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

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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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What is the conflict in the poem "Mending Wall"?

In "Mending Wall," the speaker describes participating in the annual spring ritual of joining his neighbor to repair the stone wall that runs between their properties. The speaker embodies modern rationalism, questioning traditions that seem pointless to him. After all, he notes, neither he nor his neighbor has livestock that can wander to the other person's property and wreak havoc. There is therefore no reason to waste time and effort each year laboriously repairing a wall they don't need.

However, the neighbor is insistent. He quotes the traditional wisdom of his father, who taught him that "good fences make good neighbors." The neighbor is more interested in maintaining traditions than in questioning them.

The questions the speaker raises may inspire readers to question why we, too, stick with traditions that may have outlived their usefulness. In this, Frost echoes a strain of American pragmatism that goes back to Emerson and teaches that we should follow our own minds rather than doing what the past teaches.

While the speaker thinks he is right and superior in his thinking to his neighbor, the poem itself suggests that there may be a value in tradition that he does not fully or initially perceive. Near the end of the poem, when the speaker glimpses a vision of the neighbor as "an old stone savage armed," there is a sense that the wall stands in order to maintain civility and peace, even if its purpose is chiefly symbolic.

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What are some philosophical interpretations of the poem "Mending Wall"?

That is an interesting question to ask. In this context, I am interpreting "philosophical" to mean some timeless and universal meanings for Frost's "Mending Wall." The two that I take away after reading it are that we should tamper with nature only for some good purpose and that the structures created by humankind may interfere with relationships amongst people more than they aid them.

The first few lines of the poem tell us that nature does not like human-built barriers. The narrator says, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" (line 1). That something is nature, which does its best to break up the wall with its cycles of freezing and warming. The narrator goes on to point out that, while there could be a purpose to building a wall, he clearly sees no such purpose in this situation.  Therefore, if we are going to build walls, or anything else, interfering with nature's natural course, we should do so only for a very good reason, to the benefit of someone or some ones. 

The narrator also sees that building can create a barrier and harm relationships:

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 (lines 32-35).
He understands that building a wall keeps people out as well as keeping something or someone in, and he sees that not having walls or other barriers might make for better neighbors than having walls. It is not too great a leap to infer from this that the narrator sees building upon the landscape as something potentially harmful to human relationships. If a structure is not enhancing our ability to get along with one another, perhaps it is a structure that should not be.
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What is the main subject of the poem "Mending Wall"?

There are two basic ways to interpret the primary subject of “Mending Wall.” One is more literal, and the other is more conceptual or abstract.

The first line of possible interpretation stays very close to the speaker’s words and the exact situation in which Robert Frost places them. In this interpretation, the poem is about neighbors. The two characters agree upon a date and mutually work to repair the wall between their properties. The speaker repeats, and does not contradict, the neighbor’s words: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A contrasting way to interpret the poem looks at the broader context of that sentiment as well as the speaker’s initial words, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The use of “something” is followed by the mention of numerous natural phenomena that can break it apart, suggesting that a wall is unnatural or goes against universal forces or ideas. Following this line of interpretation, we could infer that the speaker opposes the annual wall repair and disagrees with his neighbor: it would be better to allow the wall to fall or to remove it. By extension, the neighbors could improve their relationship through talking and negotiating their differences.

Considered within a broader framework, these “neighbors” could be countries on opposite sides of an actual border or blocs of countries that have different political philosophies.

The latter interpretation has been extended to United States–Soviet relations during the Cold War, with the “wall” understood as the Berlin Wall.

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What are the themes of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall"?

"Mending Wall," by Robert Frost, is a narrative about two neighbors who meet every spring to repair the stone wall that divides their properties. The primary symbol of the poem is, of course, the wall, and the theme centers around the wall and how each neighbor perceives both it and his neighbor.

Each spring, the narrator contacts his older neighbor and they walk the wall, replacing the rocks that have fallen. It seems a harmless enough pursuit:

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; 
And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again. 
We keep the wall between us as we go. 
To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 
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. 

The narrator points out that the pursuit is not necessary or even worthwhile, for the fence keeps nothing particular either in or out:

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, I tell him. 

The narrator seems to think his neighbor is less enlightened than he is, for he calls him "an old-stone savage" and suggests the man lives in a kind of "darkness," as if he is a relic who is not as enlightened as the narrator. The neighbor is rather laconic, saying only the same thing his father used to tell him, "'Good fences make good neighbors.'" The narrator claims this is a ridiculous thing to say.

The primary theme of this poem concerns barriers. The narrator speaks as if he is superior to this unenlightened man and neither needs nor wants barriers; however, it is clear that the narrator clings just as unreasonably to the wall's existence as his close-minded neighbor.

The narrator is the one who instigates the mending every year. Though he is wryly dismissive of the need for a wall, he is certainly an active participant--even an instigator--in keeping it in good repair. He claims that he would never do something mindlessly like his neighbor. 

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.

It is true that the narrator does not repeat a worn-out phrase from generations past (like his neighbor), but it is also true that he is as deeply concerned about keeping the wall in good repair as his neighbor. The narrator begins his narrative with this line, "something there is that doesn't love a wall," and yet he clearly loves the wall and what it represents. 

For a more extensive discussion of this ironic theme, see the eNotes link, below. 

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What is the central theme of the poem "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost?

The main theme of the poem is community. The narrator and the neighbor don't appear to have much in common and do not socialize with one another. As one first reads the poem, the wall seems an extension of the barriers between the two, something that separates them. The neighbor often repeats the saying: "‘Good fences make good neighbors." This suggests that the point of the wall is keeping neighbors separated from one another.

The poet points out though that:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall ...

The wall tends to partially collapse over the winter and needs extensive repair each spring. Nature, the poet suggests, is determined to bring the men together and destroy the walls they build to isolate themselves. In a sense, nature succeeds; the men, who normally lead separate lives, come together every spring to rebuild the wall. The speaker cannot shake the feeling that the neighbor offers his traditional wisdom without examining it—why should humans build walls between each other? What are the neighbors walling out? What are they walling in? In short, the speaker examines the traditional walls that define communities and alienate even as they seek to protect.

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What is the central theme of the poem "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost?

The central theme is whether the wall is good or bad for the relationship between the two neighbors. In a larger context, the theme is about the effect of emotional and physical barriers. The speaker, initially, seems to think that the wall is inherently a detriment, unnatural, something that separates and therefore is a barrier to an open dialogue/relationship. 

However, he does still see and converse with his neighbor and the wall does provide a sense of privacy which is not inherently bad. Also, there is the play on "mending" as both a verb and an adjective. As an adjective, the wall 'mends' their relationship by keeping them in communication albeit physically separated by the wall. As a verb, the act or ritual of the two neighbors getting together to "mend" the wall is an event that brings the two together. 

And even though the speaker finds the wall unnatural, it is he who lets his neighbor know it is time to mend the wall. So, it is ambiguous as to whether he really doesn't want the wall there. His neighbor may be thinking the same thing. Do we need this wall? Does this ritual of gathering to mend the wall serve as our only means of communication? And if so, it is ironic that the ritual to mend this physical barrier is also a ritual of connection. 

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