Q. How does the symbolism of the stone wall in ‘Mending Wall’ represent physical and emotional barriers?
Q. What does the wall symbolize in Mending Wall by Robert Frost?
In the poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost, the wall is more than a physical structure dividing properties. It embodies complex societal and personal constructs.
As a symbol of separation and isolation, the wall reflects the barriers individuals erect, consciously or unconsciously, between themselves. We are drawn into this reflection by the narrator, who annually repairs the wall with his neighbour.
This act becomes a metaphor for the rituals we all perform to maintain our emotional barriers, for protection, privacy, or prejudice. The wall can symbolize the following:
- Representation of Tradition and Ancestral Wisdom
- A Metaphor for Social Boundaries and Individual Isolation
- Symbol of Conflict
- Emblem of Man’s Struggle Against Natural Forces
- Reflection of Stubborn Adherence to Outdated Beliefs
- Questioning of Unexamined Assumptions
- Intricate Relationship With Nature
1- Representation of Tradition and Ancestral Wisdom
At its core, the wall embodies the long-standing traditions and proverbial wisdom passed down through generations. Frost masterfully depicts this through the neighbour’s adherence to the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbours”.
Despite the narrator not needing the wall, the neighbour holds onto it as ancient wisdom. Traditions like these persist, even when they become less relevant over time.
It highlights how the customs and practices passed down through generations continue to have a strong impact on our lives. The image of a wall represents these longstanding traditions, standing as a powerful symbol of the barriers they can create.
2- Metaphor for Social Boundaries and Individual Isolation
The wall is also a powerful metaphor for the social and psychological boundaries that people create between themselves. These unseen but powerful barriers often make us feel isolated as if we are separated from others by invisible walls.
The physical wall in the poem becomes an outward manifestation of these psychological boundaries, which individuals construct out of fear, a need for personal space, or the unconscious desire to adhere to societal norms.
The existence of the wall underlines a contradiction in human nature: we deeply crave closeness with others, yet we have a strong tendency to seek solitude and set ourselves apart.
3- Symbol of Conflict
The wall further symbolizes the continuous cycle of conflict and resolution inherent in human relationships. The neighbours find the wall damaged each spring, and together they repair it, stone by stone.
This ritual can be seen as a metaphor for how people navigate disagreements or conflicts. Just like the wall’s stones are moved and then put back, disagreements arise and get settled, but often reoccur later.
The wall not only stands as a barrier but also represents the ongoing cycle of our efforts to connect, frequently met with challenges. This cycle is a powerful reminder of the struggles we often face in resolving disagreements and misunderstandings in our relationships.
It is like we continuously try to climb over or break down the wall, only to find that it appears again, representing another conflict or issue to resolve.
4- Emblem of Man’s Struggle Against Natural Forces
In its interaction with nature, the wall in the poem becomes an emblem of humanity’s struggle against the natural world. Despite the men’s attempts to maintain the wall, the wall crumbles under natural forces – the freezing and thawing of the seasons and the playful destructiveness of hunters.
It represents the tension between human endeavors to establish order and control and nature’s inherent unpredictability and resistance to such constructs.
The wall’s decay and repair echo the ceaseless human effort to command and control the environment, and an endeavour often met with nature’s resilient defiance.
5- Reflection of Stubborn Adherence to Outdated Beliefs
Despite the narrator’s logical arguments, the neighbour insists on the wall’s importance. This reflects a stubborn adherence to outdated beliefs.
It underscores how individuals often resist challenges to their established worldview, even when confronted with compelling counterarguments. This resistance may be out of fear of change or a deep-seated belief in the infallibility of inherited wisdom.
The wall, therefore, serves as a reminder of the inflexibility of such beliefs and the potential difficulties in altering them.
6- Questioning of Unexamined Assumptions
In its most profound symbolism, the wall represents the unexamined assumptions that shape our thoughts and actions. The narrator’s persistent questioning of the wall’s necessity echoes the process of critical thinking.
It challenges the reader to scrutinize their own unexamined beliefs and assumptions. The wall encourages introspection about why we uphold certain boundaries. We need to determine if these walls have value or if they just sustain ancient traditions and baseless fears.
7- Intricate Relationship With Nature
The wall also symbolizes our intricate relationship with nature and the environment. Frost depicts a constant tug-of-war between the wall-builders and the natural forces that seem determined to destroy their creation.
This struggle echoes the broader human predicament – our desire to control, manipulate, and master the natural world, even as nature resists such attempts. It is a potent reminder of our tenuous and often fraught relationship with the natural world.
Moreover, the wall represents the dichotomy of human relationships. On the one hand, it stands for the social and psychological barriers we construct to protect our identities. It asserts a sense of individualism.
On the other hand, the wall highlights our deep-seated need for connection, community, and cooperation. Mending the wall requires cooperation between the neighbours. It shows that even as we maintain our boundaries, there is an inherent need for collaboration and mutual respect.
Lastly, the wall calls our unconscious adherence to certain beliefs and norms into question. As the neighbour unquestioningly adheres to his father’s saying, individuals and societies often abide by unexamined assumptions guiding their behaviour. Through the narrator’s persistent questioning of the wall’s necessity, Frost challenges us to reevaluate our assumptions.
In conclusion, the wall in “Mending Wall” becomes more than a physical entity. It mirrors the complexities of human interaction, the challenges of coexistence, and the timeless struggle to balance tradition with progress.