Analysis

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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.

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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.

The Poem

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Robert Frost’s “‘Out, Out—’” describes a farm accident that unexpectedly and irrationally costs a young boy his life. The narrator of the poem sets the scene, seemingly from an outsider’s perspective, reporting the incident with objectivity and restraint. Yet, as the narrative advances, underlying emotions and tensions surface as the persona builds to the poem’s conclusion: the seemingly senseless, abrupt ending of the boy’s life, followed by his family’s subsequent return to their daily routines.

The first nine lines of the poem set the scene: the “snarl” of the saw and the “sweet-scented” smell of the wood as it is cut into “stove-length sticks.” Beyond the farm, the late afternoon sun settles over “five mountain ranges” extending “far into Vermont.” It has been an ordinary day on an ordinary farm, despite the exceptional beauty of its location: “And nothing happened: day was all but done.” This section concludes with its foreboding note, its hint not just of nature’s majesty but also its fearful possibilities for disrupting everyday life.

In the next nine lines of the poem, both the narrator and the boy sawing the wood are...

(The entire section contains 1720 words.)

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