Explain O'Brien's allusion Thomas Hardy poem, "The Man He Killed."

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Man He Killed" by Thomas Hardy is a poem written by a narrator (in the first person) who overhears a soldier (they are both in a bar) saying how he killed a man mindlessly ("I shot him dead because--because he was my foe").  The irony of the poem is that, if that same man would be sitting in the bar now, the narrator would buy him a drink.

"The Man I Killed" by Tim O'Brien is a third-person account of how Tim O'Brien killed a Vietcong soldier--or so we think.  O'Brien uses great empathy to resurrect this soldier: he was not a soldier, but a scholar, with thin wrists.  The description matches O'Brien, so the Man I Killed serves as his foil and doppelganger.

Whereas the poem is told in a sing-songy barroom dialect, dripping with irony, the short story is an emotional account of Tim trying to see past the military indoctrination, to see the enemy as himself.

Neither gives clear answers as to why soldiers die.  The poem is fraught with circular reasoning: "I shot him dead because -- because he was my foe."  And Tim probably did not even kill the Man I Killed (he later recants the story, saying someone else threw the grenade).  Both poem and story, then, stress the absurdity of war.

Read the study guide:
The Things They Carried

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