Actual And Symbolic Barriers In Robert Frost's Mending Wall

1079 words - 4 pages

Actual and Symbolic Barriers in Robert Frost's Mending Wall


The appearance of barriers, both literal and figurative, is significant to the narrative of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall." The story in this piece revolves around a wall separating two men, their yards, and their lives. The wall is not only a physical boundary; it also symbolizes the barriers between the two in other aspects of their lives.

The most noticeable barrier in this work is obviously the wall dividing the yard. The reason for a wall between the trees is unknown to the narrator and the reader. The speaker questions the need for the fence when 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." These feelings are expressed also in lines 23 through 26. The wall is located between the neighbor's pine grove and the speaker's apple orchard. Is there a point in dividing these trees?

Even though the narrator does not know the purpose of the wall, he is always the one responsible for making sure it is mended every year. More than likely he unconsciously feels a need for the fence too. Perhaps it is a need for his privacy or maybe it is a need to have a connection with the outside world. In the lines "Where they have not left one stone on a stone, / But they would have the rabbit out of hiding," the wall represents the barriers people put up so that their vulnerabilities and secrets can remain hidden. Once this wall is broken there is a need to mend it in order to keep others from seeing what is on the opposite side of the wall. There are other instances of the wall representing the need for separation between personal and private aspects of lives. In lines 16 though 20, the narrator speaks of replacing the boulders with his neighbor and their wish for the rocks to "stay where you are until [their] backs are turned." The fallen boulders represent the holes in the figurative wall that is put up to protect their private lives. Wanting the boulders to fall after the other man's back is turned shows that they like to keep personal difficulties, and maybe even pleasures, within their own lives and not share them with others.

At the same time, the wall offers the speaker a chance to be with people outside of his own private world. He does not need his neighbor in order to mend this side of the wall, because usually they each take care of their own sides. The speaker sees this spring time ritual as "just another kind of outdoor game, / One on a side." This suggests the speaker is in favor of companionship between he and his neighbor. Whether the neighbor takes pleasure in this "game" is not clear.

The neighbor's motto is "Good fences make good neighbors." This ambiguous statement leaves the reader and speaker unsure of what causes the neighbor's desire for the wall. The neighbor returns to the ritual each year when he does have the...

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