The Meaning of Robert Frost’s Poem “Out, Out–”

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The participation of children in labor activities in order to help their families survive was a common situation for American society in the 1910s. In his poem “Out, Out–” that was published in 1916, Robert Frost draws the readers’ attention to this aspect while telling a story about a young boy who cut his hand while working with a buzz saw and died because of the blood loss (Frost 372).

This tragic situation is described by Frost with the emphasis on such important themes as the shortness of the people’s lives, the human indifference in relation to the other people’s death, and the cruelty of situations that constrain both adults and children in their fight for the survival. In “Out, Out–,” Robert Frost focuses on the people’s impossibility to act freely, to address hardships, and to prevent the tragedy as a result of which the death of a child becomes the accentuation of the life’s brevity and worthlessness under certain circumstances; and to emphasize this meaning, the poet uses allusion, imagery, onomatopoeia, personification, and alliteration.

The author aims to catch the reader’s attention not only with the help of the first words of the poem but also with the help of the poem’s title. Frost puts the title “Out, Out–” in the quotation marks, and it seems to refer the reader to the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth. This allusion is important to explain the author’s approach to the discussed tragedy. Thus, Frost seems to accentuate the fragility of human life and the unavoidability of death. Furthermore, the context of the poem allows focusing on the allusion one more time, when it becomes obvious that the death of the boy is not only a twist of fate, but it is a result of the strange social situation when children need to work equally to adults.

In order to discuss the death of a young boy as an illustration of the social life’s abnormality in the United States during the 1910s, Frost chooses the role of a narrator who describes the accident objectively and in detail. In addition to the allusion in the poem’s title, the setting of the story is also vividly depicted while using such literary devices and techniques as personification and alliteration, among others. In the first line of the poem, Frost introduces the buzz saw that is presented as a human being because it “snarled and rattled in the yard” (Frost 372). The effect is strengthened in the fifteenth and sixteenth lines of the poem, where the saw is depicted as an evil enemy that seemed to know “what supper meant” and “leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap” (Frost 372).

This personification is important to accentuate the inability of a young boy to oppose the hazardous machine and the oddity of the overall situation when children need to work with adults. Alliteration and the repetition of words, as it is in the seventh line of the poem, “And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,” produce the onomatopoeia effect (Frost 372). Thus, along with personifying the saw, Frost contributes to creating the unique image of this ‘monster’ while using onomatopoeia.

To describe the environments in which people have to work, Frost also uses alliteration. Therefore, the readers can observe the people working with the “sweet-scented stuff,” and their eyes “could count” mountains of Vermont (Frost 372).

However, the reality is that these workers had no chances or moments to look at each other in order to prevent tragedy. From this point, in his poem, Frost aims to state that innocent children should not work all day long as adults, and they can be protected from such tragedies “when saved from work” (Frost 372). Thus, in spite of being a “big boy” and “doing a man’s work,” this boy is only “a child at heart” who needs to be secured from such risks (Frost 372). Making the reader sympathize and focus on the boy’s fate, Frost still concludes that there are no choices for the adults who “turned to their affairs” because they “were not the one dead” (Frost 372). The accentuated detachment of the adults and their indifference seems to help concentrate on dramatism of the depicted accident.

Frost’s “Out, Out–” can be discussed as a poem that can shock a reader because of the topic of a child’s tragic death. However, the overall meaning of the poem is broader because the author tries to attract the readers’ attention to the problematic situation in the American society in the 1910s and to make them think about the causes that lead many parents to send their children to work. In order to accentuate the tragedy of the accident, Frost uses vivid imagery, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration in order to present the buzz saw that caused the boy’s death as an evil being that was not sympathetic to children and their needs. In this context, adults surrounding the boy during the last minutes of his life are also less sympathetic than it is expected because they are completely constrained by the life circumstances.

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “Out, Out–”. Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. Joseph Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 2015. 372. Print.