Racism and Borders: Representation, Repression, Resistance

By Jeff Shantz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5. “BORDER PANIC” AND THE BOUNDS OF RACIAL IDENTITY

Dr. David E. Magill

Robert Frost opens his second poetic collection North of Boston (1914) with “Mending Wall,” a poem that crystallizes the boundary issues I explore in this article. Frost introduces the text with a backward glance to his previous work: “‘Mending Wall’ takes up the theme where ‘A Tuft of Flowers’ in A Boy’s Will laid it down” (1914, 10). Frost prefaces “Mending Wall” with its own textual revenant, allowing us to understand the poem as a continued rumination on the fellowship of man, summarized in the narrator’s comment, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and the neighbor’s response, “Good fences make good neighbors” (1914, 11, 13). Yet this revenant also destabilizes the distinct textual borders associated with the poems. The two poems comment on one another in a way that further undermines the question of borders.

As the two interlocuters “work together” to rebuild their fence, the narrator argues against the unnecessary effort: “There where it is we do not need the wall: / He is all pine and I am apple orchard. / My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines” (Frost 1914, 12). Frost presents a naturalized allegory of difference within a moment of fraternal exchange that captures the desire/repulsion at the heart of 1920s identity politics. Apples and cones mark the physical difference between the men as a naturalized element in their identities. When the narrator suggests dismantling the border, recognizing its futility against the various onslaughts captured in the “something” that dislikes the wall, the neighbor responds with his father’s aphorism, invoking nostalgically authori-

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