Mending Wall Questions and Answers
by Robert Frost

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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?

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 The speaker of the poem seems to think it is an outdated concept and questions whether it is necessary. 

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coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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 property and what the neighbor believes. Some believe that it's pointless to wonder what your neighbor's like - just throw up a wall and be done with it - that way everyone's happy. There are no incursions and therefore no disputes. Frost wonders whether there's another way - particularly perhaps in relation to world issues like the Cold War.

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "Mending Wall," Frost writes a contemplative poem based on the activity of going out with his neighbor each spring to mend the stone wall that divides their property.  Frost himself doesn't really like the wall--he feels it is unnecessary, unfriendly, outdated, and a bit rude to have.  However, his neighbor, who seems to be steeped in tradition, says, "Good fences make good neighbors."  This is an old saying that seems to imply that you can be better neighbors if there are boundaries; that way, you don't end up fighting over what property is whose.  It helps create lines, which eliminates potential conflict.  So, for example, if there is a tree that is kind-of in-between two houses, who has to rake the leaves every fall?  Without a fence, neighbors might argue about this issue, or just silently seethe with rage as...

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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.

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