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Comparative study of the Neighbors in “Mending Wall” and “The Ax-Helve” by Robert Frost

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Comparative study of the Neighbors in “Mending Wall” and “The Ax-Helve” by Robert Frost

Human interaction is the focal point of the poems “Mending Wall” and “Ax-Helve”. What makes for good neighborly relations?  In “Mending Wall” the neighbor insists “Good fences make good neighbors”. In Ax-Helve, Baptiste, the French neighbor does not subscribe to this view and is “overjoyed (if overjoyed he was)” at having got his neighbor into his house.  So does that make the neighborly interaction different?  Yes and No.

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In both poems there is an undercurrent of suspicion about the neighbor. In “Mending Wall” the narrator does not see any reason why they should keep building the wall between the two properties. There is a sense of social alienation created by the wall in the former poem and a sense of alienation caused by being French in a Yankee world and not being able to “spick too much Henglish”.

In “Mending Wall” the narrator is the gregarious neighbor who wants to bring the barriers down—in this case the physical wall.

  He asks his neighbor the logic of it for “There were it is we do not need a wall”. Nature too, seems to be in agreement with him and the wall is demolished again and again by “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and he must adjure the stones “Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”  Yet the neighbor is insistent that the wall should remain between the two properties because “He will not go behind his father’s saying, / And he likes having though of it so well / He says again “Good fences make good neighbors””.

In “Ax-Helve”, the narrator is suspicious of his neighbor. It is the neighbor who is trying to bring down barriers—the barriers of language and culture.  When the man comes over, on a slight pretext of providing him with a better Ax-Helve, the narrator is wary.  He says “I didn’t know him well enough to know / What it was all about.” The thought that flashes into his mind is that “There might be something / he had in mind to say to a bad neighbor / He might prefer to say to him disarmed.” Later when he realizes that the neighbor is just finding a pretext to get him to visit, he is slightly amused and says “Beyond an over-warmth of kitchen stove / My welcome differed from no other welcome. / Baptiste knew best why I was where I was, / So long as he would leave enough unsaid”.  He also realizes that the neighbor is making an overture to him because he wants to fit in with the community in which he finds himself and wants to be accepted as human being. He says “For nothing in the measure of a neighbor, / Hard if, though cast away for life ‘mid Yankees, / A Frenchman couldn’t get his human rating!”

Yet, a subtle underlying irony that pervades the poem seems to reinforce the barriers. In “Mending Wall” the narrator is the person who is assiduous in seeing that the wall does not come down. He fixes a day with his neighbor for the checking and also walks along the wall on other days for checking and repairing the wall.  Seen in this light, his questions to his neighbor seem to be an effort to assuage his conscience about his own behavior. The narrator in reality is no different from his neighbor.  In “Ax-Helve” the narrator to the end remains fully conscious of the French-ness of his neighbor. When the axe helve has been made and stood up erect, the narrator notes the appearance of his neighbor—“Top heavy with heaviness in his short, / Thick hand made light of, steel blue chin drawn down / And a little –a French touch in that”

From a reading of the above two poems of Robert Frost, it is clear, that he is not a grim philosopher.  He does not baulk at judging his fellow men with tolerant amusement and realistic understanding.

 

Cite this Comparative study of the Neighbors in “Mending Wall” and “The Ax-Helve” by Robert Frost

Comparative study of the Neighbors in “Mending Wall” and “The Ax-Helve” by Robert Frost. (2016, Dec 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/comparative-study-of-the-neighbors-in-mending-wall-and-the-ax-helve-by-robert-frost/

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