The Man He Killed

by Thomas Hardy
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How is the speaker different from the poet in "The Man He Killed"?

The speaker is different from the poet in "The Man He Killed" because he is more naïve. He questions whether the enemy soldier he killed might have been a friend under different circumstances, but he accepts that war is about killing people like himself. Hardy, in contrast, writes this poem to condemn warfare.

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The speaker is more naïve than the poet, Hardy, in this 1902 poem. The speaker, an ordinary Englishman, enlists in the army because he is down on his luck. In battle, he kills a man from the other side, because that is what he has been trained to do.

Although the speaker accepts that he killed the man because he was his "foe," it does cross his mind that he killed a person very similar to himself, with whom he had no personal grievance. In fact, he feels a certain identification with the man, wondering if he, too, decided to "list" (enlist) for no real reason. Maybe this soldier had no more animosity toward his side in the war than he has toward the other soldier's side.

While the speaker never questions that whether it is normal to send people to kill each other who don't have the slightest idea what they are fighting for, the speaker does imagine that the same man he killed is one he might have treated to a drink if he met him in a bar under a different set of circumstances.

All of this differs from the consciousness of Hardy, the poet, because Hardy is writing the poem to condemn war. He wants his readers to realize from what the kindly solider says that war is senseless if it forces people who might otherwise be friends to kill each other. He hopes that we as readers won't be as accepting of this state of affairs as his naïve speaker.

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