One critic wrote that, “the theme is the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. . . A boy who is already ‘doing a man’s work’ and gives every promise of having a useful life ahead of him is suddenly wiped out. ” (Laurence Perrine, Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry). While this analysis fits quite well superficially, I believe it to be inadequate and lacking in sufficient depth.
Robert Frost describes his writing while being interviewed, and said, ??These poems are written in parable, so that the wrong people won’t understand, and so will be saved. ? After all this is a criticism on a man who, like the poem, appears to be simple, but actually alludes to an underlying complexity. After taking this into account, and reevaluating my criticism on this poem, this boy’s life wasn’t taken, but given by the boy himself. Perhaps this was not a purposeful act, but instead a Freudian “slip”, “He must have given the hand”.
Robert Frost personifies this buzz-saw almost as a kind of animal or beast from the very first line of the poem, “The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard”. Then goes on to paint a beautiful picture of “Five mountain ranges one behind the other / Under the sunset far into Vermont. ” and then reiterates the beastly snarling and rattling of the buzz saw. This seems to clearly separate the boy, and the buzz saw from nature.
While the buzz saw is personified with animal characteristics, it is easy to see the ?big boy? as a human machine that mindlessly feeds wood to it all day. The sunset continues and this boy and all but “. . . those that lifted their eyes. .
. ” continue their work with a mechanical indifference to the signs that “. . . day was all but done.
” I feel that this seems to be the focal point of the story. Why was this “boy” being worked all day? In fact Frost seems to plead with “them”, “Call it a day, I wish they might have said”. Here Frost is pointing out the perversion of working a boy all day long, and then not even “. . .
giving him the half hour / That a boy counts so much when saved from work. ” In a sense this boy is a slave to productivity and monetary progress. This boy’s life is in a prison who’s walls are productivity and industry, a good life for him is seen as a productive life, ?No more to build on there. And they, since they / were not the one dead, turned to their affairs. ? This idea of juvenile oppression also appears as the boys sister.
She has no doubt spent all day in the kitchen cooking, when, “His sister stood beside them in her apron / To tell them “Supper. ” Then after the accident, he does not appeal to his mother or father, but to his sister to save his hand from the doctor. I believe that he feels he has a bond to his sister, because she knows what he has been going through. When she came and told him that it was supper time, most people would think that this is a good thing, but to this boy while it may signify food, it also signals that his day is over, and that what free time he may have been hoping for was now gone, “?the saw, As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,Leaped out at the boys hand, or seemed to leap– He must have given the hand. However it was,Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,”.
There are many clues to show why the boy gave his hand, but did not intend to kill himself. When Frost writes ?Neither refused the meeting?? this is an obvious clue. The icing on the cake though is the boy’s reaction to his shaking hands with the buzz saw. It isn’t a surprised scream, or a whimper, or even a swear word, but a ?rueful laugh,? which makes clear the boy’s true intentions. I don’t believe that the boy consciously gave his hand to the beast, but instead it was subconscious.
Anyone who has worked for an entire day with a snarling beast, with no mental relief must have wondered what would happen if I accidentally slipped and? and the attention that would be given when they all saw what had happened, and the remorse they would all feel for having him work all day. This poem ties into Frost’s own life, when talking about his ?favorite’ daughter’s death (from fever after giving birth), ?I wish I hadn’t this woeful suspicion that toward the end she came to resent something in the life I had given her. ? And the title of this poem is taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, after Macbeth learns of his wife’s death. ??Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. ?I think that the sound and fury in this poem is the buzz saw that sets a constant and belligerent tone, snarling and rattling, and seeming to signify nothing.
And the title of this poem, ?Out, Out-? is in itself a clue to the tragedy here. Frost chooses to leave out the ?brief candle? because this was just a boy, and had not yet experienced life and its fruits. The candle hadn’t even been lit yet. This is a truly deep poem, that while on the surface looks rather simple, is in fact quite prophetic and deep. Not only does it deal with the meaninglessness of death, but it also deals with the meaninglessness of child labor, and mental oppression in the name of productivity and industry.
This poem could be read as a warning to society. Or as a solution to building a good life.