What is the theme of the poem "Out, Out" by Robert Frost? 

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Out, out" is a moderately complex poem based on a true life event. In 1915, a neighbors' son's hand was severed by a buzz saw.  

There are several themes at work in this thirty-nine line poem. The first is the theme of danger. The poem begins, "The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard." "Snarling" is personifying the saw, making it, from the get-go, appear menacing and dangerous.  

A few lines down, the saw seems to have gained an even stronger dark power. As the boy's sister calls him to supper, 

... the saw,

As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,

Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—

This leads into the second major theme of the poem, that of a child being forced to do the work of a man. The speaker seems to feel pity for the boy, 

I wish they might have said

To please the boy by giving him the half hour

That a boy counts so much when saved from work.

But he is not allowed even a half hour of childish leisure. Then there are the very troubling lines that the boy may have deliberately hurt himself as 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.

The third theme is that of emotional distance. The coldness of the family may be a result of having to focus on basic survival. Or perhaps, as many children did not survive childhood in harsh, rural, and poor New England, they never allowed themselves the luxury of forming deep bonds. Whatever the reason, the short shrift they give to the horrific accident is chilling. 

And they, since they
were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.