What does the bent body of the man with the hoe signify?

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The famous poem "The Man with the Hoe" by Edwin Markham is based on an equally famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet. In the painting, a large, strong, dirty, and obviously exhausted man leans on his hoe while standing in a rocky field full of thistles. When the painting...

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The famous poem "The Man with the Hoe" by Edwin Markham is based on an equally famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet. In the painting, a large, strong, dirty, and obviously exhausted man leans on his hoe while standing in a rocky field full of thistles. When the painting was first displayed in 1863, it caused great controversy for its devastating depiction of the plight of the peasant.

In his poem, Markham opens with a quote from the book of Genesis in the Bible about how God made man in his image. The poet contrasts God's intention to give man "dominion over sea and land" and "feel the passion of eternity" with this poor man who is so overworked that he is "dead to rapture and despair."

The man's bent body symbolizes his inability to bear on his back the "burdens of the world." In this, he stands for all the peasants and laborers who have spent their lives toiling in fields. The poem points out that overworking these people is wrong and that the "masters, lords, and rulers in all lands" will be accountable to God for the "perfidious wrong" of subjecting people like him to such unrelenting backbreaking labor.

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The bent body of the man with a hoe signifies his dehumanization by an unjust society. He is bent over almost as if he is an animal on all four legs.

The Edwin Markham poem "The Man with a Hoe" is based on a painting by the same name by Millais. The man's back is bent, according to Markham, because he has to carry the weight of "the world" on his shoulders. The speaker asks who made him this way:

A thing that grieves not and that never hopes.
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?

The poem is addressed to the wealthy and the privileged who live comfortable lives by overworking people like the man with the hoe. This man has been forced to labor so hard that he has become little more than a beast, the speaker says, unable to enjoy or appreciate the higher things in life that are the mark of humanity.

The speaker questions the powerful, asking them:

How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality

The poem warns the wealthy to look after the welfare of the poorer classes because, otherwise, they will eventually rise up in "whirlwinds of rebellion." The poem implies that all people, simply by being born human, have a right to stand up and lift their heads:

To trace the stars and search the heavens for power

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The bent body of the man in the poem "The Man with the Hoe" signifies the crushing labor the working man must carry out to survive. The weight that bends his body symbolizes "the weight of the centuries," or the burden that humans have long had to toil constantly to grow food and endure. This burden has made the man "dead to rapture and despair," meaning the man can't even feel joy or pain because his constant labor has made him senseless. Instead, he is "brother to the ox," meaning he is like a beast of burden and separated from the "seraphim," or angels. To this man, the achievements of humankind, such as the insights of Plato, are meaningless, as he can do nothing more than till the earth. At the end of the poem, the man comes to symbolize a hope for the future—that rulers will "straighten up this shape," meaning governments will help the working class lead a better and more humane life.

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The bent body of the man with the hoe signifies that he is one of a multitude who have labored beyond their strength to support the whims and desires of 'masters, lords and rulers in all lands.'

He is described as 'Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox.' His labors have been appropriated to sustain the 'world's blind greed.' His back is 'bowed by the weight of centuries,' signifying that he represents all the multitude of burdened, impoverished farmers whose sweat is emblematic of suffering and degradation. The man with the hoe is a 'Slave of the wheel of labor.' The wheel here symbolizes never-ending servitude. Indeed, the poet asks in anguished tones how the world will ever right the wrongs it has inflicted on 'This monstrous thing, distorted and soul-quenched' and unable to comprehend 'light' nor 'immortality.'

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The man has been bent and bowed by the figurative weight of responsibility on his shoulders. A life of work is all he knows, and he bears the "burden of the world." His life, nothing but toil, has "made him dead to rapture and despair" so that he has become a "thing that grieves not and that never hopes." Toil is his entire life, to the point that he does not even feel—what would be the point of feeling? It does not lessen one's burden or lighten one's work. He is almost an animal, "a brother to the ox," because he has been stripped of his humanity. We are meant to do so much more than work. The "light within this brain" has been blown out, and he seems, no longer, to resemble the "Thing the Lord God made and gave / To have dominion over sea and land." He is no master now. He feels no "passion," and he asks no questions of the "heavens." Out of all the things a person is capable of doing, he only does one: work. He is a "Slave of the wheel of labor" and no more. He does not think or wonder or dream. His "aching stoop" signifies the tragedy of his lowly condition when he might have been, and should have been, so much more.

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In Markham's "The Man with the Hoe," the man is bent over because of "the weight of the centuries" (line 1) that he bears and because of the weight of the "the burden of the world" (line 4), which presses down upon him. This is a homage and a lament for the working man throughout time, who toiled in the fields or a steel mill, oppressed by the wealthy few, who have through their greed oppressed working people, taken away the light and music in their souls, condemning them to long, grueling days and nights of work, for virtually nothing in return. This poem is based upon a painting of the same name by Jean-Francois Millet. The painting portrays a man who is bent over, working a rocky ground. The plight of the working man has not really changed much throughout history. In spite of modern features such as minimum wage and OSHA regulations, many working people are still bent over metaphorically, if not literally.

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