The Man He Killed

by Thomas Hardy
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What do the quotation marks in "The Man He Killed" do for the poem? What do they add to make it a more effective poem?

The quotation marks in "The Man He Killed" by Thomas Hardy allow readers to feel as if they are listening in on a conversation between the speaker and another person or on an internal monologue. The quotation marks make the poem more effective by providing distance for readers as they examine the speaker and his struggles.

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In Thomas Hardy's poem "The Man He Killed ," the speaker provides a first-person account of his feelings about the man he killed when he was a soldier. Hardy places the speaker's words in quotation marks, which is rather unusual. Most first-person poems simply allow the speaker to...

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In Thomas Hardy's poem "The Man He Killed," the speaker provides a first-person account of his feelings about the man he killed when he was a soldier. Hardy places the speaker's words in quotation marks, which is rather unusual. Most first-person poems simply allow the speaker to relate in the first person without such punctuation. Yet these quotation marks change the setting and the tone of the poem.

We readers feel like we have entered into a conversation going on between the speaker and some unknown party. We are merely listening in, and the speaker is not necessarily talking directly to us. We can picture, perhaps, the speaker sitting in "some old ancient inn," reflecting to a companion about his time in the army and thinking about the man he killed and how much different their interaction would have been if they were sitting together in the old inn.

Alternately, we might imagine the speaker talking to himself, trying to figure out his feelings about the man he killed. Again, we readers are not really being directly addressed; we are merely listening in on the speaker's internal monologue.

In any case, the quotation marks make the poem more effective by allowing us some distance from the speaker. As he examines himself and his experiences, we examine him, analyzing his honesty and his sense of regret, even guilt. This man still cannot wrap his mind around war and around what he had to do in the midst of war, but we struggle with him as he tries.

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