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?

Robert Frost's “Mending Wall” is about the barriers people put up between themselves and others. “Good fences make good neighbors” means that people will get along better if they establish boundaries. However, the speaker of the poem seems to suggest that such barriers are outdated and unnecessary.

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The old saying “Good fences make good neighbors” simply means that having solid boundaries between my property and yours encourages us to respect one another. The idea is that if we can both see clearly what's mine and what's yours, then there'll be no disputes between us, and we will be able to live side by side without any trouble.

Whether this old saw is true or not, it's certainly believed in by the speaker's neighbor in “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. The problem in this case, however, is that the relevant fence—or, in this case, a wall—appears to be completely unnecessary. At least that's what the speaker thinks. He thinks that the annual custom of mending the wall that separates his land from his neighbor's is a pointless waste of time, not least because so much of their respective land consists of wild nature that doesn't represent a threat to either one of them.

But the neighbor's not taking any chances. He seems to think that the only reason why the two men enjoy an amicable relationship as neighbors is that the wall between them has been properly maintained. He inherited this notion from his father, and it's become a very hard habit to break.

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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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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 the leaves build up and the neighbor doesn't rake them.  With a fence, the tree definitely belongs to a certain person; they are responsible, and the potential problem is solved.

So, that is what the quote means.  Frost, however, disagrees.  He gives several reasons for this in his poem, but the main reason is that their properties don't really need them.  He has apple trees, the neighbor has "all pine," and, as Frost says,

"My apple trees will never get across and eat all the cones under his pines."

Trees don't need to be fenced in or out--they don't steal or interfere with anyone, like someone's dog would, if unchained or fenced.  He also mentions that sometimes fences are put up to keep the cows in, but, "here there are no cows."  They don't have animals to keep in or out, and no property disputes.  He also asserts that there is something ominous and unkind in a wall--he says that a wall implies you are keeping something dangerous away, or dangerous in, and that's not very pleasant.  In the end, he even compares his wall-loving neighbor to "an old stone-savage," symbolically indicating that keeping walls is a rather savage ritual that is only needed in more dangerous times.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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The phrase that you mention is usually taken to mean that people, by their natures, want to have some barriers between themselves and other people.  It means that people can get along better if there are such barriers between them.

The speaker and his neighbor seem to be disagreeing about whether it is necessary to have the wall there in the first place.  The speaker thinks that there is no need for walls -- he notes that nature tries to knock them down.  But the neighbor keeps insisting that "good fences make good neighbors."

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