Nature abides by the “survival of the fittest” rule, shown in “Design”, by Robert Frost. Frost deals with
many scenarios, including life vs. death, and the transformation of children into adulthood while examining
the lives of three organisms, and their interaction.
A sickly flower, a naive moth, and a cunning spider combine to form the mildly morbid scene
acted out in Frost’s sonnet. A theme of innocence in nature prevails throughout the reading of “Design”.
The blighted flower is innocent in the death of the moth. A “white heal-all” (2) makes a perfect cover for a
“spider, fat and white” (1) trying to catch breakfast. A white moth tries to take advantage of the flower as
well, when it lights on the heal-all in order to rest. The spider can also be considered as innocent. It didn’t
have a malicious motivation in killing the moth, just hunger driving it to feast on the first item it could.
Our moth shows the epitome of innocence, not giving a second thought to landing on the flower. Unwary
and tired, it chose its landing area without care, and consequently, the moth dies.
The triad of organisms are caught in the theme of life vs. death as the event unfolds. A “snow-
drop spider” (7) can blend in with the flower, creating the perfect death trap. While the moth dies in
Frost’s poem, the spider feeds on him and lives on. Showing that he is the victor, the arachnid triumphantly
holds the moth’s wings in the air, “like a paper kite” (8). It shows that in nature, death by one always gives
life to another. When an unlucky cheetah gets trampled by the herd of gazelles, the buzzards feed upon
him thus transforming it from the hunter to the prey. Nature proves this true in all situations, and Frost tries
to relay the idea in “Design”.
Age and experience make the difference between life and death. Using this logic, the spider
portrays an adult in the poem, while the moth acts like a child.
An adult is characterized by the fact that an adult makes conscious decisions from a well-laid plan.
The spider sees that this flower would help him catch his prey, so he uses the flower to his advantage. The
spider can be viewed as the adult in “Design”, while the moth can be interpreted as the child for a number
of reasons. The moth too, could see that the heal-all had the potential for providing him with an advantage,
but having the child within, forgot to check it out for safety before landing there. A noticeable separation
between naive children and wiser adults can be found by looking at the decisions each made.
While walking in a meadow one sunny day, Robert Frost took a long, hard look into nature and
pondered its motives. Why must one die? What is the purpose? As an answer to these questions, Frost
wrote “Design”. Through its vagueness and applicability to many parts of life, we are free to interpret the
sonnet as seen fit for the purpose. Ideas differ from situation to situation, but one universal
thought is present in all of them: Why is nature’s design present “in a thing so small?”(14). Unanswerable
except by mother nature herself, this question gets down to the heart of everything. It asks the meaning of
life, and shows that no matter how extremely large or infinitely small, everything must be governed by the
same property- nature.