How is the neighbor characterized in "Mending Wall"?

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The speaker of "Mending Wall" initially seems to get along with his neighbor. However, it becomes clear that the speaker perceives himself as more enlightened and less bound to tradition.

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The speaker views his neighbor as being a man who lives according to tradition without thinking. Each spring, his neighbor insists that he and the speaker restore the breaks in the stone wall that divides their properties, even though there is no purpose for the wall. When the speaker explains clearly why the wall between them is unnecessary, his neighbor does not even consider his argument. He only replies, "Good fences make good neighbors," which is what his father had always said. He chooses to waste time and energy in hard physical labor, which will only need to be repeated the following year, rather than consider a new idea.

The speaker rejects this blind, unthinking adherence to senseless tradition. He sees his neighbor as one who "moves in darkness" that is "[n]ot of woods only and the shade of trees." He believes his neighbor moves in the darkness of ignorance. His neighbor is like "an old-stone savage."

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How does the speaker of "Mending Wall" feel about the neighbor in the poem?

We see the neighbor in "Mending Wall" entirely through the speaker's eye, so we have only his perceptions to rely on. Initially, the speaker seems to have an amiable attitude towards his neighbor. The speaker contacts him when it is time for the annual wall-mending ritual, and the two seem to have a pleasant time together repairing the stones that have fallen from the wall. They talk and jokingly cast "spells" to keep the rounder stones from falling back down again.

Yet the speaker casts himself as the more enlightened of the two. He is the one who questions his neighbor's wisdom that "good fences make good neighbors." Why, he wonders, is this true? Does it even make sense to continue to repair a fence that isn't needed? Neither of them keep livestock that could wander into the other's property.

The speaker depicts his neighbor as doggedly set in his ways, clinging unquestioningly to traditions he inherited from his father. He says his neighbor lives in "darkness" and imagines him as "an old-stone savage armed."

Yet in a subtle manner, Frost also raises the question as to whether it is the modern-thinking, tradition-challenging speaker who might also be in darkness. As the neighbors adage suggests, there may be a civilizing function the wall serves, unrelated to its practical purpose or lack thereof.

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How does the speaker's attitude toward his neighbor change in "Mending Wall"?

When the speaker and his neighbor begin the yearly ritual of repairing the wall, it seems to be just that - an annual replacing of the rocks that have fallen away or been removed in the past year. On the agreed-upon date, they work together from their respective sides of the wall. "And on a day we meet to walk the line  And set the wall between us once again."
It's definitely work, but it's not terribly stressful; it's almost enjoyable to make it all fit together as they move along the way; neighborly cooperation at its best. "To each the boulders that have fallen to each...We have to use a spell to make them balance...another kind of outdoor game."
As they move along, however, the speaker raises the question, why do we need to keep doing this? The speaker points out that they have adjoining fields that will not affect the other's crop, which means the wall really isn't necessary and, in fact, could be perceived as being an insult to their neighborly friendship.

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, That wants it down!

The neighbor wants the wall, however. The speaker ends the poem perceiving not a friend and neighbor sharing an annual rebuilding task, but an "old-stone savage" moving in "darkness...not of woods only and the shade of trees." The speaker may not feel threatened by his neighbor, but he certainly doesn't still see him as a friend.

     

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