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Disabled by Wilfred Owen and Out, Out – by Robert Frost both explore similar themes of injustice. Both characters in the poems suffer unfortunate fates; in Disabled, the protagonist loses both his legs and his arm during the First World War. Out, Out –, is a literary reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where Macbeth receives the unfortunate news of his wife’s untimely death. This shows that there is an inevitability in Out, Out – that someone will likewise suffer an untimely death, which was ultimately the boy who died of blood loss after the saw cut his arm off.
Although both poets write about different situations, they both describe physical loss, however in little detail. In Out, Out –, Frost uses hyphens in between “little–less–nothing! –” which speeds his death up and shows how quickly the boy died. In Out, Out –, Frost takes a more euphemistic approach when describing the boy’s physical loss, by describing the moment when the saw hit the boy’s limb as “neither refused the meeting”. This supports the idea that Frost doesn’t want the reader to focus on the gore of the accident, rather its consequences. “In the dark of ether”, a euphemism for going un-conscious is further evidence for this. In Disabled, Owen is more abrupt, ending “Legless, sewn short at elbow” with a full stop. This caesura allows the reader to acknowledge the seriousness of the accident and the sibilance emphasises his disability and creates a despondent tone. Both Owen and Frost use life as a metaphor for blood, in an attempt to show that more than blood is lost in both circumstances. In Frost’s Out, Out –, he uses the metaphor “life from spilling.”. This is ended by a caesura which, much like Disabled, forces us to comprehend what is actually happening. “Life” is used instead of blood to stress the fact that although blood is literally spilling, he is also losing his life as a result. This shows the sacrifice that he and many other veterans of war were forced to make on the battlefield, in a war many thought wasn’t worth fighting and was avoidable. By concentrating on the repercussions of the initial accidents and focusing more on the long-term effects, both poems are able to show the adverse effects of war in greater detail, provoking the sympathy of the reader more effectively; in the case of Out, Out –, the injustice that such a young boy is wasting away his childhood due to child labour and in Disabled, the injustice disabled people received by society and the injustice of war itself.
Not only do both protagonists of the poems suffer major physical loss, they also suffer the loss of an opportunity of leading a good quality life and their potential is wasted. In Disabled, the protagonist “lost his colour” which although could be taken in the literal sense, could also mean the loss of his personality and emotion. As a colour usually represents a certain emotion, a lack of all colour suggests the protagonist has been drained after enduring the war and is left dull. This is further supported when the protagonist is said to be “waiting for dark” which indicates his lack of mobility and energy. It could also be considered as him waiting for night time to come so he can hide away, or it could be a metaphor to show that he is waiting for his death. The protagonist again uses dark colour and language such as, “ghastly suit of grey” which furthermore represents his miserable and sad outtake on life. The alliteration of the hard ‘g’ conveys the self-hatred he is feeling for himself and “ghastly” could emphasise the fact that he is a ‘ghost’ of his former self. This shows the mass injustice of war as after sacrificing himself in the War, the protagonist returns only to be in a much worse condition than he was before the War. In Out, Out –, the boy however doesn’t have the chance to return in a worse condition which shows how unfair and unjust his life was. Both poems have very different graphology. In Disabled, the stanzas are approximately the same size and shape, which mirrors the protagonist’s now limited imagination and now boring life. In Out, Out –, the poem is only one stanza which contrasts the fact that the boy hasn’t lived long enough for him to have a past and there is no future for him. All he had was the present, which is now gone as well. In both Disabled and Out, Out –, the poets write about not only the protagonist’s present, but past and future respectively as well.
In Disabled, Owen frequently juxtaposes between the protagonist’s fun, warm childhood to his now dark and miserable present. This helps show the vast contrast between his life before and after the War, which again shows the injustice of war. When Owen describes the protagonist’s past, he tends to romanticize. “When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees” is an example of this. As the protagonist is looking back upon his childhood, he may only remember the good parts, which is why he over-romanticizes, such as “the light blue trees” which sounds very peaceful as blue is a very calming colour, although unrealistic. The protagonist’s constant dreaming about his past suggests to the reader that he is feeling increasingly worse about his current situation and uses these distorted yet pleasant memories as an escape from how awful his current life really is. Owen shows the immense contrast before and after the war by describing the protagonist as a ‘perfect man’ and then going on to say “Now, he is old”; he is not actually old, he just feels old as he had to physically and mentally age. This indicates that war has forced the protagonist to grow up faster than necessary and he has lost all of his innocence and potential due to war. In Out, Out –, Frost does the same thing by using a caesura at the end of “he saw all spoiled”. This caesura allows both the reader and the boy to comprehend what is about to happen. The boy is forced to grow up fast and in his last few seconds, he understands the cruelty of the world as he lost the ignorance which had protected him for so long. He loses his innocence and from that moment, could never live a normal childhood. Frost, similarly to Owen, juxtaposes by creating a romantic picture. “Mountain ranges” and “sunset” creates a very picturesque atmosphere and shows the reader what the boy’s life should be like. The young boy should have had a childhood full of beautiful scenery and freedom, instead he is forced to have quite the opposite. Frost also uses the soft sounding sibilance “sweet-scented stuff” which helps put the reader into the boy’s situation as it is a clear imagery the readers can relate to. It is also a juxtaposition between the hard descriptions, giving the reader a false sense of security. This shows the injustice of child labour as this boy, as a result of child labour, is losing his chance to have a childhood and ultimately, potential for a child to have a good quality of life is wasted. When the boy eventually does die, Frost uses very abrupt language, “and that ended it. No more to build on there”. This shows how brutal and final death is and “no more to build on there” indicates the boy’s loss of potential.
