Tearing Down Walls Essay, Research Paper
Tearing Down Walls
In the poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost utilizes the literary devices of imagery, meter, and symbolism to demonstrate the rational and irrational boundaries or metaphoric “walls” humans place on their relationships with others. The precise images, such as the depiction of the mending-time ritual and the dynamic description of his “old-stone savage armed” neighbor, serve to enhance our enjoyment as well as our understanding of the poem (40). The poem is written in blank verse (iambic pentameter); the form that most closely resembles everyday English. Frost deliberately employs this direct, conversational, and easy to understand style of meter which appears simple on the surface. Although symbolism is used throughout, the three most significant symbols are: the wall, his neighbor, and Frost himself as the speaker. Analyzing each of these devices as well as how they harmonize with one another is necessary in order to appreciate what Frost was revealing about human behavior.
Frost begins the poem by relating the damage that has been inflicted upon the wall. The stunning image of the force “that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it and spills the upper boulders in the sun, and makes gaps even two can pass abreast” shows us that something natural, beautiful, and perhaps divine is taking place (2-4). From the very beginning he suggests that living without the wall is something positive. As the poem continues, we are introduced to two farmers engaged in the annual task of making repairs to the stone wall which separates their properties. In lines 14-17, Frost gives us the description of the neighbors meeting to walk the line, each picking up and replacing the
fallen stones of various sizes. The restoration of the wall divides even their energies at that moment. It is a ritual which contains its own paradox; the two neighbors are cooperating together to sustain this barrier which divides them.
As they mend, Frost begins to question the reasoning behind the walls existence. His neighbor’s only response is “Good fences make good neighbors” (27). The neighbor’s uninterested attitude and indifferent response forces Frost to inquire further. He attempts to justify the wall by using a logical argument. There would be a need for walls if they had cows or similar pasture animals, but he and his neighbor have no such animals. Frost not only wants his neighbor to consider what he is walling in but also ponder what he is walling out and why. Deaf to any arguments, the farmer “will not go behind his father’s saying” and question his strong conviction of good fences making good neighbors (43).
The stubborn neighbor’s blind acceptance and “in the dark” way of living is paralleled by the image Frost paints of him. In line 40, a simile is used describing him as “like an old-stone savage armed” as he works toward restoring the wall. This man who is
so insistent on maintaining this wall is a product of a long-gone age of thinking. He is like a savage from the time when it was essential to wall yourself off from other savages for safety and protection. Lines 41 and 42 continue: “He moves in the darkness as it seems to me, not of woods only and the shade of trees.” He is not only in the dimness provided by the trees, but he is also in darkness of the past. He has not made the transition into a more civilized, enlightened age when your don’t need these protective boundaries from others.
In order to understand the further meaning behind this poem, we must continue to look beyond the deceptively simple exterior. Frost has skillfully employed meter in a manner to help the reader accomplish this. The poem’s blank verse presents an extended series of rugged lines without an interruption, much like the wall itself. In lines 12-17, Frost allows us to feel the pressure and tightness that transpires when the farmers are rebuilding and narrowing gaps during spring mending-time. We read these lines quickly and with considerable ease. We also sense a remarkable balance occurring, not only in the repairing of the wall but in the lines themselves. For example, lines 14-17 read: “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 are nearly balls.” It is significant that Frost chose the ancient and primitive form of blank verse in creating this poem. He very likely was attempting to make us see that living our lives as the neighbor involves foolish blind acceptance, an out of date way of living.
Perhaps the most important element that enables us to come to a deep understanding of the poem as well as ourselves is symbolism. The wall itself is a
representation of our natural tendencies to build barriers and unnatural divisions in order to defend ourselves from others and to give ourselves privacy and space. It describes how we selfishly wall ourselves in, not realizing the individual and wondrous experiences we may be walling out. Although Frost’s character, through questioning, comes to realize the pointlessness of the wall, he does not yield in mending the fence. Therefore, the ritual itself is a powerful representation of humans’ determination to hold fast to these divisions. The neighbor, who clings blindly to his father’s beliefs and will not even consider a new
way of thinking, represents a narrow-minded, ancient genre of people. The neighbor refuses to test the validity of his beliefs and appears to take pleasure in this. He is the type of person who thoughtlessly creates unnecessary boundaries between himself and others.
As the speaker, Frost creates himself as a character that everyone can relate to. He is a philosophical farmer, and a hard working man of the earth. He realizes that there is a higher force that does not approve of the walls. Frost, at the same time, initiates the spring mending and works to tear it down by questioning the ritual. He makes the boundaries while trying to break them. It is for these reasons that Frost is symbolic of all of mankind. We go through this ritual daily, choosing who we wall in or out. Humans also create these boundaries on a national level, giving us identification with a certain country or ethnic group and harmfully stressing the differences between us. Like Frost, we question these actions and hopefully attempt to change ourselves for the better. Tearing down these walls is a constant but rewarding struggle.