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Working With Literature

Analysis of “Mending Wall”- Robert Frost

The first time I read this poem I was able to grasp that it was exploring human alienation.

After reading the poem without stopping, I went back and started the “vertical line note

strategy”. I found this to be helpful, and I was able to make a thorough analysis of the poem. The

poem is simple but powerful. It begins with the narrator noting that a stone wall has fallen apart;

interestingly, this happens every spring, yet the narrator persists in calling his neighbor to help

him mend the wall. This evoked two things for me; the irony that two neighbors cordially meet

to build a wall to separate themselves, and the idea of the Sisyphean myth as the act is repeated

every single year. The narrator continues to describe the mending of the wall, but he begins to

note the oddity of the wall itself. The narrator questions the purpose of the wall, there is no cattle

to necessitate a wall, and begins to criticize the image of his neighbor through his blindness to

the proverb “good fences make good neighbors”. The neighbor is described as an “old-stone

savage armed” (Frost 40) which implies he is a sort of caveman. We learn that the wall pre-dates

the narrator, and that the neighbors father carried the same seriousness and aloofness in

maintaining the wall.

I think the poem is exploring some important themes relative to the human condition. The

poem wonders why humans build barriers to keep others out. The wall is both literal and

figurative in this sense. Another important theme is the seasons of life. In the spring, which the

narrator associates with himself “spring is the mischief in me” (28), life begins anew, yet this life

is repetitive, and we see the same action of mending the wall being done by the men. However,

sympathy is created for the narrator through his awareness of the absurdity in the wall which is

contrasted with the ignorance of the neighbor. The neighbor “moves in darkness” (41) and is
unwilling to leave his property to see the world in a different light; he knows only his world and

prefers to keep himself enclosed, or at least to keep others out.

Lastly, I wonder what the actual cause of the hole in the wall is. I think that it is implied

that the world itself forms the wall. The narrator admits that it is not the “work of hunters” (5)

which shows humans have not made the hole. I think that there is some sort of supernatural

element at work in the poem which creates a hole exactly big enough so “two can pass abreast”

(4). The “two men” seemingly implies the narrator and neighbor. Something wants the men to be

able to join each other, yet the men instantly start to mend the wall again (the narrator albeit with

more perception that his neighbor). Another part of the poem which suggests a “magical”

element is the narrators joke that he would suggest to his neighbor it is elves who are responsible

for the wall; however, this is not as far-fetched as it seems as there is clearly some unseen

element that wants the men to thrust aside their barriers. I was surprised at how powerful this

poem was, and I think the poem encourages its readers to question why humans have the

tendency to shut people out.

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