Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Frost based his poem on an accident that had taken place six years before, which had taken the life of a sixteen-year-old boy, Raymond Fitzgerald, in nearby Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Frost focuses on this small event to suggest the larger themes of his poetry: the isolation of the individual, the mystery of human existence, the ambiguity of nature, and the need to create order and meaning out of chaos.

As in his poem “Design,” Frost in “‘Out, Out—’” asks whether the pattern of nature is an evil one or simply random, haphazard, and indifferent to human life. Is there a malignant force unleashed through the buzz saw and responsible for the boy’s death—or one as unheeding and unfeeling as the distant mountain range that forms a breathtaking backdrop to this human tragedy? Is the boy’s death simply an elemental fact of nature (as the family’s response to their son’s death suggests) or an aberrant tragedy to be pondered and dissected? Is the proper response the New Englanders’ verbal restraint and quiet resignation to fate or a more emotional outburst, a refusal to accept what does not make sense? Perhaps nature should not be blamed at all but, instead, humanity’s disruption of nature through the use of buzz saws and other technological developments.

As the narrative of the poem unravels, conflicts appear subtly between different perspectives on life: the boy’s desire to play versus the family’s insistence on work;...

(The entire section is 484 words.)