What is the neighbor’s father’s saying in “Mending Wall”?  

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The answer to this question can be found in the final three lines of the poem:

He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

This is not the first time that the reader has read this saying in the poem. The line appears about halfway through, and the reader learns in the final lines that the man is likely parroting the same saying that his father always said. The poem's speaker expresses some frustration at the saying, and he openly wonders why fences make good neighbors. It is a great question, and it leads to some wonderful discussion in literature classes because it's usually a 50/50 split among my students. Half the class agrees with the speaker that the fence is pointless and ultimately keeps the neighbors apart from each other, and the other half of the class believes the fence creates a more cordial relationship because it clearly defines what belongs to each man. There's less likelihood of fighting and arguing because each man has his own clearly defined space. Personally, I waffle back and forth on the issue; however, I have always found it interesting that the structure of the poem actually looks like a real fence. Turn the page 90 degrees to the left, and you will see a repetition of fence posts.

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The neighbor’s favorite saying is “good fences make good neighbors.”

The speaker’s neighbor believes that neighbors should have fences between them.  He seems to think there should be separation, and he would rather stay away from his neighbor in order to avoid conflict.

He will not go behind his father's saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

In other words, if you have a fence between the neighbors the livestock won’t cross, there will not be land disputes, and there will be no conflict.   The speaker is confused, because there are no cows to cross the line and mess up the property.  He wants to know whether he is walling in or walling out.

To the speaker, good fences do the opposite of making good neighbors.  The fence is an object of contention between them. It is a hassle for him to fix it, and he sees no reason for the effort because he sees no reason for the wall.  It just prevents them from being social.

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