Study Guide

Mending Wall Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    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.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What do you think the "something" is that doesn’t love a wall?
    2. How does he portray nature in this poem?
    3. What examples of nature do we have in "Mending Wall?"

    Chew on This

    The "something" to which the speaker refers is nature itself.

    The neighbor does not trust nature to bring peace.

  • Tradition and Customs

    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.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. What examples of tradition and customs do we see in this poem?
    2. Do you find yourself identifying with our speaker, the neighbor, or no one at all? Why do you think that is?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Language and Communication

    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.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Who begins the wall mending process each year?
    2. What do the speaker and his neighbor talk about?
    3. What frustrates the speaker most of all?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Exploration

    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.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. At what point does our speaker venture into uncharted waters, and what are these waters?
    2. Is the speaker ever fearful or anxious?
    3. What (if anything) does our speaker discover over the course of the poem?
    4. Do we ever find out who or what the "something" is that the speaker refers to in line 1?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Versions of Reality

    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.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. What events actually take place in this poem, and what does our speaker imagine?
    2. What role does imagination play in "Mending Wall?"
    3. How would the poem change if there are no quotation marks around lines 30-37?
    4. If the neighbor writes a poem about mending the wall, what would it look like?

    Chew on This

    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.