How are the men Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" good neighbors?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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It is possible to argue that the two men depicted in Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Walls” are genuinely good neighbors.  Here is some evidence in support of that argument.

  • The speaker of the poem indicates that he has made repairs to the wall even before involving his neighbor:

I have come . . . and made repair

Where they [that is, hunters] have left not one stone on a stone. (6-7)

  • Apparently the speaker of the poem is the one who tells the neighbor that the wall needs repair, even though it is the speaker who later expresses some skepticism about the need for walls:

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again. (12-14)

  • The passage just quoted suggests that the speaker has to go to some trouble to alert the neighbor, since the neighbor lives “beyond the hill.” The speaker’s efforts to inform the neighbor about something that concerns the neighbor suggests the speaker’s genuinely neighborly attitudes.
  • The speaker uses phrasing that might at first suggest distance and separation between the two men, but that separation is only physical and literal. It is not figurative or essential, nor does it suggest a lack of neighborly feelings. Indeed, the fact that they are separated by the wall – in order to work on it together – actually implies the bond that exists between them:

. . . on 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. (13-15)

  • The fact that they walk side-by-side increases our sense of their mutual cooperation. If they were not truly neighborly, each could have worked on a different section of the wall, separate from the other.
  • The two neighbors apparently share a sense of humor, as when they tell the stones, “‘Stay where you are until our backs [emphasis added] are turned.” It isn’t one man making this joke; it is both of them.
  • The speaker of the poem doesn’t directly or vigorously dispute his neighbor’s opinions about walls; he merely asks him about it and perhaps even teases him about it (27-36).
  • Even if the speaker seriously disagrees with his neighbor’s opinion (and his actions suggest otherwise), notice that he does not say, in line 35, “I don’t like walls” but instead says “‘Something there is that doesn’t like a wall’” (emphasis added).
  • The way the speaker describes his neighbor, when carrying rocks, as resembling “an old-stone savage armed” (40) suggests joking affection rather than any real mockery.
  • The speaker may actually admire his neighbor for honoring his father's beliefs (43).
  • If there is mockery of the neighbor's slight pride in lines 44-45, it is very gentle and perhaps even affectionate mockery.

For all these reasons, then, one can argue that the two men depicted in the poem are genuinely good neighbors.


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