Meaning in Literature: Reading Comprehension Review Practice Exercises

Updated on Aug 24, 2011

Read the following study guide for a concept review:

Meaning in Literature: Reading Comprehension Review Study Guide


Read the poem "A Man Said to the Universe" by Stephen Crane, and then answer the questions that follow.

      A man said to the universe:
      "Sir, I exist!"
      "However," replied the universe,
      "The fact has not created in me
      A sense of obligation."
  1. What is the action of this poem?
  2. What is the tone of this poem?
  3. Which words in the poem are clues to the tone?
  4. What in the poem is being personified?
  5. How would you describe the universe's attitude in the poem?
  6. Based on the universe's tone and the content of what it says, what do you think is the theme of the poem?


  1. The action of the poem is a conversation between a person and the universe.
  2. The tone of the poem is formal.
  3. The words sir and fact and the phrase sense of obligation are all clues to the tone of the poem.
  4. It is very formal to refer to someone as sir. This reference, along with the use of words such as fact and sense of obligation together give you a sense of the tone.

  5. The universe is being personified in the poem. Obviously, the universe doesn't generally have conversations with its occupants, but in this poem, the universe speaks. This action gives the universe a humanlike quality.
  6. The universe's attitude in the poem is indifferent. While the man in the poem states his case passionately, the universe stays calm. You can tell that the man is passionate about his existence because of the exclamation point at the end of his statement. In contrast, the universe replies very matter-of-factly and without emotion.
  7. The theme of this poem is that the universe is indifferent to humanity. The action of the poem, plus the tone of the poem, equals the theme of the poem. The action is a conversation between a man and the universe and since the universe is indifferent to the man's declaration that he exists, the theme of the poem is that the universe is indifferent to humanity.
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