The Fall of Tradition, The Fall of The Wall
Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” (1914) ponders the role of “something…that doesn’t love a wall” (1). However, some scholars tend to disagree on what the “something” (1) is. In his essay Frost's Wall: The View from the Other Side, Charles Watson considers the reference literally, interpreting it as “Nature, which annually tears down the barrier that man has erected” (Watson 654). Broderick, on the other hand, sees the “something” as possessing “supernatural qualities”, but does not go further to identify a specific element in his Explicator article (Broderick 2). In this paper, I will suggest a more abstract explanation: that the “something” Frost mentions is in fact an ideological force rather than a physical one, one that seeks the uprooting of human tradition. I posit that this explanation is substantiated through the concept of the wall as a symbol of tradition and the metaphor within the speaker’s description of the wall. Scholars have also hinted at the metaphorical implications of the poem regarding the nature of humans; for example, Watson focuses on the blindness of each man in the poem and the subsequent insufficiencies in their actions (653-656). While I agree with Watson’s analysis, I believe that the irony of the speaker’s actions and the metaphors of what interacts with the wall provide an explanation and insight into the the evolution of man over time to either maintain or dismantle traditions. I will also explore the tone created by the poet’s language and the poem’s form to demonstrate how they parallels the aforementioned ambivalence of human nature in relation to tradition.
In his poem, Robert Frost makes it clear that the “wall” (1) represents tradition. In the New England countryside, from where Frost drew much of his inspiration, these stone fences bordered nearly every inhabitant’s property, amounting to nearly one-third of all fencing in Connecticut alone (Fagan 407). Each year, the speaker and his neighbour, like any two New England neighbours, convene “at spring mending-time” (11) to reassemble the wall separating their properties. The very existence and purpose of the wall is two-fold: serves as both a physical reminder and metaphorical symbol of the annual ritual that has been passed down generation after generation, as well as a tangible and practical partition.
The description of the wall itself solidifies its symbolism as tradition. The speaker alternates between referring to the physical composition of the wall as “boulders” (3) and as “stone[s]” (7). This could suggest that the variation in the meanings behind traditions: for certain people, certain traditions hold a certain significance. These significances are what make some traditions strong, and others weak. The gaps in the wall are a result of the lack of meaning in some traditions – the gaps exist where the meanings crumbled and fell. This absence of significance could be a result of a divergence from conventio...