The wall at the bottom of the garden of Phyllis and Dr. Grove’s house symbolizes the societal and familial restrictions that keep Phyllis and Matthäus Tina from a life of happiness together. The lovers are kept from each other because of their differences in social class and because of Phyllis’s respectable, if unusually drawn-out, engagement to Humphrey. Though these barriers are intangible, they are made concrete by the garden wall, which stands between them every time they see each other, except on the night of their escape. Until that night, physical contact between the lovers only happens when Tina presses Phyllis’s hand—an act made riskier by the possibility of someone seeing Matthäus Tina’s shadow against the wall.
When Phyllis’s father, wary of Phyllis’s trysts with the German soldier, commands her never to venture past the garden wall without his permission, the wall becomes a symbol of his control over her. It’s no longer simply a wall between two fields—it’s now the wall that imprisons Phyllis and keeps her from reaching what her heart desires.
However, Hardy implies that the garden wall is perhaps not as sturdy as it might appear—it is built out of rubble without any mortar holding it together, and has many small nooks for Phyllis’s toes to grip as she climbs it. Its fragility and its ability to be climbed suggest that the societal and familial restrictions it symbolizes are similarly fragile, and not altogether insurmountable.
The Garden Wall Quotes in The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion
Ever since her childhood it had been Phyllis’s pleasure to clamber up this fence and sit on the top—a feat not so difficult as it may seem, the walls in this district being built of rubble, without mortar, so that there were plenty of crevices for small toes.
The stone wall of necessity made anything like intimacy difficult; and he had never ventured to come, or to ask to come, inside the garden, so that all their conversation had been overtly conducted across this boundary.
The spot at the bottom of the garden where she had been accustomed to climb the wall to meet Matthäus, was the only inch of English ground in which she took any interest; and in spite of the disagreeable haze prevailing she walked out there till she reached the well-known corner. […] She observed that her frequent visits to this corner had quite trodden down the grass in the angle of the wall, and left marks of garden soil on the stepping-stones by which she had mounted to look over the top. Seldom having gone there till dusk, she had not considered that her traces might be visible by day.