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What is the central idea of the poem "Out, Out-" by Robert Frost?

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raichurapratik | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2011 at 1:27 AM via web

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What is the central idea of the poem "Out, Out-" by Robert Frost?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:31 PM (Answer #1)

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“Out,Out—“ by Robert Frost is based on a real event.  When he was a teenager, Frost’s neighbor friend had his hand cut off in an accident.  This became the basis for this narrative poem.

 Another source for the poem comes from the Shakespearean play Macbeth. This allusion to Shakespeare gives the poem its title and is the primary theme of the play. The dialogue comes from Macbeth learning of the death of his wife when he speaks:

 “Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more:”

Shakespeare compares the Lady Macbeth’s short life to the burning of a candle. Further, he compares a person’s life to an actor who struggles while she lives, and then she dies.  In this poem, the main character has his life blown out like the candle.  He, too, dies and then is heard from no more.

The setting of the poem provides a deceptively, beautiful area.  It is Vermont at sunset.  In the background there are five mountain ranges.  This is not the setting for such a meaningless, tragic death. From the Bible in Psalm 121, the verse reads: I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help…” In this poem, no one can help the young boy who loses control of the tool that he was using and cuts off his own hand.

Death is also at the heart of the poem.  This boy is doing work that is too dangerous for him.   Using a buzz saw, which obviously is a man’s tool, creates a situation that should never have been allowed by whoever was in charge of him. As the end of the day comes, his sister comes out to tell everyone to come to supper. Apparently, the boy is momentarily surprised by her words, and the saw seems to leap up and grab the boy’s hand, literally nearly cutting it off.

At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand.

The boy knows that he is in danger of dying and tells his sister not to let them cut his hand off.  But he knows that it is too late. In his surgery and probably because of his blood loss, the boy’s heart stops. 

The ironic aspect of the reaction to the boy’s death again comes from Macbeth’s attitude toward the death without rage, tears, or crying.  This is the way the boy’s  family handles his death.  They are not the one who died, so they go on with their lives. His life “…signifying nothing”.

Another sad aspect of the poem pertains to the fact that so many things could have made the outcome different:

  • The boy should not have been using this dangerous tool.
  • Too bad that the boy was not allowed to quit a little earlier so that he could have played or just been like a young boy.
  • His sister should not have surprised him while he was using this tool.

This is a young boy pretending to be a man.

Frost indicts this situation for any boy and laments his poignant death.

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