Justify the title of the poem “Out, Out” by Robert Frost.

robert-frostAnswer: The title of a poem is dependent on its theme; that is, the title strikes or expresses the main topic of a poem. Abrams says in his A Glossary of Literary Terms, “Theme … is applied to a thesis or doctrine which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader …. In modern criticism it is often claimed that all non-trivial works of literature, including lyric poems, involve an implicit conceptual “theme” which is embodied and dramatized in the evolving meanings and imagery.” This definition can be applied to the discussion of the title of Frost’s poem “Out, Out—”. The “implicit conceptual theme” of the poem is the very sudden and unexpected death of the working boy at the buzz-saw. The images of the candle’s going off suddenly, and of the buzz-saw as a hungry animal, evolve this theme persuasively.

The title of the poem, “Out, Out has been borrowed from one of Macbeth’s famous soliloquies in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.”Out” here means death, as Macbeth meets the end of his life which is like a brief candle. The working boy’s life ends as suddenly, so Shakespeare’s phrase has a relevant echo in Frost’s poem.


The story of this dramatic poem will make it clear. The buzz-saw was moving furiously, making dust and dropping stove-length sticks of wood. Far mountain ranges stood one after the other extending up to Vermont. The saw snarled and rattled as it ran light or had to bear a load. The day was almost over; only half an hour was left. They could have relieved the boy, but they did not. His sister stood there to tell them “supper”. Just as she uttered the word the boy gave his hand to the saw, perhaps absentmindedly, and his hand was cut off by the running saw. People around just did their duty, and like a robot, feeling nothing about it and brought a doctor. The doctor mechanically worked like an unfeeling machine, but could not save the boy from the clutch of death. Other workers of the mill perfunctorily did their duty to the wounded boy. They, without delaying much, set to work immediately.

In this poem, the theme of Macbeth’s soliloquy, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow …,” that the life is meaningless, has been brought out more elaborately. The line “Out, out brief candle. Life is but a walking shadow” etc. is the source of Frost’s poem titled “Out, Out—”. Shakespeare depicted Macbeth’s tragedy as a highly ambitious man’s life coming to nothing in spite of his effort to make his life a success. He realized at the end of his life that life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and is then heard no more. His life’s candle is blown out only after a short period of feverish activity. In Frost’s poem of the title “Out, Out—” the life of a very young boy is shown to have suddenly come to an end as a result of the accident in which he lost his hand suddenly and died shortly from the effects of the shock of the wound.


He had been working hard at the saw mill. Perhaps he had some dream. At the incautious moment he gave his hand to the saw, and his hand was instantly gone. Though he was a boy he could immediately realize that his life was cut short, and all his hopes and aspirations came to an end in a moment. The moment his hand was cut off by the circular saw, he gave a rueful laugh, which was more heart-rending than cry. This laugh was the immediate reaction of the boy to his terrible fate. He felt the futility of existence of human beings on the earth. He was a big boy though; he had a child’s heart. He was old enough to realize that whatever he had done so far, or whatever hopes or aspirations he might have had for the future, all were spoiled. He realized as Shakespeare’s Macbeth did, that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He seemed to have seen all his past life up to that point, and his death a little while after wards in a flash. The lines below thus express the tragic death of the tender working boy at the saw-mill—

“Then the boy saw all’

Since he was old enough to know, big boy

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart

He saw all spoiled.”

Here, we observe that there is contradiction in the words and phrases, like “big-boy”, “doing a man’s work though a child at heart.” The contradiction in the following sentences is quite “ironical”. Then the boy saw all, and the last sentence, “He saw all spoiled.” The boy was big, he was doing a man’s work though he was a boy. And when his hand was gone, he lost all his hopes and aspirations in the flash of a vision, but the irony saw that they were all gone instantly. The only difference between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Frost’s working boy is that Macbeth’s death was the wage of his sin but the working boy was innocent, a young boy with a child’s heart. His sudden death is more poignant and heart-rending than the tragic death of Macbeth.

The title “Out, Out—” has a tone of the boy’s life coming to a sudden end too soon. There is a note of extreme sorrow and suddenness in the title. The title is, therefore, appropriate, effective and significant.