Death of a Hired Man

Subject Matter The subject matter of the poem is of a couple that live on a farm. Mary is sat waiting for Warren to arrive home. When she sees him she tells him that Silas is back. The two start talking about Silas and Mary tells Warren how worn out he looks. They talk about how he used to work on the farm and the boy that used to work with him, who is now a scholar to Silas’s dislike. Mary then tell warren that Silas has come here to die and how he sees this place as his home. Warren mentions Silas rich brother and how Silas wont go to see him because of his pride.
Warren goes inside to how Silas is doing and when he returns out side he tell Mary that he is dead. Themes The themes that are present in this poem is life as well as death, Family & Friendship, Home and belonging. Life & Death The sense of death is set when Mary says “he has come home to die:/ you needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time” and the couple start to reminisce of Silas’s life and the things that he used to do. Character Development Mary’s character is shown us from the first line.
Although the day has been busy—busy enough that she and her husband had to go their separate ways to get everything done, with Warren returning from the market at or after dark, Mary just waits at the table, being close to Silas should he wake up, but not occupied with end-of-day tasks such that she might miss the sound of Warren’s approach. She does not dare miss Warren at the door, and prepare him for what he will find in the kitchen. Mary is a mixture of kindness, firmness, and resolve. She advises her husband to “Be kind” then “you mustn’t laugh at him” and then “Go look. See for yourself. Yet she only does this after she has softened Warren’s hard crust. She is concerned that Warren will hurt Silas’ feelings. She dragged Silas into the house, gave him tea, tried to make him smoke, urges him to talk about his situation. She is comforting to the wayward worker. And his sorry condition “hurt [her] heart the way he lay/ And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back. ” Yet, she is firm and resolved. Before Warren ever gets home and gives her consent, she has fed and entertained Silas, and made up a bed for him. She seems fairly certain that she can convince Warren that Silas must stay.

Yet, she also trusts her man. While he has that crust she must break through, she allows him time alone with Silas and seems sure that Warren will do the right and charitable thing. Warren’s Character Warren’s Character Contrasts with Mary’s in “The Death of the Hired Man” Warren returns from the market, probably at late twilight, expecting to find dinner on the table, and instead finds the next-to-worthless Silas returned, in the dead of winter, at a time when farm hands are not really needed. He hears that Silas plans to “ditch the meadow” this time, something that apparently has come between them before.
Warren sees himself as a kind man. He has put up with Silas in times past, perhaps for several seasons. The words imply several cycles of hiring, leaving for better wages or for whatever, return in the off-season, and re-hiring. Warren, rather than interfere when Silas argued the value of education with the young farm hand working a summer while in college, stayed “well out of earshot” and let them argue. He has been kind. Yet he is cynical. He smiled at Mary’s description of Silas as “a miserable sight,” drawing from her a mild rebuke. Will Silas really work this time?
Mary describes his condition as poor, and thinks he might be past his working days. Warren disputes that sight unseen. If Silas is to stay with them he is to work for his keep. Warren is not uncharitable; he just believes Silas’ brother, whom he thinks is well-to-do, should be the one to provide care. Silas, the Unreliable Hired Man Although Silas never speaks in this poem, much is revealed about him. He has a disdain for learning. He has trouble staying with a job when he thinks he can make more money elsewhere. He takes advantage of peak labor times to sell himself to the highest bidder.
He makes promises he cannot keep, such as “ditching the meadow. ” This is a curious phrase. What does it mean? Is the meadow poorly drained and in need of having some ditches cut—hard, backbreaking labor? If so, it appears Silas abandoned Warren and Mary when they needed him most. Or is this some kind of useless task that Silas thought needed doing but which Warren had no intention of paying for? Either way, although it is a point of contention between the farm couple and the laborer, the fact that Silas is fixated on it declares his stubbornness.
Conflict Handled Through Words and Actions, not Telling The conflict between Warren and Mary reaches a peak when Mary says, “he has come home to die,” and Warren says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ” Mary seems to bristle at this and gives a sharp reply: “I should have called it/ Something you somehow haven’t to deserve. ” What does this mean? Is it a generic description of home, that no one has to do something to deserve what should be theirs?
Or is she saying that Warren is not deserving of the home he has, a stronger statement? The conflict is sharp enough that Warren leaves the front steps and does something meaningless: he walks a few feet, picks up a small stick, brings it back to the steps, breaks it, and throws the parts away. He seems to be doing something physical as a means of breaking the tension with his wife. The poem ends with the three main characters well developed, mostly through dialog but also through a minimum of actions. Much can be learned about them in these few lines excellently crafted.

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