Study Guide

Design Fear

By Robert Frost

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"Design" isn't a ghost story. Really nothing all that awful happens. A spider gets ready to eat a moth. It's the circle of life—get over it. But the philosophical argument that Frost develops begins to play with some of our deepest fears. Frost moves from telling a story to asking questions, questions that become increasingly more urgent. It is as if he is slowly uncovering all the possible implications of the scene and he is terrified of what he discovers. And we're quaking in our loafers right along with him. (What? Don't hate—they were a Christmas gift.)

Questions About Fear

  1. How does Frost create an eerie tone in the first three lines?
  2. What words or images from the first stanza are specifically connected with common human fears?
  3. What does Frost mean when he describes a "design of darkness to appall"?
  4. Do you see this poem as ultimately fearful, or hopeful? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

Frost works hard to make us fear this little scene by associating it with everything that makes us afraid—death, disease, spiders, even witches. (We're glad he left out heights.)

Frost argues that God doesn't just control everything that happens in the universe; he rigs the whole thing just to freak us out. (Thanks a lot, big fella.)

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