem alludes to many themes such as family traditions, man and the natural world of even language and communications. All these themes are instrumental in understanding the central argument which is individuals with opposing outlooks on life can still build a defining relationship.

Mending Wall is a poem about a wall made of stones that divides the narrator’s property from his neighbor’s. Every spring, the two neighbors meet up to inspect the wall and make any necessary repairs. The narrator do not understand why his neighbor insists that the wall stays up as he states, “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.”(Frost 583) He believe there is no reason for the wall to be kept there as there are no cows to be contained, just apple and pine trees. He don’t believe in having a wall just for the sake of it. The neighbor through always reply with, “Good fences make good neighbors.”(Frost 583) The narrator remains unconvinced of this traditionally way of life and consistently presses the neighbor to not be so closed minded and look past the old-fashioned folly of such reasoning.

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The narrator sees the world much differently than his neighbors does as he expresses his distaste for the wall that separates their land. In the introduction to the poem, the narrator is examining the wall as he notices the gaps he begins question what made them. He do not believes this is the work of hunters who usually damages the wall after they remove the stones from to pass through. “Where they have left not one stone on a stone, but they would have the rabbit out of hiding, to please the yelping dog “As the narrator is looking at the wall he states, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” (Frost 583) he believes the will corrupt is nature itself saying it dislikes the walls when it tries to break it down “as the frozen ground swells” (Frost 583) underneath it. He does not know why the gaps appear there but every spring they find them when they approach the wall to inspect. After a quick overview of the damage to the wall Frost approaches his neighbor as he does every year to make preparations for fixing the wall. “I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; and on the day we meet to walk the line and set the wall between us.”(Frost 583). This is very interesting in the sense that the Frost obviously shows little interest in keeping the wall up but agrees to help fix it every year. This interpretation presents a clear and concise understanding that the narrator was actually looking forward to the meeting and would like to maintain or even build on the relationship with his neighbor. This part of the poem introduces us to that neighbor. As the two individuals began to build the wall, Frost emphasizes the isolation between them as he states, “we keep the wall between us as we go.”(Frost 583) These reasoning for this can be contributed to the neighbors need for privacy and boundaries. As the two repair the wall, the narrator mocks the importance of this unnecessary work when he playfully suggests that they use a spell to balance the stones on the wall since most of them are like “loaves and some so nearly balls”(Frost 583) which makes them difficult to stay in place. He later says, “Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, one on a side. It comes to little more.”(Frost 583) The neighbor however is committed to an end, the fence’s completion. His participation in the process of rebuilding is, for him, sheer work because he never really plays the outdoor game. (Lentricchia) This is the argument that the narrator brings to his neighbor. He tries to rationalize with his neighbor as he jokingly makes a statement, “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never cross and eat the cones under his pine, I tell him.”(Frost 583) By saying this, the narrator expresses his lack of seriousness when it comes to building the wall and makes an effort to get his neighbors viewpoint on this activity. This shows that there is a form of relationship or at least respect on the narrator’s part as he is attempting to understand the reasoning that his neighbor has for maintain this isolation between the two of them. The neighbor simply says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The neighbor’s comments implies that there is some type of moral principle or tradition to keeping the wall intact. This line could be considered as the most important one in the poem as it the defining reason for the separation of the neighbors and also displays how different the two characters in the story are. This phrase has been used in many instances throughout society as certain metaphors for social of emotional walls. In this story however, it has a very simplistic meaning behind it which is to keeping your lives divided keeps things simple and easy. Otherwise, people can intrude upon one another and become too intrusive, leading to disagreements. In this aspect the two character differ greatly. He believes that the walls does no good to them as it keeps nothing out. The narrators retort to this is, “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it where there are cows? But here there are no cows? (Frost 583) He questions the reasoning behind putting the wall back up as he says “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense.”(Frost 583) He almost decided to allude to the notion that eve’s would be offended at the neighbors persistent rebuilding of the wall every year as a joke. “Something there that is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down. I could say Elves to, him.” (Frost 583) Instead, he decided not to, “But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather he said it for himself.”(Frost 583) In this instance, it seems that there is mutual respect between each individual.

In conclusion, after analyzing this poem the narrator presents a bit of irony concerning his role in this story. He presents a feeling of insecurity about himself. For instance, he is trying to persuade his neighbor to stop rebuilding the wall but yet they meet annually to fix it regardless. It has become an accepted routine by both parties. If he really felt that the wall should not exist then he would have made this clear from the beginning and he would not wait until this annually mending of the wall became a routine. Frost highlights the human tendency to build barriers in some form whether they are emotional, legal or physical ones. Although the narrator does not see the benefit in repairing the wall, he continues to reappear each spring, which suggests he gains something from this experience. A fence is typically associated with separation and the establishment of boundaries but in this poem, it is a motive for two neighbors to work together to accomplish a common goal, building a relationship in the process.


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