Literature review on “Out, Out” by Robert Frost
‘Out, out’ is a poem by Robert Frost who tells the tale of a young boy that has lost his life under an unfortunate circumstance. In comparison, “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen portrays a man that has left part of his being in battle. Both poems assert ideas that insinuate brevity along with fragility of both characters in the poem, in addition to the essence that life will go on, that a singular life such as those of the characters are insignificant on a universal scale as when the young soldier from “Disabled” returned from war he is shunned and forgotten and the boy from ‘Out, out’ where the people around him moved on even when he had just died.
“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”. This is undeniably a reference from Shakespeare’s Macbeth that illustrates the image of a wavering candlelight that is fragile and brief. It also recalls the spirit of life, which at the same time is similarly brief and easily snatched away. Unlike ‘Disabled’, ‘Out, out’
The despair induced in the reader at the child’s unexpected death and the soldier’s erroneous assumption that war glorious is a prime feature of both ‘Disabled’ and ‘Out, out’ The soldier had believed that war would be magnificent, but he, however, returns home unheroic and shunned by other ‘whole’ people. His perception of life and his view of war have been affected radically by his wrong choice. The young soldier had initially been caught up in an elaborate dream with ‘jeweled hilts for daggers in plaid socks’ and of ‘smart salutes, and care of arms; and leave, and pay arrears.’ And yet, as he comes to understand, these are all illusions he managed to trick and commit his self too. The wonderful war image that he had formed in his childhood is soon changed and his high hopes contrast with the short, blunt reality where he will ‘spend a few sick years in Institutes, and do what the rules consider wise’. We, as the audience, feel pity and sympathy for him as his anticipation is let down and he is ultimately disappointed. Furthermore, there is a shocking realization that all he had held true as a child when he ‘liked a blood smear down his leg’ and ‘thought he’d better join’ was proved to be wrong by his experiences and the reader feels the urge to give him some small measure of comfort that he is deprived of now due to his deformities and he ‘noticed how the women’s eyes passed fro him to the strong men that were whole.’
Similarly, in ‘Out, out’ the reader feels anguish at the painful way the child must have died. The saw ‘as if to prove saws knew what supper meant, leaped out at the boy’s hand’ This is an example of vivid imagery that allows us to feel the events taking place and to understand all the feelings and sensory overload in the scene, and therefore we suffer along with the child. Some forewarning of his death is evident with the repetition of ‘snarled and rattled’ hinting at the impending death and the pain that is likely to be experienced, which produces a more powerful reaction from the reader, who feels a measure of grief and empathy when they realize something and is about to occur whereas, ironically, the boy is still unknowingly completing his normal routine, unsuspecting. His terrified, angry and panicky voice when he screams ‘Don’t let him sister!’, in addition, he makes the reader feel increased empathy and pity for his plight. As he to such an extent that he is unable to organize his thought and feels pure terror. He will lose his family as well as miss out on all the beautiful things in life that he yet to understand and feel –such as the calm vista at the start of the poem and all the ‘sweet-scented stuff’ as well as the ‘five mountain ranges…. Under the sunset far into Vermont’. The persona’s strength of feeling and compassion, that he wished they might have ‘called it a day…to please the boy’ deepens and intensifies the regret and wretchedness of the scene because it suggests that I the day had ended early then the boy might not have died so brutally. The melancholy and longing for what could have been are highlighted and this makes the death the most poignant moment of the poem.
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