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The Man-Moth
The Man-Moth
by Elizabeth Bishop
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Hands

Symbol Analysis

Our hands are one of the things that sets us apart from apes, even evil genius ones. Ours hands can create and manipulate to an amazing degree, but so many of us choose not to bother. The man on the street in the poem uses his to carry a briefcase and a cup of coffee, and the most dexterous thing he will probably do all day is type an email to his boss or update his Facebook status. The Man-Moth on the other hand (get it?) uses his to create things of beauty.

  • Line 7: The man recognizes the light on his hands, but it doesn't strike him as interesting, much less beautiful. This represents Man's ignorance. He sees something profound but fails to see the beauty in it. 
  • Line 40: The Man-Moth's hands are so industrious that they're just itching to create. Of course, they're so enthusiastic that they would get him in trouble if he just let them run around will-nilly with no supervision. They represent the Man-Moth's potential, both the creative and destructive. 
  • Line 46: Here the Man-Moth's hands are deft and mysterious. They are capable of deception, you know, like David Copperfield. Yes, we mean this David Copperfield, not that David Copperfield. Again, we have a symbol of potential in those hands, and maybe we're a little surprised at what he can do. 
  • Line 47: Here his hands are honest and open, offering us his creation because we invested a little time and effort into paying attention to him. We figured out his trick, so he concedes his treasure. His hands are now only a symbol of creation and enlightenment because he is passing the gift to us.