Who is responsible for the condition or state of the man with the hoe?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Man with the Hoe" by Edwin Markham was triggered by a painting of the same name, by Jean-Francois Millet, and I have included a link to the painting, so you can see what a vivid representation of the painting this poem is. However, the poem has far deeper meaning than as a description of the painting.  

The man with the hoe represents all the working men who have been burdened, abused, and misused by the power and greed of the wealthy, over thousands of years, from serfs working for lords, to tenant farmers, to migrant workers, to factory workers today.  There are several references to show us who is responsible in the poem.  The poem refers to "the world's blind greed" (line 19), the working man a  protest "to the Powers that made the world" (line 31), the "masters, lords and rulers in all lands" (33).  

The poem is not a representation of the nobility in work, which the wealthy and powerful would have us believe should be sufficient, but rather, shows us that work such as men like this have endured has stolen their souls, taken all the joy out of life, and rendered them no better than animals. The poem's descriptions of the man's deprivations are a cry for a change in these conditions.  These "Powers" have blown out "the light within this brain" (line 10), made him "a brother to the ox" (line 7), and created "a monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched" (line 34). 

This is a poem that does not celebrate the working man, but that exhorts those in power to create working conditions that do not steal the working man's humanity and joy, that will not render him little more than an animal, a plea for better working conditions, better pay, time to cherish what is good in life, else man is little more than an animal, utterly burdened by the powers that be. 

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