In Oscar Wilde’s 1888 tale “The Selfish Giant,” a giant returns to his castle to find children playing in his garden. Angry, he declares, “‘My own garden is my own garden…any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.’” Then “he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board: Trespassers will be prosecuted.” The beautiful garden withers within the exclusionary boundary.
In Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” published in 1914, the neighbor announces, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The speaker wonders at his neighbor’s notion: “Why,” he wants to know. What are they “walling in or walling out,/ And to whom I was like to give offence.” He watches his neighbor “move in darkness…/ Not of woods only and the shade of trees.” Frost is telling us there is something more sinister here in his neighbor’s ideology, not a cow to contain, but only pine on one side and orchard the other. But the neighbor feels he must uphold “his father’s saying.” Many readers remember this famous line, but misunderstand it without the context of the warning Frost issues about unchallenged and divisive traditions.
Among Donald Trump’s hostile 2016 campaign promises is a plan to build a wall on the United States/Mexican border. Meanwhile, a recent study published in PS: Political Science and Politics illustrates how literature can impact readers’ political leanings. The study found that “Harry Potter readers are more likely to dislike Donald Trump…even after controlling for party affiliation, age, gender, education, evangelical identification and social dominance orientation.” Readers of Wilde and Frost are offered further insight into the implications of barrier-building, in addition to the lessons world history has offered us.
This edition of fairy-tale files brought to you by Grey Issue contributor Ashley Hudson.