18 pages 36 minutes read

Stephen Crane

A Man Said to the Universe

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1899

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Symbols & Motifs

How a Man Symbolizes Humankind

In the poem, the man, since he’s “a man” (Line 1), symbolizes humankind. As the man lacks a definite article, Crane is not talking about a specific person. The universe does not feel apathetic to one individual in particular but individuals in general, as the indefinite article means that the man could be one of many men or people. “A man” (Line 1) is representative of humans, their pride in existence, their excitement to be alive, and their role in a dangerous universe.

The phrase “a man” (Line 1) also symbolizes humankind because “man” in this context is not automatically gender-exclusive. In the 19th century when Crane wrote, the term was used to refer to humanity as a whole. In his blog “You’ll be a man, my son. Part 1” (OUPblog, 2015), the etymologist Anatoly Liberman argues the word man has origins in a “collective noun” that did not automatically denote gender. Previously, poets of different genders used “man” to mean humans. In Emily Dickinson’s poem “A Man may make a Remark” (ca 1864), the “man” symbolizes humans, just as a man can represent all humans in Crane’s

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