Is it possible that the speaker in Robert Frost's poem  "Mending Wall" is a woman and that the poem is about supressed romantic/sexual feelings between the two neighbours?Everyone seems to take...

Is it possible that the speaker in Robert Frost's poem  "Mending Wall" is a woman and that the poem is about supressed romantic/sexual feelings between the two neighbours?

Everyone seems to take for granted that the speaker in "Mending Wall" is a man, which is understandable given the "masculine" task of mending a stone wall. Yet I cannot find any proof in the poem of the speaker being a man. Unless Robert Frost himself, through writings or interviews has established the speaker as male, I cannot see why the speaker can’t be female. I cannot help thinking there is a romantic relationship between the two neighbors, and that the wall is a symbol of what is keeping them apart, a wall nature over and over tries to tear down.  If it is so that the speaker is a man, can it be argued that the poem is about suppressed romantic/sexual feelings between two men?

 

Asked on by irlin

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The speaker of Robert Frost’s famous poem “Mending Wall” is usually imagined to be a male, although nothing explicitly stated in the poem makes it absolutely obvious that this is the case. By the same token, nothing is the poem makes it absolutely obvious that the speaker is a female. Are there any reasons, then, for assuming that the traditional interpretation may be correct? In other words, are there any bits of evidence in the poem to suggest that the speaker probably is a male, even though this assumption is never explicitly supported?  Here are some data that might be taken to support the traditional assumption:

  • The speaker refers to having “made repair” (6) of the wall in the past. Since men were more likely to do this kind of outdoor physical labor when the poem was first published then women were, one might read line 6 as supporting the assumption that the speaker is a male.
  • Later references to the mending of the wall, especially those referring to fairly large “boulders” (16), might be read as implying that the speaker is a male, since males at the time Frost wrote were the more likely of the two sexes to be associated with physical strength.
  • Lines 24-26 imply that the two people who repair the wall are two different farmers who own their farms and raise crops there:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

When the poem was first published and read, men were far more likely to be property owners than women, and men were far more like to work as farmers than women. It would not be an implausible assumption, therefore, for readers to assume that the speaker of the poem is a male.

  • If Frost had wanted to suggest that the speaker is a female, he could easily have done so fairly clearly and undeniably.

For all the reasons just mentioned, then, most readers have assumed that the speaker of the poem is male. The fact that so few (if any) people have ever assumed that the speaker might be female argues against that latter possibility. The burden of proof, therefore, is on anyone who might want to argue that the poem is indeed spoken by a woman.

 

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