"Out, Out -" - Frost

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  • "Out, Out -"
    • Title an allusion to Macbeth - suggests despair as a reaction to death and loss
      • The long pauses, short sentences and diminuendo of “Little – less – nothing!” (another echo from Macbeth) provide a reaction to the death that seems to have “ended it”. However, the last line and a half provides one more reaction to the death, which continues to shock readers: “And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”
        • This reaction, considered as the reaction of the farm people, may be interpreted as callous indifference, practicality, lack of imagination or a displacement of grief. It is the more striking as the reason for it is conveyed in an understated way (yet again) in a subordinate clause.
    • Theme of death or loss
    • Tells the story of  a farmyard accident in which a young boy working with a mechanical saw loses a hand and later dies
      • The poem opens descriptively, emphasising pleasant elements in the scene: the clarity of the view of the far sunset and the sweetness of the scented air caused by the wood-cutting.
        • tranquillity of this scene is however undermined, at first unobtrusively by the connotations of the phrase “made dust” (a muted reminder of the significance of the title)  
          • prominent repetition of the onomatopoeic verbs “snarled and rattled” to present the saw as both animalistic and mechanical – and certainly dangerous.
        • Death of the boy when it comes is both shockingly sudden and explicable. The fading light, the beauty of the sunset tempting eyes to lift, the sudden appearance of the sister at the edge of vision and the welcomeness of her long-awaited words combine as a set of dangerous distractions from a task which needs full concentration.
          • The reactions of the actors in this tragedy follow. The boy’s reactions to the loss of his hand go through several stages. “The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh”
            • “Rueful” means expressive of regret or sorrow. The problem is – it is not a problem at all of course, for Frost knows exactly what he is doing – that the word is usually employed to express a humorous or affected regret
              • This careful piece of understatement (effected through word-choice) is the method used by Frost to convey in an absolutely convincing way the reaction of shock: the boy sees but does not yet understand.
                • The detailing of the boy’s movements, and the simile (if it is a simile) used to convey his purpose, are found shocking by many readers and remind us of the poet’s unease about reading the poem in public: “… he swung towards them holding up the hand, Half in appeal, but half as if to keep The life from spilling.”
                  • “Life” as a metonym for blood – but almost literal
                  • . His tone of anguished appeal, heard in the repetition and interruption of the sentence “‘Don’t let him cut my hand off – The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!’” indicates the final stage of the boy’s reaction to the loss of his hand (unless we include the physical reaction to the ether).
          • “Then” Frost moves to the final stage of the boy’s reaction to the loss of his hand. This is full understanding, conveyed by the repetition of “the boy saw all….He saw all spoiled.” The repeated phrases are separated by the interposition of the speaker’s rather confused reaction which can be considered later.
            • The fullness of the understanding, however, is at once called into question by the use of the word “spoiled”, another telling understatement. Does the boy see his death, or is it some lesser evil he fears?
    • 4 different reactions
      • – the immediate reaction of the boy himself to the incident
      • the reaction of one of the people taking care of the injured boy
      • the reaction of the farm people generally
      • the reaction of the speaker in the poem.
        • Finally, the reaction of the speaker to the death. The speaker in this poem is individuated. He does not restrict himself (or rather Frost does not restrict him) to a narration of the facts. This speaker comments on the story he tells and at times becomes emotionally involved.
          • The story is told in the past tense which suggests the outcome is known to him so his sudden expression of regret, speaking for the first time in the first person, that no-one had acted to “Call it a day” may be interpreted as a reaction to the death of the boy.
            • The speaker’s monosyllabic “So” and the pause that ensues invite a consideration of the speaker’s reaction, but do not illuminate as to what that might be.
              • although the last two lines of the poem have been considered here as applying to the reactions of the farm people, they might equally be interpreted as expressing a reaction of the speaker.
    • Frost reluctant to read the poem in public, feeling it was too cruel

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