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Mending Wall" by Robert Frost, and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T.S. Eliot. Specifically, it compares and contraststhe two works and how they are both excellent examples of the dangers of unexamined tradition.
Unexamined tradition can be extremely dangerous in life, because it forces individuals to do things the "way they have always been done," rather than forcing them to find new ways to interact. This allows people to stagnate, rather than grow and learn from new concepts and ideas. In these two works, both narrators are bound by unexamined traditions, and because of this, their lives are far less fulfilling than they could have been.
Dangers of Unexamined Tradition
These two works both clearly show the dangers of unexamined tradition in many ways. It is how the writers use their words and thoughts to convey their meanings that are quite different in these two works. In "Mending Wall," Frost's meaning is quite clear from the beginning of the short poem. He is mending a stone wall, but it is clear he does not see the need for the wall, because he has nothing he wants to keep "in" or "out." He muses, "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). Not only is there an amusing pun in this verse, there is an unanswered question: Why do two neighbors need a wall between them when they seem to have no differences, or a need for a wall. This is a classic example of unexamined tradition, and the danger it can create. Most fences exist because there have "always" been fences there, or because each neighbor feels the need to mark out his territory, the way it has always been done. Rather than question the need, and examine the tradition, the fence is simply built, and the damage is done.
Clearly, Frost would rather enjoy his neighbor without the confines of a fence or wall, but his neighbor has succumbed to the dangers of unexamined tradition, and has created not only a wall through his property, but also a wall between himself and the narrator that will probably never be "mended." Frost writes, "He is all pine and I am apple orchard. / My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. / He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours'" (Frost). "Good fences make good neighbours," but do they? Frost wonders why, and so does the reader. Why is it so imperative to wall in your territory? It has been done for thousands of years, mostly to protect the inhabitants from invaders and marauders. However, today, fences are not so necessary, and so it is no wonder Frost questions the need of a wall and how a wall makes a better neighbor than open space with no boundaries. He says, "Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder / If I could put a notion in his head: / 'Why do they make good neighbours?' Isn't it / Where there are cows? But here there are no cows" (Frost). This is amusing, but the fact remains, the wall is something that comes between the two men, and it does not have to be there, it is simply an unexamined tradition that lingers on, and builds walls where there should only be openness and honesty.
The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" also examines the dangers of unexamined traditions, but Eliot's prose is far more lyrical than Frost's, and the meanings are buried much deeper in the verse. Frost's meaning is out in the open for all to see, just like the wall between the two men. Eliot's is much more difficult to discern, despite all the lyrical prose throughout the poem. He writes of his life, and its passing, "For I have known them all already, known them all: -- / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; / I know the voices dying with a dying fall / Beneath the music from a farther room. / So how should I presume?" (Eliot). The lyricism here is beautiful, even if the message is much darker than Frost's. Eliot is writing of the end of life, and all the many things that pass a person by. He notes, "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me. / I have seen them riding seaward on the waves / Combing the white hair of the waves blown back / When the wind blows the water white and black. / We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown" (Eliot). The unexamined traditions in his poem are many, because as one ages, one tends to look back on life with a different view, wondering what could have been done differently, and how it would have affected life and love. He muses, "And would it have been worth it, after all, / After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, / Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, / Would it have been worth while, / To have bitten off the matter with a smile, / To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question, / To say: 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all' -- (Eliot). We live our very lives because of unexamined traditions and societal constraints, and it is not until we age that these constraints seem to be unnecessary and ridiculous. We do what we are supposed to do, because that is what others do, and so, our lives become meaningless and uneventful, just like the meaningless wall between two neighbors who do not need it.
Both works illustrate just how dangerous unexamined traditions can be. They can choke out the life in a person, and create a being that does not enjoy life or question it, but only lives according to the societal rules that bind us all. Is it so terrible to examine a tradition before blindly bowing to its' will? Frost's narrator would have been much happier if he and his neighbor could have come to some other solution regarding the wall, and Eliot's Prufrock would have been much happier if he had not lived so much under the thumb of propriety. It is easy to look back at mistakes one has made, but far more difficult to confront them head on at the time they occur. Why did Frost simply accept the wall, why didn't he let it crumble and fall to dust? Because it was an unexplained tradition, and he felt bound by the tradition. Why didn't Prufrock say what he really meant, instead of bowing to convention? Because he was following the unexplained tradition in society of not "rocking the boat," and it cost him a dear part of his life.
Neither of these works is saying that tradition is bad. There are many traditions that we follow daily that make our lives easier and more pleasurable. For example, we follow the tradition of marrying and raising families in our society, and normally, we marry for love. This is not a bad tradition, but it can turn bad if we follow it not because we want to, but because we feel we must. This is the underlying theme of both these works. Tradition is a good thing, but we, as responsible adults, should understand when to question it, and when to accept it.
Questioning tradition is something that change and invention have thrived on for centuries. Martin Luther questioned the Catholic Church's tradition, and created a new form of religious thought. Michelangelo questioned artistic tradition, and became one of the world's greatest artists and architects. Galileo questioned scientific tradition, and discovered the solar system. Certainly, each man suffered because he broke with tradition. Martin Luther was excommunicated and jailed, Michelangelo was not monetarily successful, and Galileo was called a mad heretic. One must wonder how Frost's narrator and Eliot's Prufrock would have suffered if they had taken a stand against the unexamined traditions in their lives. Perhaps the narrator would not have continued in a friendly relationship with his neighbor. On the other hand, perhaps his neighbor could have finally understood that they did not need a fence to build a successful relationship. Perhaps Prufrock would not have had so many obvious regrets at the end of his life, and would not feel he had already "drowned" when he was still alive on the beach.
Each of these pieces would have created different reactions in the reader if the authors had used different styles. Frost's style is lyrical…[continue]
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