Repetition, Symbolism, and Word Play in Hardy’s “The Man He Killed”
Because war is a mysterious entity, Thomas Hardy wrote “The Man He Killed” to emphasize the occasional inadequate reason for conflict, and the range of emotions someone may feel after engaging in conflict that an individual might feel unnecessary, and after taking a persons life simply because he was my “foe”, especially in the Boers Wars in which the British colonized South Africa, in which this poem is set. Hardy is able to convey the feeling of apprehension and shame however not renouncing his allegiance to the crown by using figurative language, and literary elements such as repetition, symbolism, and wordplay.
Throughout the poem the narrator is speaking of war, although there is a lack of chaos and violence. He refers to war as “quaint and curious”(line 17). That changes the idea of war for the reader, and lures the reader to feel a lack of necessity for the battle, which is what the narrator feels. “And staring face to face, I shot him as he at me, and killed him in his place.” (lines 6-8) There is a recognizable absence of emotion here, as one might feel traumatized or regretful after taking a life, and we know war is not “quaint and curious” (line 17). War is meant to be bloody, and chaotic, which in most literature, it is. In “The Man He Killed” the altercation seems more like an execution or murder than a battle, causing the reader to question whether it was justified or not.
Furthermore, repetition is used throughout the poem also and causes the reader to doubt the mans true feelings about war, and what he had done, “I shot him dead because – Because he was my foe, just so: my foe of course he was; That’s clear enough; although” (lines 9-12). The author chose to repeat the words because, and foe to let the reader know that he had to assure his own self of why he had just killed a man. “Because – Because he was my foe” (lines 9-10), the dash between the repeated because represents a pause, airing doubt on why exactly he killed the man. He also states “that’s clear enough” (12) which is ironic because it simply isn’t true. He doesn’t understand why he shot the man; he is wondering why he just took his life beyond him being his foe. It can also be argued that in the narrators series of events, these men are interchangeable, “He though he’d list perhaps, / Off-hand-like—just as I— / Was out of work—had sold his traps— / No other reason why.” (lines 13-16) It seems as though, out of desperation and lack of monetary funds to support themselves, they both enlisted in order to survive and to support their families. The author gives few details about himself, or the man he killed, but the reader can derive from what he does say that these men are very similar, even though they are enemies, which is just what their countries told them, in reality, and in Gods eyes, they are just two men on Planet Earth. Hardy uses several literary elements to convey his ideas. He constructs the poem to emphasize the points he is trying to make. The uses of dashes are the driving force of feeling for the reader, and expose the insecurities the narrator has about what is happening. It is first recognized when in the ninth line while repeating the word because, it seems as if he is hesitating, unsure of what to say, or if he even believes in what he is saying. Furthermore in the following stanza, he uses several dashes to interrupt himself while he creates a scenario for the man he had just taken life away from “Off-hand-like—just as I—“(14). Again, emphasizing the similarity between the men. This happens over in the next line, which brings a sense of realism to the story. The narrator is speaking to the reader, trying to justify what had happened, he doesn’t know these things about the man he had just killed, but he may be feeling guilt about what he had just done. “Was out of work—had sold his traps— / no other reason why” (lines 15-16). He may be hunting...
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