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Robert Frost's Out, Out: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:05 Life Changes in an Instant
  • 0:44 Summary
  • 1:48 Diction & Imagery
  • 2:45 Symbolism & Foreshadowing
  • 3:15 Tone, Contrast & Theme
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

From a beautiful country setting to a tragic ending, Robert Frost's poem 'Out, Out-' has it all. In this lesson, we'll learn how a slip of a saw blade changes a young boy's life and analyze the key points of the poem to find its deeper meaning.

Life Changes in an Instant

They say life can change in an instant, and isn't that the truth. One minute we may be headed to school, and in the next, find ourselves involved in a car accident. One minute we may be struggling to get by financially, and in the next, win the lottery. While life is filled with possibilites, there are some constants that we tend to ignore, for better or for worse. In the poem, 'Out, Out-' by Robert Frost, these truths are illuminated through the imagery of a beautiful Vermont evening and a young boy's fate.

Let's explore the poem's content and analyze the literary devices and themes presented.

Summary

The poem begins with a description of a mountainous Vermont setting in the early evening and a reference to a boy cutting wood with a buzz saw. Here, Frost's diction allows the reader to hear the saw 'snarl' and 'rattle' as the boy works on his task and smell the 'sweet-scented stuff' as it blows off the wood.

The poem then shifts from the setting and the boy to his sister calling him in for supper. At this moment, the saw 'leaped out at the boy's hand,' which results in serious injury. The boy holds his hand and begs his sister not to let the doctor cut it off, knowing the severity of the wound. However, that is boy's fate.

While under a simple anesthetic, the boy sleeps after the horrific incident, but his pulse becomes weak. His caretaker, noticing the change, realizes that the boy is dying and watches as he eventually stops breathing. Those attending him are in shock, yet the last lines of the poem tell us that they've 'turned to their affairs,' since they 'were not the one dead,' which makes for somewhat abrupt and cold end to the poem.

Diction & Imagery

There's more to 'Out, Out-' than the telling of a simple story about a boy and his tragic fate. Let's take a deeper look at the devices used to tell this tale and explore the meaning behind Robert Frost's words.

'Out, Out-' opens with a description of the saw in action in a Vermont setting. However, the content quickly draws our attention to the boy using the saw. Frost gives the reader the impression that this character is young in age, an impression strengthened by the reference to him 'doing a man's work, though a child at heart.'

Frost creates a juxtaposition, or when two things are placed together to show a contrast, between the beautiful, quiet sunset and the nasty sounds and movements of the electric buzz saw. Between the references to the 'rattle' and 'buzz' of the saw and 'five mountain ranges. . . Under the sunset,' the reader experiences the contrast between movement and stagnancy, between chaos and peace.

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