Critical appreciation of Mending Wall
In Mending Wall, Frost assumes the character of a farmer who has the task of rebuilding a wall which separates him and his neighbour. The poem can be viewed from two very different angles, both which raise very different conclusions.
At first glance, the poem seems harmless and innocent, whereby Frost’s character questions the need for a wall to be in place – a wall that he feels symbolises the barriers of communication that people put up around themselves and other people. This idea of innocence is repeated throughout the poem. He appears to see that repairing the wall as the labour of love, gaining no reward from his efforts, but continuing anyway. He begins by fantasizing about how the wall has become broken, creating naive images in his head, such as the idea of rabbits breaking it during the spring – the ‘mischief in [him]’, and gives the sense that he believes that repairing the wall is a game to him; in line 21, he states that it is “just another kind of outdoor game” and incorporates the childish idea of magic into his ‘game’ – claiming that he needs to use “a spell to make [the stones] balanced”.
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In this simple and gentle view of rebuilding the wall, comes an element of sadness, when Frost must challenge the reasoning behind the wall. Whilst looking at the poem from this point of view, we can suggest that Frost builds the wall for the wall’s own sake – he sees it as yearly task which must be carried out, in somewhat a ceremonial fashion. This can be detected throughout lines 11-15, where the use of a regular iambic rhythm is used to create a sense of repetition toward rebuilding the wall. He questions the purpose of the wall, and wonders why the neighbour feels like the wall should exist as a partition. When told that “good fences make good neighbours”, he begins to wonder “who [he] was walling in or walling out”.
This shows deep thought towards the ironic idea that the only time the neighbours meet is to rebuild the wall once a year, working together to separate each other. He begins to criticize his neighbour for having such a negative view on the wall, and refers to him as ‘an old stone savage armed’ with the grammatical error used on purpose to emphasise the term ‘armed’, to create a sense that the neighbour is now the enemy because he fails to share the same views as Frost’s character. Whilst he attempts to appear to maintain a jovial persona, Frost jestingly states that he ‘could say ‘Elves’ to him, but its not elves exactly…’. This gives the impression that Frost is saddened or unimpressed by the neighbour, creating a division between the two. In rebuilding the wall, which is a metaphor for a barrier of human communication, Frost divides himself from the neighbour, ironically demonstrating the wall’s power before even being erected. Frost finishes the poem by reiterating the neighbour’s phrase, showing that nothing has changed during his wondering thoughts.
There is another way of viewing the poem, however. It could be argued that Frost takes on a completely different persona, one with a superiority complex that sees Frost wrapped up in his own selfish misunderstanding of the neighbour’s personality. Frost’s unreliable imaginary character delivers the poem in one long stanza, with little response from other characters, suggesting that the piece is written like a dramatic monologue.
We can assume that the narrator is unreliable because his words and his actions do not coincide. He critically scrutinizes the neighbour for his actions and thoughts, along with his belief, but he ironically follows suite, making him a hypocrite. The wall, which serves as a barrier of communication between the neighbours, means that Frost is never able to gain the neighbours’ thoughts or opinion. Based upon his dislike for the neighbour, (Brought on by their opposite opinions of the wall) he portrays the man in a demeaning light. “Old stone savage armed”, which could have been previously viewed as a sad thought, now becomes one of anger – it could be that Frost and the neighbour share exactly the same thoughts towards the wall, but the lack of communication means we never hear his side of the story.
From the fact that the neighbour states that “good fences make good neighbours” (repeated at the end possibly through Frost’s anger) we can begin to build an image of the neighbour in our head. It could be said that he lives an unenlightened life, where he has never questioned his own thoughts or failed to believe whatever he is instructed to believe. Ironically, however, we end up learning more about Frost and the issues he has, leading him to be in the constant state of anger and bitterness.
We can see that from the simple rural event of rebuilding a wall, Frost has drawn several conclusions about the neighbour, and the wall itself. The way in which the reader interprets the poem is the basis for the decision of what the conclusion actually is – whether it be the simple and innocent view that the wall is simply not necessary, and acts as a communication barrier, or whether it be that the wall is a stimulus for Frost to reflect on the neighbours actions and scrutinize him. Both conclusions are significant.