Not only do both protagonists suffer great losses, they also both receive the injustice of being ignored after their respective accidents. In Disabled, Owen described the protagonist as being “ghastly” which could be a metaphor for him being a ghost. This could be interpreted in the literal sense as ghosts are usually scary and transparent, which is how the protagonist is being viewed by society. As he is invisible, people ignore him and pretend he isn’t there, as if he were a scary ghost. The protagonist in Disabled assumed that by joining the army and fighting in the War, he would be treated like a hero. However, for his brave sacrifices “some cheered him home”. This lack of appreciation by society again emphasises the injustice the protagonist received and the injustice of war itself. “But not as crowds cheer Goal” suggests the cheer the protagonist received was muted and pitiful rather than appreciative and one a hero would receive. However, a solemn man “Thanked him”. Owen puts the “Thanks” in italics as it shows that the thanks was genuine, it stands out; just like the italics does on the page. After returning from the war, the protagonist “noticed how the women’s eyes Passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. This tells the reader that the women perceived him as ‘weak’ for being disabled and un-heroic as he did not return unharmed from the war. This shows the injustice that disabled people felt as although they sacrificed themselves for their country, people didn’t respect them for it. The women are perceived as shallow as they judge the protagonist on his physical appearance rather than his bravery. Owen uses an enjambment here to increase the pace of the line, which mirrors how fast the women’s “eyes passed” away from him. In Frost’s Out, Out –, after the boy had died, the people “turned to their affairs”. Much like the women in Disabled, the people, including the boy’s family, didn’t seem to care that he had died, since “they were not the one dead”. This line was an enjambment, it kept on going which mirrors what his family did. However, the situation could be interpreted quite differently; the people didn’t want to think about this tragic, untimely death so they returned to their affairs as the thought was too horrific to bear. The same idea could be applied to the women in Disabled, making them seem less shallow and more sympathetic.
In Out, Out –, Frost explores the sense of inevitability. He does this by using many poetic techniques such as personifying the saw, which caused the boy’s premature death. In the first and seventh line of the poem, there are several repetitions of the words “snarled and rattled” which gives the reader a sense of animal imagery; making the saw sound like a wild beast which will inevitably hurt the young, vulnerable boy. The repetition of “snarled and rattled” also shows that the saw is unstable and very dangerous, just like a wild beast which builds tension towards the inevitable accident. Also, Frost wedges nice, warm description of “mountains” and “sunsets” in between hard descriptions, such as the description of the saw “snarling” and “rattling”. This indicates that the boy is somewhat trapped between these bad situations and cannot escape his fate, therefore making his death inevitable. Frost uses an enjambment, “but half as if to keep the life from spilling” which suggests the line keeps going, like the saw. This suggests that the saw will keep going and take any limb in its way, which gives it a sense of certainty that it will eventually hurt the little boy. Frost uses the euphemism “neither refused the meeting” which could indicate that the “meeting” between the saw and the boy’s limb was planned, thus giving making it foreseeable and inevitable. Frost writes Out, Out – in iambic pentameter. The rhythm is constant which reflects the movement of the saw, which allows the reader to constantly hear the threat of the saw throughout the poem, making it inevitable that it will cause harm to the boy.
