Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

622 words | 3 page(s)

Frost employs a moral reasoning appeal when he writes, “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” (Frost). Moral reasoning is all about appeals to the moral questions of what one ought to do. This form of reasoning can deal extensively with the consequences of one’s actions. In this passage, the poet brings about the need for deep thought and reflection on the implications of building a wall. It appeals to the very human consequences associated with building a wall. By building a wall, one might accomplish some goal of keeping things out, but one must also investigate whether, in that building, he is trapping himself. Likewise, this appeal points to unintended consequences, a consequential aspect of moral reasoning. Even though a wall might be intended as a neutral device to keep something in or out, it could be taken as offensive by some, and for that reason, its presence is important.

In the poem, Frost has the man opposing his narrator make an ethical appeal based upon deontological ethics. Deontological ethics holds that actions are either wrong or right based not upon their consequences, but rather, based upon their innate principles. In fact, this brand of ethics often holds that something is right or wrong based solely upon that thing being a rule, as it offers no analysis where the rule itself is right. At the end of the poem, Frost writes, “He will not go behind his father’s saying, And he likes having thought of it so well He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’” (Frost). In this, the character is standing by his old, tried, and trusted rule without thinking about whether the wall is actually necessary. The character argues, in essence, that the wall is necessary because it is necessary. He operates based upon principles rather than perceived or expected results. Perhaps more importantly, Frost includes the bit about the father in order to highlight the fact that the man’s ethical reasoning is based not upon his own independent analysis, but rather, upon an ethical framework that was essentially gifted to him by his father.

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Legal reasoning is designed to address how a law is formed and how a law is applied. While this poem does not have any distinct mention of laws, it does mention normative practices, which can be as good as laws in this setting. Frost writes, “But at spring mending-time we find them there. I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; And on a day we meet to walk the line And set the wall between us once again” (Frost). It appears that they have a set day each year to come and meet with one another. This is, in essence, the law of the land, and the two men justify their actions based upon the fact that their normative code tells them that they have to. Their actions, it seems, are proper because proper people follow the rules of society.

The poem also features faith-based reasoning. Frost writes, “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, And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” (Frost). In this passage, Frost is arguing that there is some force that does not want the wall to stand, and thus, it brings down the wall and creates gaps in it. He offers no explanation for what this force might be. Rather, he simply argues that it exists, based upon little to no evidence. This appeal is based upon faith rather than evidence, and serves to provide some balance to the poem.

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