Mr. Terreri #328
29 April 2015
Walls Used in American Literature
Walls are everywhere we go. They are necessary elements to build our homes, schools, and more. We use them to separate things from one another. We are always around walls whether it is in a literal or figurative term. In literature, walls are used to represent a copious amount of things. So how have more than a century of American Storytellers and poets explored themes connected to walls in the texts of their works? Various writers have explored themes of walls in their literature through three, basic, analytical categories: literal, symbolic, and figurative.
Other than the three basic categories, there are many different types of walls seen in literature.
The literal and figurative, physical and psychological, real and imagined, and the walls symbolizing separation or imprisonment. Literal walls are the actual walls that are referred to in the text of the literature. They are mentioned and/or encountered in the story. An example of use of a literal wall in literature would be the poem, “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. This poem talks about two neighbors, whose opinions about walls oppose each other’s. The narrator states that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” while one of the neighbors suggests that “Good fences make good neighbors”. The wall is what goes between the two neighbors. Another story that exemplifies literal walls in literature is
Herman Melville’s, “Bartleby the Scrivener”. This short story talks about a man named Bartleby who works as a copyist. The walls seen in this story are the ones that surround Bartleby and make up his office. They isolate the workers and prohibit them from speaking to others forcing them to be secluded most of the time, during their working hours. The significance of the walls is that it is what makes him deteriorate and the reader soon finds out that Bartleby is clinically depressed. Melville’s story shows
2 the negative point of view towards walls in the way that it secluded Bartleby from others. Literal walls in literature have displayed the different purposes of walls in the lives of everyday people.
Furthermore, symbolic walls are also seen in literature. They are walls that are brought up in the story but have a deeper meaning than what its obvious purpose is. They do more than just make up a building, or separate something from another. “Mending Wall” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” have literal walls that are symbolic as well. In “Mending Wall”, the literal wall shows that even though it is a boundary that separates the two neighbors, it is also what brings them together every year even though their opinions toward the wall contradict each other’s . The title “Mending Wall” represents the literal wall that brings, or “mends”, the neighbors together. Frost’s “Mending Wall” shows that literal walls can bring people together and even ameliorate the relationships between them. In “Bartleby the
Scrivener”, the walls can symbolize how one can be trapped in an economy where people are forced to do hard labor for an insufficient amount of money. It symbolizes how one can be imprisoned in the workplace by a financial system in order to survive and make a living. Physical walls in literature have symbolized the good and bad aspects of when it comes to how they affect people.
Finally, figurative walls can be found in literature. These are the walls that are not physically real in the story but symbolically represent something. They can be mentioned in the story as not being in the literal term. For example, in “Mother” by David Gilmour, the poem is a conversation between a boy and his mother. A line in the poem says, “. . . mother, should I build a…