illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

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How does Robert Frost's poetry reflect both the American dream and nightmare?

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One of my favorite Frost poems, "The Death of the Hired Man," seems to have been written with this question in mind :).  Early in the poem Warren is grousing about Silas' returning home to them:

“When was I ever anything but kind to him?/But I’ll not have the fellow back."

In the beginning, Silas is judged by the fact that he wandered off looking for a little pay,"Enough at least to buy tobacco with,/So he won't have to beg and be beholden." He is no longer productive, and it's unclear if he ever was, except for his ability to "build a load of hay." This is probably the American nightmare ... judging another in terms of their work, what they can DO, their cash value.

The best part of the poem is the transition that takes place in Warren as he comes to realize that Silas is a lot more than just a worker.  He's a complicated individual. Mary utters one of the most telling remarks int he poem: "He don't know why is isn't quite as good/As anyone." As things move on, Warren softens (after his initial "anger," was he ever anything but soft?)  When Mary says Silas' working days are over, it is Warren who remarks, "I'd not be in a hurry to say that." We have moved over to the best part of the American Dream, the community part.  Americans have traditionally had a strong sense of community, and even though there are too late for Silas, they do provide a "home" where he died loved.  

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In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost celebrates the American landscape, the beauty of nature that is found in New England, and all that it holds for people in search of the American dream.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep." (Frost) 

In his poem, The Vanishing Red, Frost writes about the death of the last Indian in America.  Technically, the poem is a statement about the white settlers who pushed the Native American off his land, and took possession.  In history, this is known as Manifest Destiny, belief that America had to expand her borders from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  This was done at the expense of the Native Indians who occupied this territory.  They were pushed, relocated or murdered off their land.

He is said to have been the last Red man
In Action. And the Miller is said to have laughed--
If you like to call such a sound a laugh.
But he gave no one else a laugher's license.
For he turned suddenly grave as if to say,
'Whose business,--if I take it on myself,
Whose business--but why talk round the barn?--
When it's just that I hold with getting a thing done with.'
You can't get back and see it as he saw it.
It's too long a story to go into now.
You'd have to have been there and lived it.
They you wouldn't have looked on it as just a matter
Of who began it between the two races." (Frost)

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