“Out, Out–” by Robert Frost is a poem about a young boy who dies as a result of cutting his hand using a saw. In order to give the reader a clear picture of this bizarre scenario, Frost utilizes imagery, personification, blank verse, and variation in sentence length to display various feelings and perceptions throughout the poem. Frost also makes a reference to Macbeth’s speech in the play by Shakespeare called Macbeth which is somewhat parallel to the occurrences in “Out, Out-.” Frost begins the poem by describing a young boy cutting some wood using a “buzz-saw.” The setting is Vermont and the time is late afternoon. The sun is setting and the boy’s sister calls him and the other workers to come for “Supper.” As the boy hears it dinnertime, he gets excited and cuts his hand on accident. Immediately realizing that the doctor might amputate his hand, he asks his sister to make sure that it does not happen.
By the time the doctor arrives, it is too late and the boy’s hand is already lost. When the doctor gives him an anesthetic, he falls asleep and never wakes up again. The last sentence of the poem, “since they (the boys family and the doctor) were not the one dead, turned to their affairs” shows how although the boy’s death is tragic, people move on with their life in a way conveying the idea that people only care for themselves. Frost’s poem begins with vivid imagery of sound, sight and smell. The onomatopoeia of line one: “The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard” is redoubled in line seven: “And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled.” These verbs give the “buzz-saw” anthropomorphic qualities and suggest that the buzz saw intended to kill the boy. “Snarled” evokes angry dogs, wolves, and other quadruped beasts. “Rattled” imports the sound of a snake giving a warning that it is about to strike with venomous fangs.
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Both words resonate with sound and fury. We picture the falling sawdust, the stove-length sticks, the five mountain ranges and a Vermont sunset. Images of smell come with “Sweet-scented stuff” wafted by a breeze. The workaday ordinariness of the scene is reinforced by the empty understatement of line nine. “And nothing happened: the day was all but done.” Line ten commences with the trite imperative for cessation of labour, “Call it a day.” Then the speaker asserts himself with the regretful comment, “I wish they might have said.” A boy is doing man’s work, operating a power saw. Boys, being boys, appreciate release from labour even more than mature elders. The poet/speaker subtly foreshadows coming fatality with his verb selection in “saved from work.” It is not only young males who are pressed into labour in this rural Vermont household. The central character’s apron-wearing sister comes “to tell them ‘Supper’.”
To diffuse that fanciful notion, the speaker adds, “or seemed to leap-/He must have given the hand.” Another commonplace expression is tinged with cruel irony. To give one’s hand suggests a greeting or friendly handshake. “Neither refused the meeting,” but don’t get friendly with a spinning saw blade. The irony continues as the boy’s first utterance is “a rueful laugh.” He holds up the hand “as if to keep/ The life from spilling.” (Textbooks commonly quote the latter phrase as an example of metonymy: a figure of speech in which something closely related to life is used for what is actually meant – blood.) It was all a nasty accident. The boy would lose his hand. But more tragically unexplainable is that while under the doctor’s anesthesia, the boy dies apparently of shock. None of those in attendance can believe it.
Frost seems flippant in his concluding lines. “No more to build on there.” At first, the phrase seems an awry and callous reference to jobs of construction in which power saws are important. But perhaps the speaker is referring to the life, which is snuffed like an extinguished candle: the boy’s heartbeat or pulse that faded “Little less nothing.” Nothing can be built on nothing. . . . . And they, since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs. Frost is not suggesting that humans are heartless, as one would assume given the nature of many of Frost’s poems, but he is in fact praising mankind for its ability to carry on. He is saying that those still alive have lives to lead and that the death of the boy is not the end for his family.