In both poems, the protagonist is a victim of the time period they live in. Both poems were written at similar times (Out, Out – in 1916 and Disabled in 1917) and this means that both poems share the harsh mentality society had for certain groups of people, such as the idea that disabled people were ‘inhumane’ and young boys should have to work from a very young age if they couldn’t afford schooling. In Out, Out –, although child labour wasn’t fully legal, it wasn’t unacceptable like it is today in our modern society. This is another reason as to why when the boy died, the people “turned to their affairs” as it shows it is common for boys to be working, therefore it wasn’t a surprise when he injured himself. Although Frost portrays the boy’s parents to be uncaring and insensitive, the reader still feels very sympathetic towards the boy (as we are able to connect with the boy on a personal and emotive level via direct speech when he says, “Don’t let him, sister!”) which shows the contrast between how little the boy was cared for and how also the contrast between our modern, more sensitive views compared to the older, more firm views. However, In Disabled, there was a terrible attitude towards disabled people in society, they were treated like a “queer disease”; infectious and inhumane. Owen’s simile shows that they weren’t treated normally and people couldn’t accept the protagonist back into society. This shows how unjust society was aa a whole, as they couldn’t treat people equally.
Both protagonists are also manipulated by figures of authority, which leads them to their tragic fates. In Out, Out –, the boy is shown to be coerced by his parents to work, after Frost uses the term “big boy” which shows the irresponsibility of both the child and his parents. In Disabled, he is deceived by society as a whole. The protagonist was told “he’d look a god in kilts” which suggests he was pressured into joining the army by the women’s peer-pressure. This indicates that society would prompt the young men into joining the army as it was a ‘heroic’ and ‘manful’ thing to do. This shows that all men made ill-informed decisions about something which would have life-long effect either physically or mentally. Further injustice of this, is when society fails to keep to their promises and after the War, would view their injured veterans as weak and inhumane. This is further evident by the false propaganda that existed, which again pressured young men into joining the army. “Smiling as they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years” conveys to the reader that the army officials were willing to lie to let him join the army which shows how unjust, corrupt and unfair the War propaganda was.
Both boys were coerced by society into what they were doing as they were both extremely naïve, which therefore left them vulnerable to exploitation. In Disabled, the protagonist didn’t have much of an idea as to what war really was, indicated by, “Germans he scarcely thought of” and “Austria’s, did not move him”. This suggests he had a very adolescent view on war, as he thought he wasn’t scared by Austrians and Germans and enjoyed the image of fighting against them. “One time he liked a blood smear down his leg” further suggests he thought of war as a game and he would, in fact, enjoy a bit of blood spill. This tells the reader that he had no idea about the mass of blood he and his fellow soldiers would lose. “Glow-lamps”, which has a romantic sense, reflects how naïve he was in enlisting himself for war. In Out, Out –, the boy screams, “don’t let him cut my hand off–”, although his hand has already come off. This shows that the boy is in great shock and cannot comprehend what is actually happening. The boy instead gives a “rueful laugh”, which shows his inexperience and innocence as he can’t comprehend the seriousness of his accident. The fact that such innocence is exploited in both poems is very cruel and shows the injustice of both war and the people of authority.
The protagonist’s naïvety and inexperience is a direct result of them being very young and both being expected to do a job suited for people much older. To convey this, Frost uses juxtaposition in Out, Out –, “big boy doing a man’s work”. This helps show the contrast to the reader that someone of the boy’s age shouldn’t be near the workplace of a man as isn’t physically or mentally able as he doesn’t have the suitable concentration, which is evident by his untimely death. He also uses irony and a sarcastic tone to convey his point, “since he was old enough to know”, as he isn’t actually old enough to know. In Disabled, young boys were expected to join the army and although the protagonist feels he was pressured by the women and the government, it was his naïvety of war which ultimately lead him to enlist himself. The injustice that both protagonists were too young to be doing their respective jobs brings about the reader’s sympathy for them both as it shows the mass injustice young men faced during the War.
To conclude, I chose the poems Disabled and Out, Out – as they complement each other very well. They both are set in a very similar time period and both present the idea of the forgotten victim. Owen does this by giving his protagonist a universal appeal by keeping his identity anonymous, thus allowing more people to relate to the poem. Instead of focusing primarily on the respective accidents, both poem’s attention lies with the adverse effects of the accident, which helps to show that both accidents had a lasting effect. The poems also complement each other well as they both touch on similar societal issues. These include the prejudice people had against disabled people in the poem Disabled, the fact that child labour was acceptable in Out, Out – and both poems touched on the heavy expectation of boys in that era, either to work or join the army and not live the life they want to. In Disabled, Owen effectively goes between the warm past and his dark, miserable future by using juxtaposition to show contrast between his life then and now. This contrast helps Owen convey the unjust effect of war, not only physically but psychologically as well. Frost uses similar techniques to show the life the boy should have had, by wedging it between two darker descriptions. This also helps the poet convey the life the boy should have had and emphasises the injustice of child labour.

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