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A Critical Analysis of the Poem, "The Death of the Hired Man", by Robert Frost
Authors of poems use many different types of devices to help convey the theme of their
poem. These devices can range from structural or poetic devices to examples of meter. In Robert Frost's poem, "The Death of the Hired Man," the theme of the poem that the author attempts to portray is the need to forgive and accept people for who they are before it is too late; Frost presents this to the reader through structural, poetic, and metrical devices.
The significance of most of Robert Frost's life having been spent in the New England area is because for many of his poems but especially for his poem, "The Death of the Hired man", the setting is in New England (Bloom 1). Also, for the poem, "The Death of the Hired Man", which is based on a farm in New England and its family, Frost uses personal experience in writing the poem because he has lived, worked, and owned a farm in New England (Bouchard 3). The significance of the setting and characters in this poem is that he "presents speakers who are marked by extraordinary severity and power" (Blooms 1).
The life history of Robert Frost is very important in helping the reader analyze and understand the poem and the theme of the poem. The basic summary of the poem is that the main characters, Warren and Mary, who are the owners of the farm, have a hired man who decides to leave them to find better paying work when the busy times approach; but when work is slow, then he will return looking for odd jobs to earn money. Warren has had enough, and he is seriously contemplating with his wife what actions he should take with this man. As a person, Mary is a woman of an abundance more compassion than her husband, and she realizes from the beginning that Silas is a dying man and that he has returned to the only home he knows. Now Mary is attempting everything she can to show her husband the better parts of Silas but even she realizes how hard this is; she has from the beginning already forgiven Silas for his past actions and life with wide open arms accepting him into her home and attempting her best to take care of him. This is what she is attempting to accomplish all throughout the poem with her husband so that he will feel the same way about Silas that she does before the rest of Silas's very short life ends.
There are many critics that have analyzed and agreed that the theme that Robert Frost presents in his poem "The Death of the Hired Man" is that people need to be forgiven and accepted before it is too late. In the critical essay by Bloom, he mentions that in the poem the main character Warren begins to focus on the word "home" and the idea of "home". This continues in the conversation between the husband and wife, Warren and Mary, as they subtly consider human responsibility, kinship, and justice (Bloom 2). Through this conversation, "Frost uses the dialogue to examine the social and familial fabric of a place where interaction with neighbors punctuates a potentially unbearable sense of isolation" (Bloom 2). This means that Warren and Mary are having a conversation in which Mary attempts to convince her husband to see that their farm is the only "home" that Silas has and that in the end he wasn't such a bad guy, so then Warren needs forgive him and accept him into their home with open and loving arms.
Also, Bloom notices that Mary has a "perspective of compassionate identification and emotional response that contrasts Warren's more rational view of fair judgment. Frost encapsulates Mary's attitude in one present tense, active sentence, 'I sympathize'" (Bloom 2). The line that Bloom quotes from the poem is located in line eighty of the poem. This representation of Mary gives hint to the allusion that Robert Frost presents in the poem of the parable of the Lost Son which can be seen in Luke 15 verses 11-32. The attitude that Warren has toward the idea of Silas claiming their home and their farm as his one and only "home" even when he has a very wealthy brother who happens to live thirteen miles down the road is that he believes that "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in," and for this reason he believes that their home should not be claimed by Silas as his "home" for that very reason (Bloom 3). That quote is located on lines one-hundred-twenty-three and one-hundred-twenty-four.
In addition, in the critical essay by Katherine Kearns argues that Mary acquires a maternal nurturing figure with Silas and that is why she forgives and accepts him more readily than her husband because he takes on a fatherly role and sees Silas as a son that has chosen a relatively dissolute life and not learned a single lesson or moral from him through all the years that he has employed him. This also correlates with the allusion that Frost attempts to show in his poem because Mary shares the same role that the father in the parable does when he accepts his "lost" son with open and loving arms back into his life and his home. The evidence that critics have found in the poem to support the theme of how there is a need for people to accept and forgive others before it is too late, Robert Frost supports this more thoroughly through structural, poetic and metrical devices that come directly from the poem and he uses them specifically to help show the theme of his poem "The Death of the Hired Man".
There are many different poetic, structural, and metrical devices that Robert Frost uses throughout his poem to grab the reader's attention to that point specifically and to help show the theme of the poem; these along with the allusion that is present all throughout the poem, help the reader understand the author's theme. The first of these is the characterization of the main character of Mary that Frost presents in the poem. This characterization presents her as a very kind, compassionate, loving, understanding, and motherly person who cares very much for the character of Silas because of the hard life that he has lived. The reader can see this in lines one-hundred-fifty-five to one-hundred-sixty-one when Mary says,
No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back.
He wouldn't let me put him on the lounge.
You must go in and see what you can do.
I made the bed up for him there to-night.
You'll be surprised at him - how much he's broken.
His working days are done; I'm sure of it.
