What is the plot of "Out, Out" by Robert Frost?

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dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Frost's "OUT, OUT--" only one person is sawing wood:  the boy who ends up dying.  He is relatively alone and relatively unsupervised.  When the speaker writes:

And from there those that lifted eyes could count

Five mountain ranges one behind the other

Under the sunset far into Vermont....

he is establishing setting, not suggesting that there is a crowd in the yard, just as he is establishing setting when he describes the smell of the wood in the previous line:

Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.

The speaker doesn't write that people do lift their eyes and see the mountains, he just says that if people do, they see the mountains.  And if there are other people present, which there may be, they certainly aren't sawing wood:  there's only one saw, since the word is used in the singular.

Thus, the boy is sawing wood at least relatively unsupervised, and after he dies, the family:

...since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

The speaker uses understatement to describe the situation and the family's reaction, so the fact that the boy is sawing wood relatively alone is vital to the understanding of the poem.

The major points in the plot follow:

  1. The boy is sawing wood, uneventfully.
  2. The speaker wishes someone would have told the boy to stop early.
  3. His sister yells to him that it's time for supper, and at that moment the saw deeply cuts the boy's hand.
  4. The boy realizes the danger, being a "big boy/Doing a man's work," although he underestimates it.  He worries only that the doctor will have to cut off the hand.
  5. The doctor uses ether to put the boy to sleep, and the boy's heart stops and he dies.
  6. The family goes about their affairs.

The boy is "a child at heart," but he is doing a man's job on his own and the consequences are tragic.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is one of my least favorite poems of Frost's because of what happens.

The poem starts with a group of people sawing wood in their yard.  They are using an electric saw.  It is getting to be evening, the sun is setting.  Even so, they keep on working.

At one point, a girl comes out of the house to tell them men to come eat dinner.  Her brother is at the saw and when she speaks, he apparently stops paying attention to what he is doing.

The saw cuts his hand very badly.  A doctor comes.  They boy asks not to have his hand amputated.  The doctor gives him anesthesia and the boy dies.

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