Robert Frost’s “Out, Out”

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Robert Frost’s “Out, Out”

Robert Frost’s poem, “Out, Out,” appears to be solidly grounded in reality, negating the need for delving further into its meaning; however, by doing so, it is possible to extract additional themes and interpretations. Frost used a real life event as direct inspiration for this poem and his word choice reflects his own background as he builds multiple possible analyses of the work. The characterizations of the family he conveys with the poem is that of people hard at work while the narrator observes neutrally.

Frost’s ability to write so clearly and concisely is the culmination of years of struggle in finding a market for his work, of trial and error, only to achieve a success greater than any other poet of his day. “Out, Out” is a direct retelling of a story that Frost knew and his need to create order out of the chaos of the terrible story. Frost’s has been portrays as both a monster and a sadly misunderstood individual. Both of these aspects of his character are at play in his work.

His careful selection of words and structure is reminiscent of his own ability to convey an entirely realistic image while retaining deeper, hidden meanings (Gerber, 93). He chooses sentences that are along the lines of the simple spoken word, clearly indicating his desire to speak from the voice of the common man. His use of contrast to create beautiful, natural imagery with the descriptions of the hills conveys the separation the family has with leisure: they do not have time to relax but must continue to struggle to keep their farm operating.

The saw is nearly alive as opposed to the hills, which sit passively waiting (Locklear, 167). Frost’s word choice in portraying nature combined with the saw is sharply at odds. The saw is described as “snarling and rattling,” with the “sweet-smelling” nature of the wood. The idea of two separate worlds also portrays the two conflicting sides of Frost’s personality – the monster and the misunderstood – and how they do not reach an accord with each other (Brown, 397). Frost was not viewed as a nice man and he had a habit of avoiding hard work, so it is ironic that he explores characters that know nothing but work (Bober, 71).

The various aspects of a farm stem from Frost’s own farm that he owned in Derry; he personally knew of what it took to keep a farm running. However, Frost’s main inspiration for this poem was from a sad event that occurred in the late summer of 1910 when Frost was 36. A sixteen-year-old boy named Raymond Fitzgerald, whom Frost and his children had played with the previous summer, was killed in an accident on his farm. This story moved Frost so much that he later used it as inspiration for “Out, Out” forty-five years later. In the accident, one of Fitzgerald’s hands was badly injured by a sawing machine.

The youth was helping to saw some wood on his family’s farm when the machine slipped and hit a pulley. The saw jumped and severely damaged his hand. A physician was called immediately, but the boy quickly died of shock, which caused heart failure (Thompson, 567). Frost retells this specific story in his poem, utilizing a few artistic devices to bring the tale to life. He uses this factual event to explore deeper themes in 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” (Adams, 116).

The speaker in the poem is a first person, third party narrator who is not involved in the workings of the farm, nor is he judgmental of the actions taken by the characters portrayed. The family is not given to an emotional response of the tragedy, “And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs. ” At first glance they appear callous, yet in reality, they are pragmatists that simply need to keep working.

The boy’s family is often interpreted to be at fault for forcing him to work to the point of easy distraction and refusing to allow him his “half-hour” break; yet farms required a contribution from every family member in order to survive. Others believe that the blame rests on the unpredictability of the saw in that it could not withstand a mere moment of distraction (Adams, 114). These conflicting analyses do not detract from each other as the reality is somewhere in between. The family fails in their obligation as the saw fails in its.

The location where the poem is based is a town on the Vermont border as the observer can see “far into Vermont. ” It is peaceful to behold yet harsh to experience. This is typical of many working farms as they appear serene but require a tremendous amount of work. Another interpretation of the poem is that it portrays the horrible fact that life can end at any moment. The boy is working with the rest of the family and suddenly, he is fatally injured. It is believed to demonstrate that the death can occur for “no good reason” (Locklear, 167). The boy’s reaction to his accident is a “rueful laugh” as he takes in his injury.

He then pleads with his sister not to let the doctor cut off his hand, knowing how useless he would be to the family with only one hand. The full reality of his condition is unknown to him as he struggles to keep “The life from spilling. ” Yet the doctor and family know what is happening to him, “And then – the watcher at his pulse took a fright. / No one believed. They listened to his heart. / Little – less – nothing! ” The boy’s life slips inevitably away and his family immediately moves on to the life they lead and the reality they face. The title of this poem conveys the narrator’s unspoken horror at the event he witnesses.

It is taken from Macbeth’s soliloquy at the death of Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth’s suicide originates from her desire to wash the blood off her hands. She tries and tries yet fails to feel clean. Similarly, the boy is left with a bloody hand that never comes clean. One image of blood is symbolic while the other is quite literal. Macbeth’s overt grief is in direct contrast to the words of the poem, which are distant and impassive. Using this title symbolizes exactly how great the grief is of both the speaker and the family at the boy’s death, yet neither experiences these emotions during the course of the poem (Bruels, 86).

Frost used “Out, Out” to create order out of chaos, taking a simple, tragic story and using it to delve into the hidden meaning of man’s existence. In this way, the reader is able to come to a deeper understanding of both the poet and his work. This theme was one that Frost used frequently in order to assign meaning to life’s senseless drama. A seemingly repetitive day ends in tragedy, conveying the truly unpredictable turns life takes and how a single event in a family’s life, indeed in Frost’s life, can effect a change of circumstance and create such a strong impact that Frost remembers the story decades later.

“Out, Out” establishes Frost as a writer with a natural way of speaking while still conveying multiple themes essential to becoming a fully developed individual with a sense of self and knowledge of one’s place in the world. Works Cited Adams, Susan S. “Out, Out. ” Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition. New York: Salem Press, Inc. , 2002. NA. http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true&db=lfh&AN=MOL0351000194&site=lrc-live. Bober, Natalie S. A Restless Spirit: The Story of Robert Frost. New York: Atheneum, 1984. Brown, John L. “Robert Frost: A Biography. ” World Literature Today 71. n2 (Spring 1997): 396(1).

General OneFile. Gale. Huntington Beach Public Library. 18 July 2009. http://find. galegroup. com/ips/start. do? prodId=IPS. Bruels, Marcia F. “Frost’s `Out, Out–‘” Explicator; Winter97, Vol. 55 Issue 2, 85-89. (17 Jul 2009. http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true&db=lfh&AN=9704174524&site=lrc-live. Dickey, James. “Robert Frost, man and myth: November 1966. (Biography). ” The Atlantic 298. 5 (Dec 2006): 54(2). General OneFile. Gale. Huntington Beach Public Library. 18 July 2009. http://find. galegroup. com/ips/start. do? prodId=IPS. Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1966.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

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  • Date: 30 September 2016

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