AP Lit 1st Block
March 4, 2001
Necessity vs. Selfishness
Robert Frost’s insightful yet tragic poem “Out, Out–” employs realistic imagery and the personification of a buzz saw to depict how people must continue onward with their lives after the death of a loved one, while also hinting at the selfish nature of the human race, whom oftentimes show concern only for themselves.
The poem narrates the story of a boy who dies as a result of accidentally cutting off his hand with a buzz saw in his own yard. Frost employs imagery to reveal the setting, the boy’s “yard” in “Vermont” right before “sunset”, using vivid detail to describe the “five mountain ranges” within eyesight of the yard. The narrator foreshadows the tragic event to come when he “wishes” that the workers would have “called it a day” and “given” the boy “the half hour that (he) counts so much when saved from work”, the adult responsibility of cutting wood with a buzz saw. While “nothing was happening”, the boy’s sister comes out to tell he and the other workers that “supper” is ready. The boy, in his excitement at the signal to end the day’s work, accidentally cuts himself with the treacherous buzz saw. Frost reveals a sense of the boy’s pain by employing the oxymoron “rueful laugh”, displaying both the boy’s extreme surprise and deep sorrow at the near-amputation of his hand. Frost continues to depict the shocking scene by describing the boy’s reaction as he “holds up the hand, half in appeal…half as if to keep the life from spilling” from his body. The adult responsibilities the boy has been faced with, combined with the horrific mangling of his own hand, lead to the boy’s own terrible revelation that “all” will soon “spoil”, which foreshadows yet the next tragedy, the death of the boy. Frost utilizes dialogue to convey the boy’s pleading voice as he begs his sister to not let the doctor “cut his hand off”. The syntax Frost chose was specifically selected to reflect the boy’s life as it begins to diminish. Compared with the first few lines of the poem, the concluding ones consist of short, choppy sentences as death closes in on the boy. The doctor arrives and gives the boy “ether”, an anesthetic, after which Frost describes the boy’s breathing as shallow and weakening while he “lay and puffed his lips out with his breath”. Frost paints such real images with his words that the reader can almost see as “the watcher at (the boy’s) pulse…listens to his heart” as the beating fades from “little” to “less” to “nothing”, which “ends” the boy’s life. The theme does not become clear to the reader until the last sentence, depicting how the family and friends “are not the one dead”, so they “turn to their affairs”, and proceed on with their lives. Frost conveys the necessity of how people must go on, even after a tragedy such as the death of a loved one, because life continues, and so must they. Even though going on with life is a necessity, the speed in which the family and friends proceed to do so causes the reader to wonder what their motives are–necessity or selfishness.
Frost personifies the buzz saw so that it seems to come alive with a will of its own. The phrase “snarled and rattled” repeats three times throughout the poem to depict an image of the buzz saw whirring back and forth. At times “it runs light, or has to bear a load”, which conveys the saw as a living being that must carry something. Frost gives the buzz saw an ominous air, a will of its own, when it “leaps out at the boy’s hand” “as if to prove saws know what supper means”. In this way, Frost shies away from the fact that the boy brings death upon himself by getting momentarily distracted from cutting the wood, accenting blame on an inanimate object. Along with faulting the buzz saw, the reader can also cast blame on the parents for making the boy, “a child at heart”, take on adult responsibility to “do a man’s work”, which results in