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The year was 1914; this was a time in American history when we as a nation were just beginning to emerge onto the world stage. The world had yet to endure the First World War and all that followed it within the 20th century. This was at a time when life seemed to move at a slower pace and a large number of families still lived in the country. This is the place you must imagine in order to understand where Robert Frost is coming from when you read his poem entitled Mending Wall. Eighty-six years has passed since this poem was first published, but its message is timeless because it makes the reader challenge his or her own beliefs in maintaining and breaking down social boundaries. In this essay, I plan to look at the following questions. What are the principal themes of Robert Frost's Mending Wall? How does the poem use symbolism to broaden the problems of repairing boundaries? Does the 1st person agree or disagree that good fences make good neighbors? To what extent is the poem ironic and how does irony modify its moral messages?
I think that the principal themes of the poems are a combination of different ideas. The ideas of setting boundaries between people are based on prejudice. This poem makes you face the evil of prejudice and ask the question, why do we build walls (real and unreal) around ourselves? He not only asked this important question, but he also gave the answer within the poem. In this poem you find the two men coming together each year to rebuild the wall. This is a way of finding common ground between the two men that could help to build a lasting friendship between the two neighbors.
In this poem, Robert Frost used symbolism in order to express problems of repairing the boundary wall of the universal problem of maintaining social boundaries. In the poem Frost wrote
To each the boulders that have fallen to each
And some are loaves and some are nearly balls.
We have to use a spell to make them balance (16-18)
"Boulders" could represent differences between not only the two neighbors but also differences between all mankind. The word "loaves" and "balls" can represent big and small problems or differences between people. Frost was trying to challenge the reader to ask whether or not we need to build walls around ourselves in order to protect our own interests.
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The first person in the poem is constantly wrestling with the question, do good fences make good neighbors, and I do not think that he ever agrees with his neighbor beyond the hill. As the poem began, he is questioning why they do this task every spring and what is the purpose of doing it.
Something there is that does not love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it.
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And make grasp that even two can pass abreast. (1-4)
This is how Frost began to tackle this issue. Asking the question, "What is it that does not love a wall" and then giving examples that continued to support his belief that good fences do not make good neighbors.
Robert Frost was a man who believed in the simple thing and good country living. The New England countryside is full of rolling hills and open pastures so it makes perfect sense that Frost was not a great supporter of closed in fences because it would be more like living in the city than the countryside.
There where it is we do not need a wall:
He is all pine and I am all apple orchards.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. (23-26)
In this passage he is once again trying to ask the question why, because there is no real need for the wall between them, yet every spring they come together to rebuild the wall that divides them. The 1st person is willing to help his neighbor rebuild the wall but he is constantly asking the question why are we doing this
Before I build a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling end or walling out,
And to whom I was giving offence. (32-34)
In this passage, the 1st person is trying to reason with his neighbor and asks one last time what are we doing and why are we doing it. I chose the three passages from the poem because I think that they are the best example to help prove my point that the 1st person does not expect that "Good fences make good neighbors."
Frost uses irony to hide his moral message within the poetry. This forces the readers to search it out for themselves and draw our own conclusion to the poem's hidden message of social boundaries. The following are examples that I think are ironic within the poem. The wall as I discussed earlier serves no real purpose, but yet they rebuild it every spring.
And own a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go. (13-16)
I think that this passage is ironic because even though they are neighbors and they work together each spring to rebuild this wall, Frost uses " wall between us" twice within these three lines of poetry. I think that this helps to prove that the two men are not friends but simply neighbors who live side by side. We all live in a world where we can live next to someone and yet do not know him or her at all because we have a "wall between us." This wall stops us from finding common ground with our neighbors (near and far) in order to end social boundaries within our society. All the hard work that they put into building this wall each year is wasted it will only falls again. Frost wrote
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
Stay where you are until are backs our turned!
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. (18-20)
This passage is a great example of how the two men worked hard to rebuild the wall between them each spring knowing that in time, it would only fall down again. Social boundaries are like this wall because it is built up as a way of protection from things, people, and cultures that we do not understand. The wall can only be built up so high before it will fall by pressure from society. I also think that it is ironic that the 1st person in the poem is always asking his neighbor, why they do this each year but he never refuses to do it. This is a good example of how social boundaries are able to endure because even though people will speak out about it, very few people will do something to change it. The fence also represents how social prejudices are started, which is at a young age in the home. The neighbor's whole purpose for having this wall was that "He will not go behind his father saying… Good fences make good neighbors." In order to breakdown social boundaries, we must first start at home with our families and ourselves and then go outside our home to meet our neighbors for the first time.
In this paper I have tried to answer the four questions, which help to give insight on Robert Frost and his poem Mending Wall. These questions help us to better understand the man and his poetry and the impacted that he and his work had on the twentieth century.
Frost, Robert. "Mending Wall." 2 pp. 8 March 2001. http://www.everypoet.com/archive/poetry/Robert_Frost/Robert_frost_me