Death of the Hired Man

by Robert Frost

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Robert Frost's poem “Death of the Hired Man” opens as Mary, a loving wife, awaits the arrival of her husband, Warren. In the first stanza, she eagerly and discreetly greets her husband so that she can share a piece of important information: Silas, their hired hand, has returned. Mary is careful to explain the circumstances of Silas’s return to her husband, expecting her husband to oppose the man’s return. She kindly removes the packages from her husband’s hands and draws him near her on the porch steps where they discuss Silas’s homecoming.

Once seated on the steps, Mary and Warren begin the civil but earnest debate about whether to allow Silas to return to their employ. Warren, who harbors no hard feelings toward Silas, is against allowing him to return. He recounts his interactions with Silas, noting that he has always treated him kindly and humanely. He reminds his wife of Silas’s advancing age and his overall unreliability. Still, he relates, Silas repeatedly chose to leave his employ at the peak of harvest. He complains that others were more capable of paying Silas’s wages and that Silas left, again and again, to work for these employers, leaving him (Warren) unaided when he most needed assistance. Then, during the winter, when his labors are no longer needed, he returns to Warren and Mary, in need of sustenance and shelter. He always promises that he will help Warren make improvements on the land, and then he fails to keep his word. Warren insists that he will not allow this cycle to continue and he adamantly informs Mary that Silas cannot stay.

As Warren’s passion rises, his voice apparently grows louder and Mary asks him to speak softly so that he will not offend Silas. Warren declares that he is determined that Silas should hear him, since he intends to tell him shortly that he must go. Mary delicately asks her husband to reconsider, explaining that Silas appears to be broken in body and spirit. She describes his weakened and wearied condition and pleads with her husband to show him mercy. She explained to her husband that Silas’s speech was confused and incoherent. He spoke to her, she said, of the young man who worked with him during the summer months. She said that his speech was difficult to follow and that she was very afraid that he was unwell.

Mary appeals to Warren’s sympathy, explaining that Silas returned to them because he feels most at home with them. Warren suggests that Silas petition his brother, who is very wealthy, to provide him with a home and necessities. Mary reminds him that Silas never speaks of his brother. Moreover, she tells Warren that a home is a “place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” She also argues that home is “something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” With this assertion regarding home as a place of belonging, she convinces her husband to allow Silas to remain. Warren, finally convinced of the need to assist his old friend, enters the house to share the news with Silas. He quickly returns, disclosing Silas’s condition to Mary: he has died.

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