The best works of literature are those which present the reader with more than one interpretation. Often, they have more than one layer, one which stands out as obvious to the reader and one which can only be found at a deeper level. Many of Robert Frost’s poetry is like this. For example, Frost’s poem, “Mending Fences” can be read in more than one way. Some readers may only see in this poem the fact that the narrator does not understand or agree with the necessity of building a wall between him and his neighbor.

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Upon further reading, however, it becomes clear that the narrator is ambivalent about the wall which keeps coming down because of a perceived difference between him and his neighbor. This ambivalence on the part of the poem’s narrator has been the cause of the poem’s use in discussions of many different subjects, from psychology to the recent interest in discussions about borders. Frost’s poem shows ambivalence on the part of the narrator about the need for a border between him and his neighbor; the symbolism of the wall in need of mending makes the poem valuable when discussing borders in general, whether they be political or personal.

The reason Mending Fences is such a great poem is because its narrator is in two minds about something, but does not seem to realize this fact. While he comments to the reader his beliefs on one side of an issue, the building of the wall, his actions tell a different tale. Naiditch writes: “We cannot fully appreciate the complexity of Frost’s “Mending Wall” without recognizing the ambivalent status of its speaker” (Naiditch 147). It is the poem’s complexity and ambivalence which make it so compelling. The first indication of the narrator’s ambivalence regarding the wall is the poem’s structure. The first line of the pome indicates that there is something which does not wish the wall to stand (Frost 1).

It would appear that the “something” is the narrator himself, or at least that the narrator does not understand the need for the wall. For example, the narrator says: “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” (33-34). The narrator, before the wall was built, did not understand the need for it. He was not clear exactly whom he would be walling out, or whom he would be allowing in. He did not know the people that he had offended enough to need separation from them. On the other hand, the twice-quoted line “good fences make good neighbors”, (28) is in support of the wall. The repetition of the line gives it enough weight to counter the sentiment that begins the poem. This line means that the wall is seen as a necessity, something that is required if people are to get along. The beginning of the poem seems to indicate that the narrator does not really want a wall, but the repetition of the opposing sentiment makes the reader wonder if this is true.

Another indicator of the narrator’s desire to have the wall stand is that he, himself, lets the neighbor know that it has fallen, (12), so that it can be mended. When describing how they rebuild the wall, Frost writes: “We wear our fingers rough” (20) with the stones that rebuild the wall. The fact that the narrator may see the need for the wall is also indicated in his characterization of his neighbor. “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, /Not of woods only and the shade of trees” (42-43). His neighbor moves in darkness that he cannot explain. This darkness lends a shadow of foreboding, or uncertainty to the character of the neighbor. The narrator casts him in darkness, which means that he may be untrustworthy, and therefore the wall may be needed to keep him away. This would appear to answer the Narrator’s question noted above, as to who exactly the wall is supposed to be keeping out. Though the narrator begins the poem with the comment that something does not want a wall to stand and questions the necessity of the wall, the narrator is as invested in the wall’s building as his neighbor, and seems to want to keep the neighbor separate from himself.

This ambivalence on the part of the poem’s narrator has caused the poem to be discussed in widely varying disciplines. For example, one author notes that the poem has implications for the increasingly studied topic of borders (Madsen 82). Madsen says that the poem is useful for this discussion because those who study borders wonder if, indeed, someone needs a border to be a “good neighbor”. Also, Madsen asks if those borders should have gaps built in so that people are able to connect through them (Madsen 90). The borders Madsen discusses, like those Naiditch discusses, are internal as much as they are external. The poem, as much as it discusses physical walls and can be applied to political borders (Madsen 82), can also be talking about the borders within ourselves (Naiditch 148). The poem can be read in a way which talks about psychological archetypes, or it can be talking about someone’s political beliefs and how those beliefs separate them from their fellow men. Madsen writes: “even our deepest-held political beliefs, seemingly so powerful, self-evident, and eternal, are, like the wall in the poem, continuously subject to gaps and reformations” (90). Frost’s poem, while seemingly only talking about a wall between him and his neighbor, can be applied in many different ways to apply to everything from a person’s internal struggle to connect with another part of himself or with someone else, to a political statement.

In “Mending Fences” the narrator, while he says he does not understand the need for a separation between him and his neighbor, actively participates in the building of the wall and uses it to differentiate between himself and the other person in the poem. This duality makes the poem of interest to many different people. Each person has a different interpretation of the poem and what Frost’s message is. This is why the poem is a great work of literature, because each person can bring their own reading to it that makes it apply to that person’s life in a unique way.