Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Robert Frost comments on the brevity of life in his poem "Out, Out—" He puts forth the idea that life is an unpredictable journey that can be ended when we least expect it.

The poem focuses on a boy who is using a buzz saw to cut wood for the stove. As he works, his sister calls him for supper. Just then, the saw "Leaped out at the boy's hand." He begs his sister not to let the doctor cut off his hand but to no avail. She cannot control what must happen, and his hand has already been damaged. Sadly, the boy dies soon after the doctor places him under anesthesia. The others "since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs" and life continues.

Frost's poem is an homage to a young man he knew who had a similar accident and passed away soon after. The title is an allusion to a scene in William Shakespeare's Macbeth in which the title character reflects on the meaning of life. As he nears the end of his life, Macbeth thinks about how short human existence really is. He considers how people think they have control over the pathway they take, but in the end, everyone ends up the same way. Death, like life, truly is not in our control. Perhaps the allusion is Frost's way of dealing with such a tragic event and reminding people to make the most of life since it can be taken from us unexpectedly. In addition, Frost's characters return to their normal routines after the tragedy, perhaps underscoring the simple message that life continues, no matter what happens. As Macbeth says, everyone is "a poor player" in the game of life and the "brief candle" of existence is extinguished quickly.

Frost's use of technique should be noted when reading this poem. He skillfully personifies the saw, making it the villain and the boy the hero. The saw "snarled," "rattled," "ran," and "leaped." From these descriptions, the reader immediately senses something is about to go wrong. It is easier for us to blame the saw if it is personified since an inanimate object cannot have free will and therefore cannot cause such destruction. So, Frost's personification allows us to blame the villain for hurting the innocent victim.

Then, Frost includes the line "He must have given the hand" which seems out of place in the middle of the poem. This line can be important in two ways. First, since the saw is a villain, this line might be the saw's defense. We quickly dismiss the idea because there is no reason for the boy to sacrifice his hand. Second, however, the line foreshadows the ending of the poem when the boy gives his life rather than live without his hand. He is so distraught, that "the watcher at his pulse took fright," and his heart gives out.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access