How would you characterize the speaker in Robert Frost's "The Mending Wall"?

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The speaker of "The Mending Wall" by Robert Frost is a practical, rational, and freethinking man. Although he is irritated at having to help repair the wall, he faces the task with a sense of humor. Most notably, he puts the needs of his neighbor first and shows his caring and thoughtfulness in participating in the ritual for the sake of another person.

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In "The Mending Wall," the speaker is a practical man who sees himself as more modern, free thinking, and rational than his traditional neighbor. The speaker is irritated about having to the repair the stone wall between two properties, but he has a sense of humor about it. He is also thoughtful and caring enough to participate in the ritual for the sake of his neighbor.

The spring weather bringing out his mischievous sense of humor, the speaker questions the practicality of fixing the wall:

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors?

This is a challenge to his neighbor's sense of tradition: the speaker notes to himself that neither of them have livestock that could wander onto the other's property and do damage, so he fantasizes about letting the wall disappear. He likens his neighbor to an "old-stone savage." He sees the neighbor as living in "darkness" because he is unable to question the tradition that good fences makes good neighbors.

But while the speaker is irritated because he finds this task a waste of time, he also approaches it with a sense of humor. He says that he and his neighbor "use a spell" to make the stones balance and stay in place. He wants to tease his neighbor by blaming the disrepair of the wall on elves.

Finally, what shines through about the speaker's character is his good nature. He goes along with this ritual for the sake of his neighbor. He could easily put himself first and say, "I am not wasting my time on this," but he knows that would upset his companion. Instead, he does his part, and perhaps understands on some deeper level that it is this bonding through shared labor that makes good neighbors more than having an intact wall.

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The speaker of "Mending Wall" comes across as quite an ordinary, down to earth man, possessed with a great deal of good old-fashioned common sense. And it's because of that common sense that he questions his neighbor's insistence on mending the stone wall between them when there doesn't seem to be any good reason for it.

In practical terms, he completely accepts the necessity of mending certain parts of the wall after some inconsiderate hunters have caused them to collapse. But building a wall where it's not needed strikes him as a complete waste of time, and the speaker lets his neighbor know this in no uncertain terms.

However, the neighbor is insistent that good fences make good neighbors. And as the speaker seems to be the kind of man who likes a quiet life, he goes along with his neighbor's idiosyncrasies. Besides, if he got too angry about the wall then he'd be inadvertently justifying the necessity of his neighbor's mending the thing. Because then his neighbor would almost certainly use the speaker's antagonism as an additional reason to maintain a good strong wall between them.

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The speaker of a poem is referred to as the persona.  Although as readers we often imagine a poem to be narrated by the author himself, that is not always the case.  In The Mending Wall, Robert Frost has created a character--a persona separate from himself--to narrate.

We have here an English country landowner facing the sorry spring task of replacing all the fallen parts of his stone fence, so he is not in the most cheerful of moods.  Yet he is not one to overtly complain about things, and clearly he is a hard worker, since he is out there doing it, despite his belief that the fence is unnecessary.  In fact, it seems that the only reason he comes out each spring to repair it is at the wish of his neighbor, who keeps pace with his repairs on the opposite side because he believes that “‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”

Rather, our narrator is logically questioning the why of it.  He is open-minded to changing the tradition of keeping a fence between their two properties. The neighbor, however, holds to the tradition of his father, and simply repeats his favorite quote.  In a snarky moment our narrator thinks, “My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines,” plus they have no cows to keep in. He determines that if he was ever going to build a fence, first “I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense.” So to some extent, our man is a bit offended by the wall.

Yet he also has a sense of humor about it all, rather than being bitterly angry. As he watches his neighbor on the other side, struggling with two handfuls of stone in the semi-darkness (presumably they have been repairing the fence all day), he likens him to a savage-looking caveman, “Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.”  In the end the narrator is unable to convince his neighbor that the wall should be allowed to crumble, but the rebel in him still believes  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He’s a persona we can all relate to for his willingness to question tradition through logic and humor.

And truth be told, this persona might not be so different from Frost himself, after all.  Before he became a lucrative writer, he was a farmer for eleven years in Derry, New Hampshire. The 30-acre farm is said to have had a stone fence, as well. I can imagine a young Robert Frost, trudging through the mud with stones, composing poetry in his head.  

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What are the characteristics of the speaker and the neighbour in the poem "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost?

The speaker in the poem is a thoughtful man, hard-working, practical, and discerning.  As he works with his neighbour to repair the wall dividing their property, he questions the necessity of even having a wall in certain places, noting, "There where it is we do not need the wall, he is all pine and I am apple orchard, my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines" (lines 23-26).  The speaker likes to examine issues and evaluate whether he is doing things for good reasons.  He is free-thinking, and would prefer not to have a wall at all, because "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offence.  Something there is that doesn't love a wall" (lines 33-36).

The neighbour, on the other hand, sees no reason to even discuss the situation, repeating, "Good fences make good neighbors" (lines 27 and 46).  He is uncommunicative, and the speaker feels he is rigid and unwilling to look at things in new ways.  The neighbour hides behind old sayings, and the speaker labels him "an old stone savage" who "moves in darkness" (lines 41-42).  The neighbor is the type of man who blocks other people and possibilities out of his life, both figuratively and concretely.

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