In Robert Frost's "Out, Out—", what does the family do now that the boy is dead?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the poem "Out, Out—" by Robert Frost, the poet describes a boy who is cutting lengths of wood for a stove with a buzz saw. He is surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Vermont and the sweet scent of the freshly cut wood as he works. He is doing a man's work, Frost points out, although he is still a child. When his sister calls him for supper, the saw slips, leaps out of the boy's control, and cuts his hand. When the doctor comes, he can do nothing but observe the boy's breathing and heartbeat stop.

The title is integral to understanding Frost's intention in writing the poem. It comes from Shakespeare's play Macbeth and is a comment on the ephemeral nature of life and the inevitability of death.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty place from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. 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. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This poem is based on the true incident of a 16-year-old boy who accidentally died under similar circumstances. Although Frost is of course sympathetic, at the same time he clarifies that the boy's family has no choice but to move on and continue to function after the boy's death. The final line says: "And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs." In other words, when they realize that the boy is dead but they are still alive, they go on about their business involving the everyday working of the farm and whatever else they normally do to survive. Why the boy was doing a man's work is not explained, but it is likely that since they are in a rural location there is a lot to do, and all the members of the family have to work hard to make ends meet.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial