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Thursday, January 14, 2010



The Poem ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost is centered around all the possible attempts made by the speaker in the poem to convince his neighbor about the futility and the insignificance of building a wall or mending the gaps in the wall where according to him, Nature itself doesn’t prefer one. The wall can be said to symbolize religious, caste, racial, political differences or discriminations, social prohibitions, division of private property, border issues etc. But the focal point of the chief argument in the poem seems to be referring to diverse attempts of the speaker who by way of his arguments reveals or constructs himself to be more scientific, rational, broad and humane like his neighbor who is a closed individual. The contrast gets magnified when the speaker fails to convince his neighbor who sticks firmly to/within his built-in prejudices and notions.

The neighbor’s persona constructed thus by the speaker is of an uncompromising orthodox. The poem shows how one constructs the other-racial, linguistic and cultural constructions. The neighbor is constantly trying to resist cultural intrusions or conquests. The speaker’s attempt is not to transform his neighbor or to transfer him to his side or views but to make him rationalize his convictions. He seeks a justification for his deeds or beliefs. The neighbor is urged throughout to do a self-analysis. The speaker lays before him facts to facilitate this:

1. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under your pine
2. There are no cows here to trespass into each one’s land
3. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offence.

These arguments fail and the neighbor repeats, “Good fences make good neighbors”. The speaker wants the neighbor to say if nothing but “elves” typical to his beliefs and unscientific outlook. The speaker implies it when he says “I’d rather he said it for himself”. The neighbor is all notions built on irrationality. The speaker even says overtly that if only he could put at least his views like a “notion” in the neighbor’s head implying notions could facilitate a change in his views. The neighbor is referred to in the rudest terms as an ignorant, irrational, uncivilized Stone Age man. The speaker tries to avoid rhetoric throughout the poem. It is clear when he says, “Not of woods only and the shade of trees” (line No.41). He wants to put the notion in his head without a garb of pretence, jargons or rhetoric. The contrast is clear in the impervious neighbor’s repetition which is pure rhetoric “Good fences make good neighbors”.

The poem thus speaks less about the wall but more about forming a conviction, an attitude or ideology. The speaker intends to convey that ignorance persists in spite of his repeated attempts and down-to-earth logic. Like in Edward Albee’s ‘The Zoo Story’, the ‘you’ and ‘I’ divide gets stronger here.

The wall can be a symbol of Ego. It is ego which creates divisions; divisions are for possession and possession satisfies the ego and keeps it strong. Ego is born out of narrow conclusions and ignorance like the unwanted wall built in which one loses one’s true perception of self or reality. The wall of ego gets broken by the reality of life and the ignorant keep mending it. Rabindranath Tagore writes in the Gitanjali

“He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow. I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being”.
(Passage No.29)

The poem can also be read as a poetic version of Reader-Response criticism. A text is no finished product and it is the reader who breaks the built-in conclusions about it and gives it new meaning. The conventional reader keeps mending the gaps and resists any new reading. The basis of deconstructive reading is expanding the gaps in a text.


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