18 pages 36 minutes read

Stephen Crane

A Man Said to the Universe

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1899

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The Insignificance of Humankind

In Line 1, a man says something to the universe, which introduces the theme of man—that is, humans—and their place in the world. Crane never gives the man a name. He does not even give the man a definite article; that is, the man is not “the man”—it is not a specific, distinguishable person. Instead, the man is “[a] man” (Line 1). He receives an indefinite article, which furthers the idea that the plight of a human being is of little consequence. This man is just some person—any person. Before the universe tells this person that it feels no “sense of obligation” (Line 5) toward him, Crane, with the nameless person and indefinite article, drops a clue that this any-man is not of much importance. If his existence mattered, he would likely have a name, or at the very least a “the.”

The nameless, undifferentiated man remains proud of his presence. “Sir, I exist!” (Line 2) he proclaims to the universe, which strikes back against his enthusiasm. “The fact” (Line 4) that this man is alive does not make the universe responsible for his well being. In other words, the man’s existence is insignificant to the universe. The universe is not concerned about what happens to the man and whether his life is fulfilling and long or disappointing and short.