Symbolism in “The Mending wall”

Symbolism is simply a type of style used to spark imagination in writing and not just take up the face value of a word or a piece of writing. It is therefore a style used in poetry in order to let an imaginative mind wander beyond the normal and has literary significance. The common forms of symbolism used in poems include metaphors, simile, personification, hyperbole, irony and allegory. "The Mending Wall" by Robert Frost is a poem that contains many symbols, the chief of which is the mending wall itself. The physical barrier of the wall represents the psychological or symbolic barrier between two human beings. The season of spring, which deteriorates the wall, could symbolize the narrator's repressed feeling that he would like the wall to come down and to have a closer relationship with his neighbour, or, conversely, it could also reinforce his desire to keep the wall in place since he is fixing it throughout the poem. The neighbor could symbolize the narrator's distrust of society, since he shows that he would like to remain separated by the fence.

The wall is normally put up as a security measure, protecting their property, for privacy and comfort but the wall also acts as a barrier to the relationship between the neighbours. The wall is a representation of the barriers to friendship and communication. The wall causes an alienation and separation between the two. The society has a lot of barriers that prevent normal communication of individuals. These include gender, religion, race and political preferences. These factors are the barriers that the narrator is talking about in the poem.

The other metaphor is where the narrator compares himself to an apple and his neighbor to pine. “…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…” In this case, the writer could be talking about his warm reception to the idea of not having a wall which he sees as negative and his neighbour’s refusal to change his stand.

Frost employs several images in “Mending Wall” to reveal his tendency toward the problem. He adopts the images of “something”, “Elves” and “spring” to convey his attitude. Frost discovers a completely different aspect in the motif. The poem begins with the line—“something there is that doesn’t love a wall”, foregrounding the prominence of the “something”. Later, he emphasizes this image by repeating the same line. Without pointing out what kind of thing this “something” is, Frost leaves a spacious room for the readers to exert the imagination to the utmost. It is something unknown to us, something mysterious to all of us. Maybe it is “Elves”, which dislikes the wall separating human beings from one another and crumbles down the wall mischievously.

Another symbolic image is “spring”. As we all know, spring is the time of rebirth and the symbol of a new beginning. The farmers in New England in the very season, nonetheless, mend the walls in between to protect their property. With the wall being strengthened, the relationship is not mended but distanced farther instead. Spring is the time for people to break through the confinement of archaic convention and develop new ideas. Knowing it is a formidable task to persuade people to break down the wall and conduct genuine communication, Frost tends to arouse people’s awareness of their isolation from one another. Above all, the poem implies that not only human beings, represented by the speaker, but also natural and supernatural power (“something”, “Elves”, “spring”) show strong wishes and desires of tearing down the wall, visible and invisible among people.

The characters in this poem are symbolic as well.  The neighbor is the symbol of tradition. He will not go behind his father's saying while the speaker is the symbol of creativity and rebellion:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out.

These symbolic elements work nicely in the poem to show the complexities of human interactions.  A balance certainly is needed between connection and separation; ritual and whimsy, following tradition and questioning it.   

Last modified: Wednesday, 28 June 2017, 1:15 AM