What are some of meanings of the Wall in "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Well done for identifying the deliberate ambiguity of the central image of the wall. Of course, this ambiguity is created in part thanks to the other word of the title, "mending," which is used as both a verb and an adjective in the poem, so we are never too sure how this central image is to be read. However, it is suggested that the act of mending the wall is one that is used to help maintain the relationship between the speaker and his neighbour. Of course, the wall refers to two kinds of barriers that we erect in our lives, both emotional and physical. There is of course the literal wall that the neighbour of the speaker feels is so important to maintaining good relations, and then there is the emotional barrier that is erected between them, which the wall stands as a symbol for. The attitude of the neighbour towards the wall is repeated, parrot-style, again and again in the poem, perhaps reflecting his complete uncritical faith in the value of a wall:

"Good fences make good neighbours."

However, the speaker finds this answer unsatisfying, as the act of mending the wall makes him think philosophically about some of the deeper implications of what he is doing:

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 offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall...

Whilst for the neighbour a good barrier ensures a healthy relationship, for the speaker, there is the troubling thought of what offence might be caused by building that wall, given the inevitable way that you exclude and include others by the act of building a wall. However, the fact that the poem ends with the litany of the neighbour actually suggests that it is he who has the more enlightened and sensible view: given human nature, clear boundaries perhaps may be very important.

vandananarikot's profile pic

vandananarikot | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Frost uses an ordinary incident to convey a deeper and profound meaning. The wall for Frost is a defiance of nature’s will.   Nature had intended all to share its property without disputes.  The opening line itself tells us that Frost feels ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ and that is nature who doesn’t like walls. The poem The Mending Wall is a take on the differences existing in today’s society among nations, among people, and among neighbors. The poem The Mending Wall written by Robert Frost   speaks of a very ordinary and commonplace incident which is that of repairing a wall. People want walls between neighbors.

Frost also mentions that the wall symbolizes the difference in his thought process and that of the neighbor. The line, ‘He is all pine and I am apple orchard’ gives us a sense of the kind of people both the poet and his neighbor are. The poet has planted trees that bear fruits which can help mankind, but the neighbor has planted pines which have too many thorns.  So, according to the poet, the wall defines these differences. 

  Using the wall, Robert Frost touches upon the question of the lack of brotherhood among the people of the world and the non-existence of unity among nations of the world and questions the very need for walls or boundaries between nations and asks if they are needed for security reasons or to hinder the unity of the people. Frost uses this aspect of the wall significantly.

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