“Out, Out” is a poem by Robert Frost about a tragic event. Frost conveys the theme of his poem in the form of a story: a boy is working with a buzz saw, when he cuts his hand off with it when his sister calls him for supper. The loss of blood results in his unexpected death, and his family returns to their daily lives. The tragic event shows the boy’s sudden and premature loss of innocence, While narrating the story, the speaker implies that he sees the boy’s work as inhumane, especially with the buzz saw.
Robert Frost critiques society in its way of caring only for their work by objectifying the boy’s life. Frost uses symbolism and other poetic techniques, like the boy’s hand representing his innocence to convey the theme of his poem, he also foreshadows the boy’s death, and makes the mood throughout the poem shift to a comfortable mood to show us his theme.
Robert Frost shows the boy’s innocence through his poetic techniques. He first uses lyrical imagery: “Sweet scented . . . /breeze . . . /sunset” (3-6). These are all pleasant and tranquil images, which establish the boy’s innocence.
The speaker says “and nothing happened” (9) which gives us the sense of a timeless, continuous state, which we can also relate to the boy’s innocence since when you are an innocent child, nothing ever really happens, or at least you don’t realize it. Frost also directly tells the readers he wants them to perceive the boy as innocent through the words: “though a child at heart” (24). Frost makes use of the boy’s hand to represent the boy’s whole childhood and innocence. He uses foreshadowing to describe the setting of the poem: rural Vermont. “Five mountain ranges one behind the other” (5) might be perceived as the fingers on the boy’s hands.
We can make the assumption that something might happen to the boy’s hand. The speaker foreshadows the accident also when he says: “Call it a day, I wish they might have said” (10), this makes the reader wonder why he wishes that and we get the sense that something will happen. The speaker also foreshadows through the words: “And nothing happened” (9). This is a timeless state, the reader feels as if something will happen later on.
When the saw cuts the boy’s hand off, the speaker says “He saw all was spoiled” (25), the boy sees that his hand can never be recovered, but also that his innocence is spoiled nd he can never regain it, even if he does live through this traumatic and life-changing experience. The speaker also foreshadows the death of the boy when he says: “The doctor put him in the dark of ether”, the “dark of ether” representing death. The boy’s accident and death show that he lost his innocence too soon and too rapidly. The way the boy dies by a machine is a very important part of this poem. The saw is a symbolic part of the poem since it prematurely interrupts the boy’s innocence, and forces the boy’s loss of innocence onto him, like the work is being forced onto him.
The speaker personifies the buzz saw and makes it appear as a vicious animal through the words “snarled and rattled” (1). He chooses to have the buzz saw cut off the boy’s hand since it is a man-made machine; it never stops working, unlike humans, especially children. The “snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled” (9) shows a continuous and repetitive state, which can be contrasted to human fatigue. The machine does not need to stop; it can go on forever, whilst the boy needs a pause. This shows how dangerous the saw is, especially for a boy to be working with, but also how unfair it is for the boy to work these long hours with the saw.
The speaker shows his feelings of regret towards the boy’s death throughout the poem. He first uses the past conditional to express the feelings of regret he has towards the boy’s accident: “Call it a day, I wish they might have said /To please the boy by giving him the half hour” (10-11). This is the one use of “I” in the poem, which makes the line stand out more and have a greater impact on the reader. He also shows us his regret through the boy: when the saw cuts his hand off, his first reaction was a “rueful laugh” (19), but also with “Don’t let him cut my hand off” (25): the boy is regretting having ever worked too long with the saw.
The speaker almost gives the saw a mind of its own through personification and puts some of the blame for the accident on the saw, which can be shown with: “Leaped out at the boy’s hand” (16). The speaker also blames the boy’s employers or parents (“they”) for it is them that forced him into working long hours in the first place, with no pause, which is shown by the only speaker’s interjection. Frost does not want the blame to go on the boy because he regrets the accident. Robert Frost’s negative feelings towards making children work are clear throughout the poem.
The speaker focuses on the boy’s innocent state to show how unfair child labor can force them into losing their innocence. The speaker shows us he does not agree with the way the child works: “Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart” (24), which also shows us the boy is a teenager or almost one. Frost chooses for the boy to be in his teenage years to help us make the connection between his hand and the loss of innocence because that age is when people mature, and surely enough, end up losing their innocence.
The speaker implies, through the boy’s death, that children should be excused from difficult labor until they have reached a certain level of maturity to endure the physical and mental stress that goes along with the hard work. Robert Frost blames the boy’s loss of innocence on both the saw, and the boy’s parents or employers. When the boy “lay and puffed his lips out with his breath” (29), it’s almost as if the boy’s innocence is slowly draining, as he is dying. Throughout the poem, the tone and the mood shift and lead us through a series of emotions. The overall tone of this poem is bleak or sad.
The first lines already give the readers a sense of unease with the snarling of the buzz saw, but the imagery in the following lines creates a comfortable and pleasant mood. The mood gets more and more dramatic and intense as the poem continues: “But the hand! . . . /outcry . . . /life from spilling . . . /Don’t let him sister! ” (18-19-22-26). The speaker suddenly ends the intensification of the mood with “So. ” (27). The rest of the poem speaks in an inhumane, unsympathetic, and emotionally detached way, as if the boy’s family were indifferent to his death: “and that ended it.
No more to build on there” (32-33). The use of the word “build” is important, as it shows how some humans behave like unemotional machines. Frost is critiquing society’s machine-like work tendencies and its values. The detachment in these last eight lines is the speaker objectifying the boy’s unfair life in an inhumane way. The boy’s life is objectified through the words: “that ended it”, the complete lack of emotion through this phrase is shown since the speaker, through the point of view of the boy’s family, calls the boy’s precious life “it”.
The boy’s parents return to their daily work lives after their son’s death: “since they /Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” (33-34), which shows the boy’s family cares only about their work, as if they were completely indifferent to the passing of their son. From this, we yet again get the sense that they are responsible for the boy’s death, since they only want him to work. We get the impression that the boy has no sentimental value; he is only useful for his work, like a machine. Robert Frost laments society’s priorities; he is, again, criticizing society: its lack of care for human life and wanting people to act like machines.
Robert Frost conveys the theme of his poem through the boy’s innocent state and how he lost it, the foreshadowing and feelings of regret he has for the boy’s death and the shift in moods of the poem. Frost’s main theme of the poem is the loss of innocence, which he also shows with the metaphor “to keep the life from spilling” (21-22), which means he is trying to keep the blood from spilling, but also to try to maintain his innocence. The loss of innocence is inevitable, but it being forced onto children is why Frost critiquing our society.
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