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The Man He Killed
The Man He Killed
by Thomas Hardy

The Man He Killed Theme of Guilt

To be perfectly honest, Shmoop doesn't have much evidence that the speaker of "The Man He Killed" feels guilty at all. But we're betting he does, since he seems to stumble over his words as he describes the scene. And it only gets worse from there, as he tries to justify the death with shaky reasoning and dead-end excuses. In the end, the real guilt comes from the fact that he killed a man who was just like himself. How in the world do you clear your conscience after something like that?

Questions About Guilt

  1. What in the third stanza suggests that the speaker feels guilt over the killing? Could there be something else going on here, too?
  2. Does the speaker feel as guilty at the end of the poem as he did at the beginning?
  3. How does the fact that the killing happened during the war alter the way the speaker feels about his guilt? Or does it affect him at all?
  4. Does the speaker's imagining of the man he killed to be a lot like himself lessen or worsen his guilt? How can you tell?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker feels less guilty by the end of the poem, because he understands that the man tried to kill him, too. They were a lot alike, after all.

The long dashes, internal rhyme, and repeated because and foe show us just how guilty this guy feels. He can't face the truth.

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