In "The Death of the Hired Man," how does Frost’s choice of words affect the tone?
The poem states the mood in the first line: "Mary sat musing..." The poem is not an intense examination of anything, but rather a gentle recollection of a gentle man who has come back to the only family he has even know, come home to die.
Mary pushes Warren out the door so that she can talk to him without Silas' hearing; this may not be necessary because he may be already have died, but it is necessary for us to watch the gentle Mary let Warren do his manly rant, and to watch Warren's essentially goodness bubble through his initial reaction. As the poem meanders on, Warren recalls the past times with Silas, often times in terms of nature images: finding water with a hazel prong, bundling hay exactly, working in the fields all suggest a naturalness that will end in the most natural of endings for Silas ---- death.
It leads to Warren's realization:
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.”
After a brief pause where Mary "catches" the moon in her lap, where she pulls on the morning glory strings, more images of nature, one of the central discussons come about the meaning of "home," one of the warmest words in the poem. Their two "definitions" come in a special order with Warren's the most "hostile" coming first, and Mary's more understanding following:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” “I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
Love, clearly the unspoken in the poem, is defined in terms of home, not the place ruled by obligation ("have to go ... have to take you in), but it terms of love ("haven't to deserve).
Through careful use of gentle nature language and images, Frost presents an elegant statement about the dignity of even the lowliest among us, and the wonderful compassion of two ordinary individuals who provide a "home" where this wounded soul can come home and die with dignity.
The tone of the poem is both somber and poignant as it relates in dramatic narrative form the final hours of Silas's life. Silas, Warren and Mary's former farm hand, has returned to the only home he has known, the place where he will die. The setting of the dramatic poem is one of darkness and quiet which is established through Frost's diction. In the opening stanza, Mary "muses" on the flame of an oil lamp. The passage to the front door is "darkened." She runs quietly "on tiptoe" to meet Warren when he comes home.
Frost's description of Silas brings poignancy to the poem. Having returned, Silas is "worn out" as he sleeps by Mary and Warren's stove after she had found him "huddled" against their barn door. Silas is so weak that Mary "dragged him to the house." Her description of Silas is tender and full of pity:
. . . he hurt my heart the way he lay
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair back.
He wouldn't let me put him on the lounge.
Frost's diction in describing the poem's dark setting and Silas's pitiful condition create the poem's serious and very sad tone.