This poem by Robert Frost is a wonderful poem to illustrate the power of allusion in literature. The title of the poem, "Out, Out --" is an allusion to a speech near the end of Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. In the play, Macbeth's wife has just died, and Macbeth is comparing her life and her death to that of a candle. The complete quote is "Out, out brief candle." Candles are a great metaphor for life because they burn bright when they are new, and should slowly extinguish themselves by the process of living (burning down). But, candles and the flame are also fragile and flickering. One strong wind or one quick act can extinguish the candle, just as one quick motion of the chainsaw can take off the boy's hand. As the boy bleeds to death, his brief life ends. Recognizing the allusion provides the reader with an immediate theme to read for in the poem.
This poem is about the routines of life on the farm, and how one careless moment, an accident even, can change everything. It is about how fragile life is: one minute he is excited for supper, and the next minute he is dead. The end of the poem, when everyone seems to just walk away from his dead body and return to normalcy is also important theme. There is nothing to do for the dead once they are dead. Life is for the living and life goes on for the living, even the face of a devastatingl oss. I don't think we are to read that they didn't care, but in that moment, they had to finish up for the day and do what had to be done. Another point about this poem is that a boy was doing some rather dangerous adult-type work. That perhaps suggests the theme of growing up too soon or it could be an illustration of the hard work of farm life. That last line of Macbeth's speech is that life is a "tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I think that that last idea is also something that Frost is trying to convey. The boy's life and death are hard realities, but what do they really mean to those left behind?