Tradition v. Reason in Robert Frost’s Mending Wall

Tradition v. Reason in Robert Frost’s Mending Wall

Building houses facing the east, avoiding work during Sabbath day, and crossing fingers—these are just some traditional practices people observe to obtain good luck. Having evolved in our culture for many generations, these practices are never doubted to bring harmony to life. Keeping traditions alive has been part of people’s culture, despite their impracticable consequences. In Robert Frost’s (2007) poem, “Mending Wall,” the author tackles the irony relating to the tradition of building good fences to build good neighbors. Citing his view about building a wall between two neighbors, the author emphasizes the contrast between tradition and practical reason.

The poem starts with the persona’s expression of silent disagreement towards building a wall between him and his neighbor. He expresses that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1). He believes that since they grow different trees and there are no cows in their yards, there is no reason for them to build fences. Conversely, his neighbor utterly views that “Good fences build good neighbors” (27). Therefore, to keep harmony between them, the persona keeps his thoughts to himself. Mainly, his respect for his neighbor impedes him from raising his thoughts.
Employing irony, the author shows the example of building a wall between two neighbors in adherence to tradition. While the neighbor sees the wall as a way to keep harmony between him and the persona, the latter views this as an offensive way to shun others from one’s territory. Applying this to reality, the author shows how keeping old traditions which are supposedly good can actually raise disputes among people. Thus, while the wall is used as a symbol for respect for property, it also serves as a symbol for indifference and disunity.

Many conflicts arise from simple ones. Miscommunication, land dispute, and jealousy are just some conflicts people encounter, which convince them to build a wall. Believing that walls promote harmony and respect among them, neighbors keep on mending walls, but in the process forget that the only foundation to respect and harmony is genuine love and concern for others. If only people would see the relevance of these things, they would find no need to ever build or mend walls again.


Frost, Robert. (2007). Mending wall. Retrieved July 14, 2009, from

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