Band 6 Robert Frost + David Sadaris

                It is often assumed that the act of discovery is inherently a planned experience of learning. However, [the most significant] discoveries can be unplanned and unexpected, teaching vital lessons in life through epiphanies and encounters. The poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost assumes the nature of a planned encounter with a neighbour, but through the steadfast insistence of barriers, the persona acknowledges the selfish, possessive human condition. Likewise in After Apple Picking by Frost, we come to acknowledge the unexpected moment of rejecting planned achievements and goals inherent to human life. Finally, David Sedaris’ short story The Youth in Asia allows us to explore the assumption that whilst death maybe penultimate, it still instructs us through emotional and intellectual encounters with mortality. Thus, through the study of the three texts in conjunction, we come to a greater understanding of how texts can challenge assumptions of discovery to catalyse those less profound and unexpected.

Both Mending Wall and Apple Picking create their didactic experiences through challenging responders to acknowledge unplanned discoveries of the human condition. The poem Mending Wall by Frost encapsulates both the realisation of human condition for a possessive and selfish nature, inviting the responder to make their own discovery through introspection of their own ‘walls’ and ‘barriers’. This challenge to the orthodox is presented through the analogy of erecting a boundary fence with a neighbour – ‘Good fences make good neighbours.”  The repetitive rhetoric invites the responders to consider a ‘norm’ which is often followed blindly and without rationality. Instead the persona achieves the epiphany that his neighbour’s hostility is as “Bringing a stone… like an old-stone savage armed”, “he moves in darkness as it seems to me”. The deliberate implication of ‘old-stone savage’ implies the lack of sophistication and the wilful ignorance of suppressing the unfamiliar, which symbolically leaves individual “in darkness”. It demonstrates the difficulty of changing another, and the barriers that often prevent significant discoveries. Similarly, After Apple Picking is a poem that draws upon the often inadvertent discoveries through encapsulating the spiritual and intellectual acknowledgment of life and death. The symbolism of apple represents a number of life orientated goals, including the acquisition of knowledge, wealth, or achievements. Yet, the tone of the persona is one of frustration and self-regret, as he discovers the futility of this repetitive act, “For I have had too much…Of apple-picking: I am overtired…Of the great harvest I myself desired”.  As a result of this epiphany, the persona instead reflects upon the goals he had accomplished rather than the opportunities he missed. “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.” Here, the metaphorical apples become objectives met, actions done, and goals conceived. Therefore, his earlier epiphany serves as a catalyst towards enabling the persona to acknowledge an emotional and intellectual sensew of accomplishment rather than the assumption of dejection.

The Youth in Asia is an autobiographical short story by David Sedaris which explores the difficult growth to experience, as the protagonist unwittingly discovers the meaning of death and its impact through challenging his initial naivety and flippant attitude towards the passing of his pets. This is apparent in the statement “Eulogies tended to be brief, our motto being another day, another collar“, where the use of repetition creates a the wilful ignorance of the author’s negligence and innocence towards the notion of mortality. Subsequently however, as a young adult, the author bears witnesses to anecdotal scenes in which he becomes exposed to the grief exhibited by his parents at the passing of their pets, “[Father] was holding her paw when she died…whilst our mother… relived memories of her own”. The author is further instructed by Death when his own cat Neil, a rescue stray whom had been his ‘steadfast friend’ and ‘champion’ in loneliness, was euthanised. For the first time, Sedaris acknowledges how deeply the death of a loved one can impact and change your world. Hyperboles such as “Neil’s death struck me as the end of an era,” highlighted the emotional and spiritual shockwaves that are sent out by such an event.  It was a moment in which Sedaris acknowledges as the loss of his innocence where “Neil had left in his carrier believing he would return… and I had rewarded him with death.” In the wake of this discovery, Sedaris’ life and his new perspectives of death challenges the responder to look beyond the assumption that discoveries are a planned experience, and to acknowledge the vital lessons from unexpected epiphanies and encounters.

The insights made by both Frost and Sedaris inherently lead us to a state of discovering ourselves, where their experiences of the human condition challenges that of popular belief and expectations towards the acceptance of death and the loss of loved ones. Frost’s poems are therefore highly instructive in providing responders with unexpected discoveries that allow them to make their own inroads. Both Mending Wall and After Apple Picking uses their symbolic motifs as extended metaphors that resonate and lead us to the discovery that we must free ourselves from self-imposed boundaries. Frost positions us to challenge the orthodox, and make our own discoveries both intellectual and philosophical means through rhetorical questions such as ‘Why do they make good neighbours?, as well as create analogies that allow us to re-discover and examine our lives- “For all that struck the earth …Went surely to the cider-apple heap…As of no worth” in order to satisfy the continued growth of the human condition. Likewise, death is a harsh instructor of life’s ambiguous morals in Sedaris’ autobiographic tale. The anecdote is drawn from Melina, a Great Dane ‘raised by the hand’ of his parents, surviving his mother’s death. The obstacle to discovery was his father’s inability to let the dog go in her old age, for “my father and Melina had each other all to themselves… and celebrated anniversaries, regularly renewed their vows”. Yet, Sedaris implores his father, armed with the experiences of euthanizing Neil, as depicted through excerpts such as “He begged him to end her life,” but it was “too hard” for his father. Thus, Sedaris instructs his father that “it is required,” and that we cannot selfishly keep the life of a suffering pet for the pleasure and peace of our own sentimentality, which challenges the assumption that discoveries are only catalysed by our willingness to seek them. In the end, both Sedaris and his father face the reality that despite its frightening nature, death was a necessary mercy for their beloved animals.

Henceforth, through exploring the expressions of the human condition that Robert Frost’s Poems Mending Wall and After Apple Picking encapsulate, as well as the Short Story The Youth in Asia by David Sedaris who draws upon the difficulty of growth to lead to a discovery, we come to a greater understanding of how texts can challenge assumptions of discovery to catalyse those that are less profound and unexpected.


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