What is the theme of the poem "Mending Wall"?

A widely accepted theme of "Mending Wall" concerns the self-imposed barriers that prevent human interaction. In the poem, the speaker's neighbor keeps pointlessly rebuilding a wall. More than benefitting anyone, the fence is harmful to their land. But the neighbor is relentless in its maintenance. The speaker is upset his neighbor does not think critically about the fence upkeep and instead relies on tradition over reason.

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There are many ways of looking at this poem, which is what makes it an interesting piece to think about. Its theme is the conflict between tradition and innovation.

In the poem, two neighbors mend the stone wall between their farms every spring. The speaker sees no rational point to the task, because neither of the two men has livestock that can wander over the property line to destroy the other's crops. They don't need the fence. The speaker would, therefore, like to drop this annual task. His neighbor doggedly insists on the ritual because his father taught him that good fences make good neighbors. For him, following an established tradition is more important than practicality or innovation.

The speaker makes a compelling case that the fence mending serves no practical purpose. He questions ritual for the sake of ritual. He thinks he other farmer seems to be living in the stone age (perhaps that is an intended pun).

Yet, for all his complaining, the ritual does seem to make the speaker a better neighbor. He does participate in the ritual, and in doing so, he talks with and bonds with his fellow farmer, and he deals with the fact that the two of them look at the world through a different set of lenses. Frost leaves it to the reader to decide whether the ritual does, after all, serve a purpose beyond merely mending a fence. Good fences might make good neighbors not simply because they set up property boundaries, but because their maintenance brings the people together.

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One could argue that the overriding theme of the poem is the way in which human beings erect barriers between themselves for no good reason. This theme is reflected in the attitude of the speaker. He doesn't seen the point of himself and his neighbor going through the same ritual of mending the wall each year when there are no doubts as to which piece of land belongs to which man.

The speaker's neighbor stubbornly insists on maintaining this largely pointless barrier not for any specific reason, but for the sake of convention. Good fences make good neighbors, as the saying goes, and the speaker's neighbor wholeheartedly believes in this. At no point does it seem that he's given any real thought to the saying's practical application in this precise context.

Like so many people on this planet, he seems neither to care nor to understand the fact that barriers, even simple stone walls, separate people. They maintain wholly artificial distinctions between one human being and another. The suggestion of the poem is that if people spent more time mending relationships with each other and treating each other with decency and kindness, then there would be less of a need to build physical barriers between ourselves.

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The primary theme of Robert Frost's "Mending Wall," first published in 1914, is the arbitrary separations that humans create between themselves. In the poem, the persona, or the poem's speaker, meets with his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall that divides their two properties. He wonders why the wall is needed in the first place. His property consists of apples trees, while his neighbor's consists of pine trees: "He is all pine and I am apple-orchard. / My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines" (23-25). When the persona tells his neighbor this, the neighbor stubbornly repeats the adage he learned from his father: "Good fences make good neighbors" (44). The neighbor is unwilling to critically evaluate why the wall must be built. He continues to simply repair it year after year.

Frost suggests that this wall, a metaphor for the separation we establish between ourselves and those around us, is unnatural and in fact damaging to our health. The poem begins, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall, / That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, / And spills the upper boulders in the sun" (1-3). This "something" that doesn't love the wall must be nature, for the wall is slowly eroded by natural processes. Furthermore, while placing the fallen stones back on top of the wall, the persona says, "We have to use a spell to make them balance: / 'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!' / We wear our fingers rough with handling them" (18-20). The neighbors must use "spells," a markedly unnatural process, to preserve the wall. Also, the neighbors' hands are damaged while repairing the wall, which once more suggests that this repairing is an unnatural and unhealthy activity. With this, Frost uses the mending wall as an analogy for the interpersonal barriers that we create against other individuals on the basis of tradition, despite the fact that such barriers are unnecessary, unnatural, and antithetical to our well-being.

For more information, please explore the eNotes guide for this enlightening poem linked below!

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Friendship could also be a theme to this poem, or at least comraderie.  Without the help of the neighbor, the wall would fall into disrepair.  They work on it together, thus, "good fences make good neighbors".  Perhaps without the fence and the job of its upkeep, they would not know each other at all? 

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The writer of the Masterplots commentary on the poem notes that the theme of the poem is barriers. To a great extent, that is correct. The action described is that of the speaker and his neighbor doing the annual repair work on the wall between their properties. This wall sets up a barrier to keep their animals in and to keep each other out.

There is a sense as well that the theme might be the breaking down of barriers. The neighbor says twice that "good fences make good neighbors." The speaker says just as often, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." From this statement and from his description of the repair as being a chore, you get the sense that the "something" that doesn't love the wall is really the speaker, that he would be happy to remove that barrier.

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