Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

Accidents Happen

One theme of this poem is that life is unpredictable and that accidents are simply a part of life. The speaker says that, when the major event of the poem occurs (the boy's hand being cut off), the "day was all but done." The men might have told...

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Accidents Happen

One theme of this poem is that life is unpredictable and that accidents are simply a part of life. The speaker says that, when the major event of the poem occurs (the boy's hand being cut off), the "day was all but done." The men might have told the boy to "Call it a day," giving him the last half hour of the day off, and the boy would have been made so happy by the gift of these few stolen moments free from work. Any small difference or change in the afternoon might have put the boy in a different place so that he was not there to hold the saw and be mortally wounded by it. No one could have predicted that such a horrific accident would occur, and the boy certainly had done nothing to deserve the accident that befell him. Put simply, accidents happen.

Life Goes On

Next, though the accident is quick and tragic and results in the boy's death, people move on relatively promptly afterward because life must go on. The speaker tells us that, in the end, the people who surround the boy when he dies "turned to their affairs" since "they / Were not the one dead." Though the person watching over the boy "took fright" when the boy takes his last breath—and they listen to his heart in disbelief that his young life should be snuffed out so quickly—they have responsibilities and tasks yet to be done. They did not die, and so they must continue to attend to the duties of life, whatever those duties may be for them personally. We see how life can and must move on after tragedy: witnessing tragedy does not suspend the responsibilities one has. The living must carry on after the dead are gone, and they do.

Life is Fragile

Finally, the poem conveys the idea that life is fragile and can be extinguished almost as quickly as a candle. The title refers to a line from Shakespeare's play Macbeth when the titular character compares life to a candle. In the poem, we see how quickly the young boy's life is ended, almost as quickly as blowing out a candle's flame. It's as though such a thing is insignificant because it can be cut off (or put out) so fast.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

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 narrator’s imagination and empathy versus his own report’s simple language, realistic detail, and blunt ending; the family’s seeming heartlessness versus their sense of responsibility for, and grief over, the boy’s death; nature’s glorious beauty versus its daily sordidness and cruelty; the boy’s solitary fate versus his family’s togetherness and ongoing communal activity; the New England “insiders’” acceptance of fate versus the narrator “outsider’s” more emotional response; the meaning of existence versus its utter insignificance; technological development as a necessary advance for humanity versus its unnaturalness and destructive potential. Frost’s poem gives no final answers to the issues it raises; despite the finality of the boy’s death, the poem remains open-ended, its many questions unanswered.

For Frost, the craft of writing a poem, like that of expertly cutting and stacking wood, creates order out of chaos. Faced with the perplexity of life, its many accidents, mysteries, deaths, and dramas, Frost uses language to give shape to important life issues and ask significant questions. Through words, he both draws near and distances the tragedies of life, orders nature’s constant disorder, and communicates the largely inarticulate and isolated nature of human existence. In “‘Out, Out—,’” Frost both embraces and cries out against the vicissitudes of life, as he does in the final words carved on his gravestone in Bennington, Vermont: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

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