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Analysis and comments on The Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost

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Comment 3 of 583, added on September 25th, 2005 at 6:25 AM.

NiCe PoEm!! HuHh ok.... bye

kwin from Philippines
Comment 2 of 583, added on January 28th, 2005 at 8:49 AM.

Why did Silas return to the farm with Mary and Warren ?Did he have an
option ?

Michelle Bevington from Canada
Comment 1 of 583, added on October 27th, 2004 at 2:02 PM.

Analysis of The Death of the Hired Man

A first impression that the reader gets from this poem is its intensity.
Mary and Warren are introduced as characters in the first two lines. In
the fifth line Mary tells Warren “Silas is back.” Frost says that she
tells him this to “put him on guard.” So in the first five lines of this
poem we learn the names of the main characters and we are alerted to the
existence of underlying tension. One might say that intensity in this
opening scene is a function of economy. With few words Frost is able to
give us a picture of the cast of characters and a hint of the existence of

This much is a comment on the artistic skill that Frost displays in drawing
us into the experience of the characters. Intensity and economy are
combined again in the second stanza. Here we are given a soliloquy by
Warren in which he spills out his unordered reflections on his past
experience with Silas. We sense frustration and disappointment. His
thoughts are unordered but intense.

Mary’s role is to speak up for Silas, who is not present in the
conversation. Her contribution is to help with the narrative and to
balance Warren’s critical remarks. We do feel intensely both Warren’s
disdain for Silas and Mary’s efforts to assuage his sharpest criticisms.
The reader must be impressed with Frost’s skill in carrying the narrative
through conversation. This is a short poem, but intense. We can feel
Warren’s exasperation as well as Mary’s attempt to create sympathy for
Silas. The exchanges between Warren and Mary carry the baggage of a long
history. The history of their experience with Silas is balanced in this
one moment, as we might imagine a pyramid balanced on its point. Frost is
reminiscent of Hemingway in his ability to express complex ideas with spare

Frost’s skillful use of language carries us into the scene. This is a
matter of style. Substantively, the poem appeals because of several themes
that resonate with our common experience. We all have known disappointment
with the work of others. We all have been in relationships in which our
disappointment with the other is balanced by awareness of our own
shortcomings. This feeling is replicated in Warren’s reminiscences about
his experience with Silas. He admits that his ability to pay had fallen
short of his own preference. Another theme is the story of Silas’
relationship with Harold. Silas and Harold were a team in the haying
operation. In this story we see the ages-old theme of the tension between
age and youth. We also are shown the conflict between practical world
knowledge and book learning. These are familiar themes in literature. We
find them here to be not redundant but like old friends that we have met

We gain the greatest insight into Silas’ character by examining his
attitude toward work. Warren found fault with aspects of Silas’ work
ethic. He admits, however, that Silas was an artist as a hay bundler. How
like so many of us Silas appears to be. He found a source of
self-satisfaction in some aspects of his work, even as he disappointed by
virtue of his inability or unwillingness to meet all his employer’s
expectations. Silas did it his way. Silas’ work ethic may not have
reached the level that Warren wanted, but it kept him from seeking his
brother’s charity. We are told that his brother was a prosperous bank
director. Silas chose employment rather than dependence. There is
nobility in his action, grudgingly admitted by Warren, who says of Silas,
“Worthless though he is, he won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.”

Indeed, the concept of work is central to this poem. The tension between
Warren and Silas is based on differences in their respective ideas about
the quantity and quality of Silas’ work. Silas’ persona is grounded in
his status as a worker. In this regard Silas is a metaphor for the rest of
us. We are what we do. Others know us by the nature and the quantity of
our work. The relationship between worker and employer is reciprocal. We
also see in this poem, however, the relationship between Silas and Harold
Wilson. Silas and Harold are co-workers in one sense but they are more
than that, as their differences in age and experience foist different roles
upon them.

This poem describes a kind of employer-employee relationship that is not as
common as it once was. They worked together in close personal proximity.
Warren knew more about Silas than most contemporary supervisors know about
their employees. They had a personal relationship that went beyond their
respective job descriptions. There surely still are such relationships in
business, but by far the greater proportion of contemporary workers are in
more formal, secondary relationships with their supervisors.

Mary expresses the special nature of this connection between Warren and
Silas when she says of Silas, “he has come home to die.” Following this
Frost creates one of the more cogent lines in literature when he has Mary
define home as, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they
have to take you in.” Here we see the essential definition of the concept
of home. Warren follows this by stating, “I should have called it
something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” This brief exchange draws a
line between what we purchase by our work and what we purchase by
ourselves. Work earns us what we deserve; home is what we have by virtue
of being who we are.

In summary, we would say that his poem impresses by its intensity—its
ability to bring us into intimate awareness of the relationships between
these people, and in just a few lines. We experience it like a meteor. It
flashes into view and is extinguished. For a moment the history of the
relationships between these principals is illuminated, and then it ends.
Substantively it illustrates the importance of work as a defining
characteristic of the human condition. This poem grabs and holds our
attention because it illustrates familiar truths that are found in our own
experience. It re-connects us to themes that we have lived and have found
in other literature

Earl Newman from United States

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Information about The Death of the Hired Man

Poet: Robert Frost
Poem: 2. The Death of the Hired Man
Volume: North of Boston
Year: 1914
Added: Feb 1 2004
Viewed: 55857 times

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