The Man He Killed

by Thomas Hardy

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Student Question

What is the analysis of the poem "The Man He Killed" by Thomas Hardy?

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Hardy's poem tells the story of a working class British man who has fought in WW I. The narrator of the poem is describing his rationale for having killed an enemy soldier. He muses aloud about why he killed the other man, who he supposes may have just enlisted in the military because he was out of work and needed the income.  He explains that he did it because the other fellow was his enemy, though he allows that under different circumstances, he might well have bought the man a drink and been his friend.

The structure of the poem is narrative; i.e., it tells a story. But to whom is the narrator telling his story? Who is he trying to convince? The tragic answer is, himself. The reader can picture a working class fellow at a bar some evening, telling this story to whoever will listen, and not for the first time. The narrator is desperately hoping to justify his deadly actions, and thereby make peace with what must be horrific memories of the war.

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