Out, Out— Questions and Answers
by Robert Frost

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How does Robert Frost create a sense of horror in the poem "Out, Out—"?  

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Robert Frost's poem "Out, Out--" is the story of a young boy "Doing a man's work, though a child at heart--" (l. 24); the boy is using a saw to cut wood.  Frost creates a sense of foreboding from the beginning by describing how the saw "snarled and rattled" in line 1 and repeats that phrase twice in line 7.  He follows those cacophonous words with "And nothing happened" in line 9, foreshadowing to the reader that "something" must happen later in the poem.

Frost also uses personification when describing the saw to add to that sense of horror. When the boy's sister comes to tell him that it is suppertime, "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—" (ll. 14-16), cutting the boy's hand.  This personification indicates that the saw chose to cut the boy's hand instead of it being a tragic accident.  Added to the fact that it is a young boy instead of a man, the tragedy is even greater.  Frost emphasizes that tragedy at the end when the doctor is working to save his life: "They listened at his heart. / Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it" (ll. 31-32).  The use of the dashes adds to the anxiety of the reader who wants the boy to live.  But, in the end, there was "No more to build on there. And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs" (ll. 33-34).  The tragedy comes when no one even comments on the boy's death, but instead all turn to their affairs and continue as if nothing happened.

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