For the Love of Em Dashes!

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When I read Thomas Hardy's, "The Man He Killed," aloud, I felt that the tone needed to be mildly sarcastic and rather confused, as if the speaker is trying to justify his actions while masking his true feelings at the same time through sarcasm.  At first, the speaker describes the event lightly, saying he probably would have been able to enjoy a drink with the man he kills had they not met in war.  The speaker first reveals his vulnerability and discomfort about the situation, in lines 9 and 10, by pausing while explaining his reasons for killing the man: "I shot him dead because - / because he was my foe."  Here the audience is able to see through the sarcasm about drinking "right many a nipperkin" (4) the speaker previously utilized because they can see his distress about killing the man just because they believed in different causes.

The rest of the poem is a bit disjointed, in that the speaker makes several pauses - indicated by em dashes - throughout the fourth stanza as he gathers his thoughts and muddles through his confusion.  The mild sarcasm returns in the last stanza, when the speaker refers to war as being "quaint and curious."  However, at this point, the reader is quite aware that the speaker is actually pained by his actions because of the confusion in the previous stanza.

I thought this poem gave an excellent insight into human nature, regardless of the situation.  I, myself, tend to lightly remark on my feelings, even if I'm actually experiencing a much deeper emotional response, just like the speaker.  Hardy was able to expound a human reaction in a way that the reader connects to the speaker, and feels sorry for him despite the fact that he has killed a man.  That speaker-audience connection is, to me, what makes "The Man He Killed" a memorable poem.

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4 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

I like your idea of the speaker being confused. I hadn't thought of it this way. I thought he was just callous, but secretly regretting it or that he never fully understood what he had done. Your layers of confusion and sarcasm make him seem less like a flat character.

Kayla Lesko said:

I thought the same thing, just not in that much detail. In a weird way, the dashes remind of the Twix commercials where they say, "Need a moment? Grab a twix." To me, it's kinda like he's trying to fill in space to not have an awkward silence.

Josie Rush said:

Personally, I could've done without all the em dashes. I know they serve a purpose, maybe a hesitance in thought that belied his confusion, but to me, it just made the poem more difficult to read. Like, maybe--he--was--stuttering--or something. It was disconcerting. Seriously, I thought I heard someone who sounded a bit like Emily Dickinson yell, "Enough with the em dashes already. Geesh."

Aja: I thought of the speaker as a rather flat character, too, until I looked deeper at that paragraph. It also helped me to read it out loud, as if I were the source of the story, as a means of determining the tone.

Kayla: I wish I really could pause life and eat a Twix bar. I'd do it all the time, just to eat Twix. Anyways, yeah, I could definitely see the dashes as a way of filling the silence, too. It's surprising how many ways one can interpret those em dashes.

Josie: When I first read the poem, I couldn't even understand that stanza. But like I said to Aja, reading it aloud helped me a lot and the em dashes made so much more sense. I kind of like them now :)

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Karyssa Blair on For the Love of Em Dashes!: Aja: I thought of the speaker
Josie Rush on For the Love of Em Dashes!: Personally, I could've done wi
Kayla Lesko on For the Love of Em Dashes!: I thought the same thing, just
Aja Hannah on For the Love of Em Dashes!: I like your idea of the speake