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The Man with the Hoe condemns human exploitation and strives to instill social justice. Through the usage of time-related diction, the poem’s speaker characterizes the worker as a hopeless, burdened victim who has suffered atrocities throughout his lifetime. The Man with the Hoe’s speaker also depicts the brutalized toiler with horrific imagery, a monstrous phenomenon unleashed by mistreatment and excessive work. Additionally, the poem’s speaker emphasizes the worker’s misery to elicit sympathy from the reader. However, by using rhetorical questions, the speaker also characterizes the worker as a symbol of the imminent rebellion for justice.
The worker exhibits physical and mental hopelessness, falling victim to the indoctrinated belief of his inferiority as a laborer. Through the usage of time-related diction, the speaker portrays the toiler’s desperation by describing him as an individual who is “bowed by the weight of centuries.” The worker temporarily seeks respite by leaning on his hoe with his “eyes cast downward,” an indication of his sentiments of inadequacy. Additionally, “the emptiness of ages” permanently exists on his face because he has attempted to distance himself emotionally from his plight. Although the speaker asserts that “God intended for man to feel the passion of eternity,” he has become tangled in time’s tragedy, as evidenced by his aching stoop. This prolonged, tragic lifestyle simply serves to degrade the worker’s appearance.
Through the usage of imagery, the speaker portrays the laborer’s deteriorating physique, which results from the mistreatment he endured. The working man from Millet’s painting is a “monstrous thing, distorted and soul-quenched.” His “dread shape” signifies “humanity betrayed.” In essence, the worker’s condition is a product of mankind’s inhumane treatment of individuals of their own race. Additionally, the speaker asserts that there is no “shape more terrible than this- more tongued with the censure of the world’s blind greed.” The speaker also alludes to the dangerous repercussions that this abuse can engender from a desperate, brutalized toiler.
In the concluding stanza of The Man with the Hoe, the speaker utilizes rhetorical questions to depict the toiler through an optimistic perspective, the optimism of rebellion and justice. The speaker indicates the laborer’s quiet strength by foreshadowing a day of reckoning when laborers will seek vengeance for their mistreatment. Ultimately the toiler’s resentment will incite revolt, and the poem’s speaker questions, “How will the future reckon with this man?” What travesties will erupt when the “whirlwind of rebellion shake all shores?” Furthermore, the speaker questions about the world’s inevitable fate when the laborer rises to bring justice for himself and for other brutalized workers “after the silence of the centuries.”
Although the figure in the painting symbolizes the toiling, slaving class, the speaker also decides to characterize the figure with a tinge of hopefulness. The worker’s pain seems timeless through the speaker’s choice of time-related diction. The worker’s broken body is an inevitable consequences of his brutalization. However, the worker and his predecessor’s future has not been permanently decided. The uncertainty of the future allows the speaker to characterize the future of the working class with rebellion, justice, and tentative optimism.
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