Answer: Silas is the protagonist of the dramatic poem “The Death of the Hired Man”. We have got a unique character in the person of this old servant of Warren and Mary. He does never appear in the events of the story, but we come to know a lot about him through the conversation of Warren and Mary. Even through this indirect portrayal, his character impresses vividly on the reader’s mind by virtue of some of his unusual, though human qualities.
Though old now, Silas was an efficient servant once. Unfortunately Warren, his master, regards him as worthless man. He worked on Warren’s farm for quite some time. “All through July under the blazing sun./Silas up on the cart to build the load./Harold along beside to pitch it on.” Though in Warren’s opinion Silas is of little worth, he himself admits. “I know, that’s Silas, one accomplishment/ He bundles every forkful in its place,/And tags and numbers it for future reference,/So he can find and easily dislodge it/In the unloading.
Silas does that well.” Such a servant was refused a slightly higher wage just enough to buy tobacco; it was unkind of Warren, his master. So Silas left his job with Warren in search of a better wage. He cannot be blamed for that. But he could not find any job perhaps because people refused to hire him due to his old age. He came back to Warren just to die. He was taciturn about his travel in search of a job, when Mary asked him about his travel, he merely nodded off. That was just like him; he never talked much about himself.
Silas is a man of self-respect. Silas left Warren when he was most needed by him for work on the farm. He left him in search of higher pay from somebody else. Warren was, therefore, annoyed with him. When Silas came back one day, without any notice, Warren’s wife Mary took kindly to him. Warren was out of house at the time when Silas came. Mary knew that Warren might show his anger, and drive him away. So she began to plead for Silas as soon as he came back from the market. Mary told him to be kind to Silas who was worn out “asleep beside the stove”, “huddled against the barn-door fast asleep’,’ She said she dragged him to the house, gave him tea and tried to make him smoke, she also tried to make him talk about his travel, but he would merely keep nodding off, and say nothing. When Warren asked her if he said he had come to ditch the meadow for him, in answer Mary said that he did say, in the sense that, by keeping silent, he wanted to save his self-respect in his own humble way. Moreover, he meant to clear up the pasture too. Silas was not as young and active as someone might expect a servant to be. He wanted the minimum wage from his master Warren, but he was refused even that. Then he had been away for some time, and came back to his old master. But he kept silent to all the questions that were put to him by Mary. That was how he wanted to save his self-respect.
His self-respect also prevents him to go to his “rich” brother. According to Warren’s statement, Silas’s brother is rich, “a somebody—a director in the bank”. He could have gone to his brother in his helpless days, instead of coming to Warren’s house. It was according to Warren, a matter of “little thirteen miles”, and in coming to Warren, he had to cover that distance by walking. Silas should have had better claim on his brother than on the Warren couple. But Silas did not want to have that claim because he had no “Pride in claiming kin or anything he looked for from his brother.” Mary had the right insight about the matter. She opined that Silas is “just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide”. Though he was worthless, he did not want to make himself ashamed to please his brother by seeking his help.
Silas had no respect for the formal education, a practical, down-to-earth man as he was. He had poor notion about the formal education of Harold, once his co-worker at Warren’s farm, who was a college-boy at the time when he worked with Silas. At college he was learning Latin. Silas thought it was foolish of Harold to learn that classical subject because it did not give him any skill in practical work like haying. “He said he couldn’t make the boy believe/He could find water with a hazel prong.” Now that Harold was out of his reach, he wished that he had another chance to teach him “how to build a load of hay”. This attitude towards formal education of the classical language on the part of Silas was natural for an uneducated man like him who wanted only skill in practical work.
As Frost has depicted the character of Silas, he serves as a representative of the poor, oppressed class, of the down-trodden humanity. As a servant at the farm of Warren, he did not get sufficient salary—sufficient to buy tobacco. He importuned for a slight increase in his pay just to buy a small amount of tobacco for smoking to which he was habituated, but he was denied even that. Moreover, on asking for that increase, he was treated rather insultingly by Warren; Warren thought that he was cooked by someone else, and Warren told him to seek his increased salary elsewhere. So Silas felt buffeted and left Warren’s job, and went out searching for job with better salary elsewhere. But he was not able to procure any job because though he might be a worthless worker because of his old, decrepit condition. After his vain search for a better job, he returned to his former place. But by this time his vitality was sagged to the last dregs. Even then Warren was not ready to treat him sympathetically, and had it been Warren instead of Mary, he would have been driven out. He gets released from all the humiliations of life by dying silently and helplessly.
Silas is a striking character in this dramatic poem. His character as an efficient worker in his youth, his sense of self-respect, his silent, unresisting nature, mark him out as an unusual common man of the poorest class. The poet has presented him as a representative of the oppressed class, and so has purposefully kept him a shadowy figure in the whole story. It indicates how neglected he was, how human dignity was trampled down by cruel people like Warren.