What do "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost, "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles, "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd have in common?
The thing "Mending Wall," "Elinor Rigby," and "Another Brick in the Wall" have in common is the themes of separation, loneliness, isolation, and dehumanization; this last is implied in the first and explicitly addressed in the last. A brief examination of each sheds light on the similarities. Though the last line of Frost's "Mending Wall" seems to advocate a good wall between people, Frost's speaker has earlier established his opposition and has tried to coax his neighbor into examining his adage: "Good fences make good friends." Frost’s speaker asks whether “fences making good neighbors” isn't in fact restricted to land with wandering grazing cows: "Isn't it / Where there are cows?"
He speculates that his apple orchard and the neighbor's pine forest won't bother each other and so don't need to be walled apart: "He is all pine and I am apple orchard." He concludes by saying of his neighbor:
He moves in darkness as it seems to me-- ...
He will not go behind his father's saying,
This is the speaker's pronouncement that his neighbor will not, perhaps can not, examine his belief ("go behind his father's saying") and will continue to impose isolation, separation, and its resultant loneliness through perpetually mending the wall that nature and man instinctively tear down:
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under [ground swell: frost heave that moves the earth upward] ...
The work of hunters is another thing
In "Eleanor Rigby," the Beatles describe the isolation of both Eleanor and Father Mackenzie. Eleanor is dreaming of the day ("Lives in a dream") that she can have a full and vibrant life that is connected to other people but can only come close enough to collect traces of others’ lives: "picks up the rice in the church where a / wedding has been." She waits "at the window," looking her best, for a visitor who never appears ("Who is it for?"). Similarly, Father McKenzie works diligently on his Sunday sermon although no one attends his church anymore:
writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear--
No one comes near.
These two isolated, lonely, separated souls meet, sadly, at Eleanor's funeral where Father McKenzie performs her burial rites alone at the graveside.
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
Whereas these two poems range from speculative examination to lamenting melancholy, "Another Brick in the Wall" is a brutal poem as well as being about brutality causing isolation, separation, and loneliness. In addition, the aspect of brutality results in the inclusion of dehumanization. It is in a restricted sense a child's poem--not suited for children to read (or hear sung) but about children. Pink Floyd tells of children subjected to hurt and derision at school administered by teachers themselves brutalized at home:
teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could ...
when they got home at night
Would thrash them ...!
It is a brutal poem (ironically administering an emotional thrashing of it's own through vocabulary and imagery even as it protests against brutality) pleading for a proper perception of the brutality that causes the separateness, loneliness, and isolation. The final statement is that such brutality occurs because individuals are wrongly perceived as "just bricks in the wall," one part of the double metaphor of "wall." "[B]ricks in the wall" represents the dehumanization the poem protests.
“Another Brick in the Wall” is a protest against conservative/banking education; that is, a protest against the idea that children are just empty vessels waiting to be filled with the state’s (government’s) sanctioned information. In other words, it is a protest against treating children as hardware waiting to be programmed. Political implications can be interpreted however you want.
“Eleanor Rigby” is about loneliness. There is some ambiguity about the fodder for the lyrics, but it seems like it is simply about loneliness. Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote it. One story is that the names in the song (Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie) are names in a cemetery. If this is the case, think of the schematic for the cemetery. It is essentially a grid of cells, where although they are corpses, they are separated from each other as prisoners would be. Within the context of the song, it is about two people who do things no one takes real notice of; thus, loneliness.
“Mending Wall” is about what doesn’t love a wall. Over time, the elements, weather and erosion will degrade the wall and put gaps in it. The narrator’s neighbor notes that good fences make good neighbors. As his neighbor says this and rebuilds the wall, the narrator notes that “He moves in darkness it seems to me.” Nature itself doesn’t love a mending wall. Nature is personified as the narrator, who also doesn’t love the wall because it separates people. Human nature is not to be separate; so, to separate ourselves is unnatural. Oddly enough, or ironically enough, the wall does provide the two neighbors with a meeting place and a communal activity in which they can both participate in: mending the wall. The narrator is a bit contradictory, because he seems to like the wall for this reason and finds fault when hunters break down the wall, but finds hope in the spirit of nature as some human-like consciousness that gradually breaks down the wall. So, the wall represents emotional and physical barriers, but it also represents a meeting place. It is a paradox.
What all three have in common is the theme of separation. “Another Brick in the Wall” – state enforced education relegating each child as simply a brick in a wall. The wall could be a metaphor for separation or a metaphor for the infrastructure of the economy; mere machinery or brick. In “Eleanor Rigby” and “Mending Wall,” the two characters are separated/isolated from the community. In “Eleanor” separation comes because it is a world of isolation where people (urban I would say) isolate themselves. Frost’s poem differs slightly in that it is a rural setting. “Another Brick in the Wall” and “Eleanor Rigby” paint pictures of modern urban settings where, in the former, people are raised to isolate themselves and in the latter, they grow into adults who take no notice of one another. Think of urban tenements and apartments crammed together. Like the mending wall, modern cities cram people together in clusters, but there are always walls (emotional and physical) separating them.
- The story “Eleanor Rigby” by Douglas Copeland is also about separation and loneliness, but with more of a religious and familial them.