The Ax-Helve perfect paragraph

Comment with a perfect paragraph responding to the following question:


How does Frost use symbolism to convey a deeper meaning in The Ax-Helve?

Due date: Wednesday, April 1st

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3 thoughts on “The Ax-Helve perfect paragraph

  1. In Frost’s poem “The Ax-Helve” the poet uses a rhetorical question to symbolize the barriers of communication and knowledge.

    First and above all Frost uses a rhetorical question in order reveal the character’s suspicion and incomprehension. All along the poem the narrator puts into value an important questioning of the other character, Baptiste, by building up a critical view. Through constant negations throughout the poem (a.e: “For nothing”) and the diction of calculating Baptiste’s work the narrator creates a judgmental image of Baptiste, which is obviously inscribed in the context of the early 20th century, where a lot of french Canadians immigrated to New England leaving the inhabitants to build up tension and a controversy on the Canadians’ refusal to assimilate into American school and speak English. These strong negations build up the rhetorical question: “Admitted; and yet, what was that to him?”. Through this rhetorical question the narrator proceeds to further questioning: the lack of reciprocal dialogue leads the narrator to silently judge Baptiste. This is where the poem goes beyond the dialogue of neighbours: the barriers in communication, shown through this dialogue, convey that this can end in confusion, and subsequently in judgement, which is after all, not at all the sense of the dialogue and communication in general.
    The poem thus evokes the dimension of knowledge: because of the language barrier and one individual judging another, the access to knowledge is limited and much more than this you can ask do we even want knowledge? Or should we be suspicious about it like the narrator is? The symbol of knowledge, announced by the scepticism in the narrator’s rhetorical question, is furthermore supported by the allusion to St John the Baptist, linking Baptiste to being a teacher and a craftsman; the theme of the difficult comprehension of different traditional artistries is very present throughout the interchange.
    The rhetorical question is moreover, just like the whole poem, marked by a caesura: the caesuras pause the narrator, symbolizing him taking time to think as he is confused. The narrator’s first assumption that there will be a conflict between him and Baptiste elicits his suspicious character.

  2. In Robert Frost’s poem “The Ax-Helve”, symbolism is highly implied in order to convey a deeper meaning to the reader.

    To begin with, let’s look at the beginning, when both neighbours meet but they seem to have very different behaviours. Indeed, the narrator appears threatened and anxious concerning Baptiste; (lines 13 to 15) “Then took it from me – and I let him take it, I didn’t know him well enough to know what it was all about”, here the reader sense anxiousness coming from the narrator. The Ax-Helve here, could represent a threat to the narrator as it is a dangerous object and he does not trust the newly met neighbor with it. The narrator represents all the damages society has done to humans in the modern time; not trusting people when just met, defiance, fear of others. He reacts like Baptiste is obviously going to take away something from him or hurt him, that shows that he comes from somewhere where he needs to constantly look out for himself because he does not trust others. When on the other hand, Baptiste is someone very open-minded and trustworthy, he symbolises people who lived with simplicity but have true values, human values. Indeed, the reader finds out throughout the poem how Baptiste grew up in the countryside and learnt how to make Axes. He is passionate, open, giving and stands for the more traditional way of living in opposition to the narrator who was shaped by society. Here is a quote that demonstrates Baptiste open-minded, passionate and thoughtful behaviour; “But all he had to tell me in French-English was what he thought of – not me, but my ax”. Finally, another trait that points out how both characters symbolize different ways of living is when they start speaking about education, and how their points of view seem to completely diverge from each other such as in lines 92-93; “Such doubts of education should depend upon the education of those who held them?”. Indeed, here it seems that Baptiste appears to denunciate the artificial aspect of college education, which according to him is not where you learn life-changing and useful skills. We can make the hypothesis that he might have been home-schooled.

  3. In Robert Frost’s poem “The Ax-Helve”, the poet uses tone and symbolism convey a deeper meaning about human relationships throughout the poem.

    First, in this particular setting, the narrator is cutting wood, when he is suddenly interrupted. The only time when his axe has been caught while chopping wood is when it was stuck in an alder branch. Here he says that the alder branch is personified and is said to have ‘held’ him from striking on another alder branch (line 3 and 4).Maybe this could symbolise the end of a friendship, the end of something particular. The axe is also personified at great length throughout the poem. Baptiste is the first one to do so, referring to her as “she”, and then later the axe is described as having a “long white body”. Throughout the poem, it is interesting to see that the narrator is making fun of Baptiste’s enthusiastic ‘overjoyed’ personality on line 40, but he clearly wants to make friends as the narrator reinforces later on, line 91 : “Was I desired in friendship?”, but instead of being sympathetic, the narrator makes it sound as if Baptiste is a predator who is pleased at “having got” or trapped a piece of prey in his place. Maybe the narrator is too selfish, too self conscious to let himself have a friendship with Baptiste. He is very condescending towards him. Also, the narrator’s tone throughout the poem is constantly sarcastic or bitter towards Baptiste, asking rhetorical questions to make fun of Baptiste’s logic and way of thinking: “and yet, what was that to him?” (line 28) or “(…) what we talked about was knowledge?”(line 83). We can see all of this as racism, because Baptiste is french and the narrator comes into his house with many prejudices.

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