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