Another way in which the character of Mary is seen as compassionate, loving, nurturing mother is in the name that Robert Frost gives her character. Throughout history the name "Mary" has been synonymous with characters throughout the New Testament of the Bible. These characteristics can be seen through the biblical characters of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus. This can be seen when Mary Magdalene wept at Christ's tomb after His crucifixion and when Mary, "kept all things and pondered them in heart" after the three Magi visited Jesus bearing gifts (John 20:11; Luke 2:19). Both of these examples show the love and compassion that the name Mary is famous for throughout history.
Also, the use of unrhymed iambic pentameter in the poem helps Robert Frost create a sense of the poem appearing as a conversation between two people. This metrical device helps the reader connect with Frost's theme because the dialogue that it creates helps the reader feel like this is more of an everyday problem that helps the reader relate and it helps show how hard Mary is actually attempting to convince her husband to forgive and accept Silas before it is too late. The importance of the unrhymed iambic pentameter in this poem can be seen when Maurice Charney says, "The blank verse is supple and moves easily, and goes together with definite syntactical indications of conversation." The author of this article is commenting on how the style of the poem that Frost uses attributes greatly to the overall feel of a conversation that he is attempting to achieve. The importance of Frost's attempts to create a sense of realistic dialogue makes it so that the reader is better able to connect with the characters and the theme that the author is attempting to show through them. This idea of the rhythm and conversation is further explored by Charney later in his paper when he says, "As Shakespeare demonstrated, the blank verse line is a natural expression of speech rhythms in English, which itself tends toward iambic feet."
Furthermore, in line twenty and twenty-one when Frost says, "Enough at least to buy tobacco with, / won't have to beg and be beholden." Frost uses alliteration here for the words "beg" and "beholden" to show how poor and desperate Silas's life actually is and it helps the reader make the connection between Silas and that of the Lost Son in the allusion that Frost presents in the poem. In like manner, the simile that Frost presents in line seventy-five when he says, "Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream." This use of a simile helps show the reader that Silas is attempting desperately to change, and he wants to make this change so that he will not disappoint his "family" any more and so that they will accept and forgive him and let him be a part of their lives again. In lines eighty and eighty-one there is an example of foreshadowing that Frost uses when he says, "I sympathize. I know just how it feels / To think of the right thing to say too late." This foreshadowing shows that Warren will know this feeling because at the end of the poem after he discovers that Silas is already dead, he realizes that he needed to tell Silas that he forgives him and accepts him before he had died but now it is too late. In addition, there is another simile that is important when Robert Frost says, "He takes it out in bunches like big birds' nests." Frost uses this simile because it is another way to correlate the idea of a home with that of Silas, because a bird's nest is a bird's home so that is another hint to show the reader that the farm is Silas's home since the hay that looks like the bird's nests was the hay from Warren's farm. In lines one-hundred-four to one-hundred-six, there are examples of parallel structure in the first two lines and a tricolon crescens that involve all three lines when Frost says, "And nothing to look backward to with pride, / And nothing to look forward to with hope, / So now and never any different." Frost shows in these lines that unless something changes in Silas's life he has accomplished nothing, he has nothing really positive in his life to look toward, and that this will never change; so at this moment Mary is attempting to convince her husband to forgive and accept Silas because otherwise his life really isn't worth living and because he has already lived such a hard life. The use of the parallel structure in the first two lines helps to emphasize how bad Silas's life is and will be, while the tricolon crescens emphasizes the fact that his life will stay like this until he dies unless something changes.
The imagery that Frost creates at the end of the poem in lines one-hundred-sixty-eight to one-hundred-seventy-two not only creates an image in the reader's mind, but Robert Frost also uses it to foreshadow the ending of his poem. The image describes a small cloud that looks like it may hit the moon, which it does, this little cloud symbolizes Silas where as the moon symbolizes Warren and the "hitting" symbolizes if Warren will ever forgive and accept Silas, when the cloud does strike the moon in the image it tells the reader that Warren finally does forgive and accept Silas. The wide use of figurative language and its importance in helping the author convey the meaning is commented on by Charney when he says, "Third, Frost's figurative language tends to be drawn from nature, with similes and metaphors of a homely and domestic quality. This is, of course, the greatest illusion of all because the images are so artfully applied to the subject of the poem."
Finally, there is the biblical allusion of the Parable of the Lost Son, that Robert Frost shows throughout the whole poem and that he uses to help convey the theme of the poem (Luke 15: 11-32). Jesus tells this story to it show that even when we as Christians stray in our faith that our Heavenly Father, God, will always forgive us and accept us back with open loving arms. The reader can take this to an even more literal level and that is where the theme of the poem is realized because it also shows that we as people need to always forgive and accept others for who they are before it is too late. For this poem though Mary symbolizes the father, Warren the angry obedient son and Silas would be the foolish young son that wasted all of inheritance. Frost is attempting to show the reader that just as Mary has accepted Silas back into their home, her husband Warren needs to also before he loses the chance to, with Silas's precious life coming to an end.
Through the use of poetic devices, structural devices, and metrical devices, Robert Frost has been able to emphasize and show the many different parts of his theme throughout the poem. Also the readers are able to conclude that Frost is telling them that they need to forgive and accept anybody in their lives, and accept them before it is too late because you never know when you might not get the chance to ever attempt it again.