Good Fences Make Good Neighbors Meaning

In Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" what does “Good fences make good neighbors” mean? Why does the speaker disagree?

Quick Answer

One of the most common interpretations is that people by nature put barriers between themselves and other people. The speaker of the poem seems to think it is an outdated concept and questions whether it is necessary. 


Expert Answers info

coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write1,346 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

In the poem 'Mending Wall' by Robert Frost , the poet considers the value or otherwise, of boundaries. In contemplating whether good fences make good neighbors, he is including all barriers and boundaries in that - including walls. He is concerned that the saying may be becoming so popular - and spouted so often - that it is fast becoming trite. He wonders whether properties are always of sufficient threat to each other as to always demand some kind of barrier. Apples are no threat to cattle for example, or corn to forestry trees. However, others may feel different - it depends on what's on the...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 615 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,159 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Arts

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


user8453503 | Student

     I think it means that you need your own privacy from other people and it will just put you at ease so that's why i have a barrier at my house it put my whole family at ease and we love it so yes put a fence up and be done at ease :)

user8453503 | Student

     I think it means that you need your own privacy from other people and it will just put you at ease so that's why i have a barrier at my house it put my whole family at ease and we love it so yes put a fence up and be done at ease :)

epollock | Student

daniellek123,

Some readers applaud the neighbor in Frost’s “Mending Wall,” valuing his respect for barriers. The main idea of this poem is that the neighbor wisely realizes—as the speaker does not—that individual identity depends on respect for boundaries. This view makes the poem a Browningesque dramatic monologue like “My Last Duchess,” in which the self-satisfied speaker unknowingly gives himself away. 

This makes the interesting point that it is not the neighbor (who believes that “good fences make good neighbors”) who initiates the ritual of mending the wall; rather, it is the speaker: “I let my neighbor know beyond the hill.” This suggests that “if fences do not ‘make good neighbors,’ the making of fences can,” for it makes for talk—even though the neighbor is hopelessly taciturn.

At the center of the poem is a contrast between two ways to regard mending a wall. The speaker’s view is announced in the first line; the neighbor’s is repeated in the last, by two different types of people—and both are right. A hard-working farmer to whom spring means walls to mend, the neighbor lacks fancy and frivolity. Spring is all around him, yet he  moves in darkness, as though blind.

Lines 30–40 compare him to a man of the Stone Age. A conservative from habit, he mends walls mainly because his father did. The speaker, full of mischief and imagination, is presumably a poet who wants to do no more hard labor than he can help. The speaker enjoys having some fun with the neighbor, telling him that apple trees won’t invade pines. Mending walls is a kind of spring ritual, and the speaker likes to pretend there is magic in it: using a spell to make stones balance, blaming the wear-and-tear of winter upon elves—or more exactly, upon some Something not to be offended.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial