Our speaker takes great pains to describe the setting of this New England countryside. He tells us right off the bat, "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/ That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,/And spills the upper boulders in the sun," (lines 1-3). In doing so, he points a big, fat finger toward nature. Nature seems to be the unnamed culprit who, in addition to hunters, continues to destroy the wall. As the poem unfolds, we learn how spring (and all of its feverish weather and spirit of new life) makes our speaker a bit mischievous. We see in this poem the sharp contrast between the natural and the artificial, nature and man.
The "something" to which the speaker refers is nature itself.
The neighbor does not trust nature to bring peace.
When the neighbor first says, "Good fences make good neighbors," we know that we’ve heard this saying before. When he echoes it at the end of the poem, we realize that this saying was passed down to our neighbor from his father. In this way, the neighbor represents tradition and custom, relying on the past to serve as his guide. The speaker describes his neighbor as "an old-stone savage," making us think of a Neanderthal or caveman. In so doing, our speaker seems to challenge old-school methods, and paints a picture of the wall as antiquated or uncivilized.
The poem does not want us to side with the speaker and hate walls. The poem wants us to consider both sides of the wall argument.
The poem values innovation over tradition.
There is definitely a disconnect between our speaker and his neighbor. They work together to mend the wall, but they don’t talk to each other as they go along. The speaker wishes to put a "notion" in his neighbor’s head, but he doesn’t actually attempt to challenge his neighbor’s love of the wall. The wall takes on greater meaning as we watch the lines of communication shut down between the speaker and his neighbor.
The wall helps to open up lines of communication between our speaker and his neighbor.
The wall is a metaphor for the wall that blocks communication between our speaker and his neighbor.
When we talk about "exploration" here, we don’t necessarily mean Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci. Our speaker explores uncharted waters as he begins to question why there needs to be a wall between his property and his neighbor’s property. Our speaker challenges the old-school values that his neighbor embodies.
In challenging the wall’s necessity, the speaker ultimately does not hope to get rid of the wall.
As readers, we discover more about our relationship to boundaries than the speaker does.
There’s a whole lot of imagining and speculating in this poem. For example, from lines 30-37, our speaker imagines the thoughts his neighbor might think if he questions the necessity of his old stone wall. The speaker’s reality and that of his neighbor are very different, and these contrasting versions of reality form the backbone of the juicy debate which takes place in the world of this poem: old vs. new, tradition vs. innovation, isolation vs. community.
If there exists no wall to plague him, our speaker wouldn’t be nearly as imaginative as he is.
Tradition stunts the neighbor’s ability to imagine or accept other versions of reality.