Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Mending Wall” is about two kinds of barriers—physical and emotional. More subtly, the poem explores an ironic underlying question: Is the speaker’s attitude toward those two kinds of walls any more enlightened than the neighbor’s?
Each character has a line summing up his philosophy about walls that is repeated in the poem. The speaker proclaims, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He wants to believe that there is a “something,” a conscious force or entity in nature, that deliberately breaks down the stone wall on his property. He also wants to believe that a similar “something” exists in human nature, and he sees the spring season both as the source of the ground swells that unsettle the stone wall and as the justification for “the mischief in me” that he hopes will enable him to unsettle his neighbor’s stolid, stonelike personality. From the speaker’s perspective, however, when the neighbor shies away from discussing whether they need the wall, the speaker then sees him as a menacing “savage,” moving in moral “darkness,” who mindlessly repeats the cliché “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The speaker does not seem to realize that he is just as ominously territorial and walled in as his neighbor, if not more so. The speaker scorns the neighbor for repeating his maxim about “good fences” and for being unwilling to “go behind” and question it, yet the speaker also clings to a...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
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