What are the themes of "Out, Out--" by Robert Frost?

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There are arguably several themes at work in this poem, but I think Frost's choice of title points us toward what he considers to be the most important. "Out, out --" is an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth—specifically to the moment in which Macbeth is lamenting his wife's death. She was too soon snuffed out, like a "brief candle." In this poem, similarly, the poet focuses upon the brevity and, indeed, the fragility of human life. The boy who is the subject of the poem is only a child; the candle of his existence has burned for less time than many, and yet, in the course of a day's work, one false move from the chainsaw has put an end to his life. This was a day like any other, and yet it has ended with the boy's death. Frost is reminding us that human life is susceptible to external attack and can be fragile.

The chainsaw itself symbolizes these external attackers. It is personified by Frost throughout the poem: it "snarled" and "rattled" toward the boy and seems to move toward him to meet his hand with its blades. The chainsaw, then, helps convey a theme of danger as it exists in the world, as if with a mind of its own. Danger can arise from places we least expect it, and we often cannot control it.

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"Out, Out--" by Robert Frost, a great American poet, is representative of his poems that use many figurative language elements to achieve its effect.  Based on a real event from Frost's life, the scene appears quite charming and innocent.  As in most of Frost's poetry. there is a lesson awaiting the reader.

Beginning with the title, Frost uses an allusion to the Shakespearean play Macbeth.  In learning of Lady Macbeth's premature death, Macbeth speaks:

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.

Frost does not include the title words in his poem; however, in the end, the reader understands the title choice.  The brief candle is the nameless, young boy who really wants to play and rest, yet he must finish his chores.  Once born into Frost's world, boys bear a great burden about which they must understand, and they must learn to stand on their own. 

When his hand is so deeply cut, the reader wonders what will happen.  Then in the third line from the end of the poem,  Frost cleverly gives the answer:

Little--less--nothing! And that ended it.

The boy's heart stops and death takes him. 

Frost sounds so hard and cruel.  However, he has guided the reader toward the theme of the poem.  The boy is dead; nothing else will happen to him; and his life is gone like the brief candle blown out by the wind.  Frost was not being callous, but neither was he maudlin in his reaction to the boy's death. 

The theme speaks to this idea: Death is inevitable, and the living must go on.  In a world where a child must work with a chainsaw and has no time to play, it would not be unusual for the living to return to their work without much sentimentality. Life moves on, and those left behind must find a way to continue on.

Another theme of lesser importance in this poem which Frost often employs in his poetry is the impact of nature. The subtlety of nature and its beauty in the description of the setting ironically leads the reader to believe that this is just a pastoral scene with a boy at work on the farm in the mountains. Yet, as the poem progresses, the sunset dims the light, the chainsaw comes to life, and grabs the boy's hand. The boy, distracted by his surroundings, loses his life in the seemingly harmless tableau. Sometimes, nature is not cruel but complacent in the events of the human world.

Frost draws the reader in, leads us down the path of simplicity, and then grabs the heart with his poem's intensity. 

And nothing happened; day was all but done.

Call it a day...

The boy saw all---

He saw all spoiled.

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