"Out, Out" by Robert Frost:  How is this poem an example of narrative poetry? How do you feel about the last lines?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This poem is a narrative poem because it tells a story. Narrative poetry can also contain a plot, refer to different characters, and even involve dialogues. The characters in this poem are the boy, the sister, the family ("they") and the doctor. "Out, Out--" tells the story of a boy working with a buzz saw. The speaker of the poem (and presumably the boy) wishes the family would "Call it a day" and let the boy stop working so that he can play. The boy's sister calls him for supper and in a tragic turn of events, the boy's hand is cut off by the buzz saw and he eventually dies. In addition to the characters mentioned, the buzz saw is personified and made to seem like a character itself. 

As the boy's hand is cut, the speaker says the saw "Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap-- / He must have given the hand. However it was, / Neither refused the meeting." Frost makes the saw a personified character for a purpose. He wants to propose a question to the reader: was this a random act of nature, is it part of God's plan, or is there even something inherently evil or indifferent in nature? Personifying the buzz saw complicates this question and makes it seem like nature (the random act of the buzz saw) is possibly alive and/or sentient. That is, it suggests that in some way the buzz saw (nature or technology) acted upon the boy. 

The other possibility is that Frost personifies the saw because this is one of the ways we make sense of the world. It is certainly one of the ways we make sense of a tragedy. When an accident happens, and there is no "one" to blame, the tragedy is even more difficult to handle. So, we might direct our emotions at some "thing" to release anger and grief.

This poem tells a story, but it also proposes a lot of question about how people deal with a tragic event. Do we, or should we, personify nature and/or inanimate things in order to make sense of things? Note that in the final two lines, the boy's family seems to react with no feeling. They just "turned to their affairs." Perhaps, since they can not make sense of this accident, they simply go on with their lives.

Again, the poem poses even more questions. What is the proper way to grieve? Should they wail and cry or move on? What is the balance? This is a narrative poem that tells a story, but the unique thing is how it supposes all of these questions about nature, life, and grief. 

The title of this poem comes from a speech by Macbeth in which he considers that life is meaningless. In this poem, the speaker questions the ways we think about nature, death, technology, and grieving. In considering these questions, the speaker implores the reader to think about whether a tragedy such as this is meaningless or not. He also implores the reader to consider how we give meaning to things. What does the boy's death mean? How should his family react? Does personifying the buzz saw help make sense of it all? Does making the event into a story help us to understand it? 

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