Please answer these questions about "Out, Out-" by Robert Frost.
1) How does the allusion in the title of this poem help to establish the subject matter and tone?
2) What characteristics are given to the buzz saw to make it seem threatening?
3) Why does the narrator include the reference to the 'Five mountain ranges'? (line 5)
4) How does the poet evoke the repetitive nature of the day's work?
5) Comment on the way the narrator reports the details of the accident itself. What actually happened?
6) What is the narrator's attitude to the death of the boy?
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I have answered each of your questions below, and for your convenience I have included the questions in order.
The allusion in the title of this poem is an allusion to Macbeth by William Shakespeare, and it specifically refers to a famous nervous breakdown by Lady Macbeth. In the play, Lady Macbeth is an ambitious woman who convinces her husband to kill the king so that he may be king, and she may be queen. She masterminds the whole thing, down to helping him carry away the dagger he uses to kill the king. Later, she imagines that she can’t wash the blood off her hands. She says a famous soliloquy.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say! (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1)
When she says “out,” she is referring to the blood, which is a reference to the blood the farm boy sees when his arm is cut off. Frost seems to be implying either the hubris of the boy, or of mankind, in expecting to tame nature. If they had only given him the half an hour, as Frost reminds us, and stopped thirty minutes earlier, the boy would still be alive. Thus the poem begins with this tone from the outset, reminding the reader of the Macbeths, and Lady Macbeth’s pain and mistakes, to let us know that the people on the farm are not innocent victims here. They made mistakes, and they let their boy die.
The characteristics given to the buzz saw to make it seem threatening are that it “snarled and rattled” like some kind of frightening animal. It is described as being powerful, and not at all friendly. It is dangerous and cruel, and a force to be reckoned with. After all, it is so strong that it made dust of and “dropped stove-length sticks of wood.” That is quite a beast! Frost begins the poem with this description of the saw to let the reader know that the saw is dangerous and deadly.
The narrator includes the reference to the 'Five mountain ranges' in line 5 to demonstrate the aspect of wilderness and country. Frost loved New England, and he specifically names Vermont in this poem to give it a sense of place. It is rural and isolated. There is a sense of peace to this description that contrasts significantly with the description of the saw. It could also mean that the boy is getting distracted, looking at the mountains instead of his work. This line could foreshadow his insignificance. Mountains last forever. The boy, and the farm, will be there only a short time.
The poet evokes the repetitive nature of the day's work by repeating the words “snarled and rattled,” demonstrating that this is all the boy heard all day and day in, day out as long as he worked on the saw. The saw makes the same sound over and over. It is easy to get distracted with repetitive work, and it is easy to get careless when one is distracted. This is especially true near the end of the day, even when the work is dangerous. This is another reason a boy should not be doing dangerous work, and the narrator laments that they should have let him off a half an hour early.
The narrator reports the details of the accident itself figuratively.
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—
He must have given the hand.
What actually happened is that when the boy heard the word “supper” he dropped the saw and cut his hand off, and then he bled to death faster than they could get a doctor for him. The boy is surprised, like he does not understand what is happening to him because it happened so fast. Everyone seems to be in shock. The doctor can only knock him out with ether so he does not feel the pain. From then, they go on with their lives because there is nothing else they can do.
The narrator's attitude to the death of the boy seems nonchalant and uncaring. He says the watchers “since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs,” which implies that they just went on with their lives. The truth is that farm accidents were all too common, and as for people bystanding, there really was nothing they could do for the boy, but they probably would help the family in little ways they could.
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