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Fellow Soldiers: an Analysis of 'The Man He Killed'

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In “The Man He Killed”, the speaker uses the third person pronoun, “he” in order to conceal the fact he is the one who killed “the man” mentioned in the title. This displacement suggests that the writer feels guilty as he cannot confidently admit that he has killed someone, so instead he tries to hide it. Subsequently, we can infer that the speaker was never prepared for the burden of guilt he was going to face as a soldier who killed his “foe” and therefore he didn’t refer to himself in the title , veiling the crime he commited. On the other hand, some may argue that he didnt specify any names in the title in order for other soldiers reading the poem to relate, as every soldier who has to kill someone from the opposing side experiences the same feelings as the speaker does in this poem- which is guilt. From this we can infer that the speaker may want to help others in the same position as him; this may comfort him as he is doing a good thing as a result of having done something bad.

The first stanza has a systematic pattern of rhyme and the iambic rhythm in the stanza suggests that the speaker is being controlled by his emotions and feelings. It begins with an alliteration “had he” which instantly suggests that the speaker is feeling forms of guilt as he is giving a hypothetical scenario in order for the readers to understand that things would have played out differently if they werent fighting against eachother in war.This allows the reader to inferthat the speaker does have some sort of humanity, however due to the situation he was in (war) he had to put his humanity aside. By creating a hypothetical the speaker is diverting the blame of the death of his foe onto war itself. Some may say he did this in order to relieve himself of the overwhelming sense of guilt ,however others can argue that hardy created a hypothetical in order to show the readers and other soldiers how desensitized war makes you, and how it forces you to become an enemy of an unknown person who, in another place and time, you would be friends with. This could be a direct message to other soldiers who are in the same boat as the speaker, ensuring them that shooting at someone in this situation doesnt define who you are- as in this scenario you have to choose between killing someone you barely know or sacrificing yourself in the blink of an eye.

Hardy also presents his feelings about conflict by using the oxymoron of “quaint war.” This could be interpreted in many ways, one of them being that the speaker is glamorising war as the adjective “quaint” is usually used to describe something that is unusually attractive. This could suggest that the speaker has become satisfied with the thought of killing someone – even though he knows it is morally incorrect. This idea juxtaposes the previous stanzas which imply that war makes you inhumane. On the other hand, some may see this description of war as a sense of sarcasm as “quaint “ is how war is advertised to potential soldiers, as soldiers are told that they will be satisfied once the war is over as they have defeated and killed their enemies. Instead , hardy reveals the truth about the feelings war gives you – defeating your foes doesn’t give you satisfaction, instead it leaves you with wishing things played out differently. The adjective, “quaint” is also used when showing you do not approve of something. This could imply that the speaker wishes he never signed up for the war as he never imagined he would have haunted thoughts as a result of killing a man at war. This further reinforces hardys negative feelings towards war as it creates permanent damage on how a soldier views their life.

The poem also explores the theme of the dehumanization of the enemy in war. The soldier describes the man he killed as ‘a simple soldier of the Queen’ and ‘a fellow-creature.’ This highlights the fact that the man he killed was not an enemy, but a human being, who was fighting for his country just like the soldier.

The poem also touches on the theme of the futility of war. The soldier describes the act of killing as ‘a pitiful thing’ and ‘a waste of life.’ This highlights the fact that war is not only devastating for the individuals involved, but also for society as a whole.

In conclusion, ‘The Man He Killed’ by Thomas Hardy is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the human cost of war. The poem uses powerful imagery to convey the soldier’s feelings of guilt and regret, and highlights the themes of the dehumanization of the enemy in war, the potential of friendship and the futility of war. The poem serves as a powerful reminder of the human cost of war and the importance of understanding and empathy.

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Fellow Soldiers: An Analysis of ‘The Man He Killed’. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
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