‘Hitcher’ presents us with two extremes in society: two men of the same age, one of whom has succeeded in escaping all ties and worries, the other caught up in it, but unable to face up to its demands and threatened with losing his job. In a question and answer session with Simon Armitage, he said that at the time he was writing the poem, he was torn between both characters as he was choosing between either becoming a full-time poet or continuing as a probation officer. This also could represent a deeper meaning as it shows that art (represented by the hippy) always loses out to Thatcherite Capitalism (symbolised by the worker). The verb “screaming” shows the desperate nature of this man and portrays a recurrent theme of Simon Armitage’s poetry which is the futility of life. The protagonist is working and yet achieving nothing, whereas the ‘hippy’ seems to be living a care-free life. This is also shown in the poem, “My Party Piece” in the phrase, “I still find time to stall and blush before I’m burnt”. This shows that despite the short time that he has to tell his life story, he has spare time at the end to “stall and blush”.
The narrator himself hitches a lift to the place where he has a hired car parked, but for a very different reason to the hitcher who he picks “up in Leeds”. Simon abruptly introduces the hitcher, who is only ever introduced as ‘him’ or ‘he’. This is important as keeping the character anonymous makes the crime more despicable. The hitcher epitomises freedom as he follows “the sun to west from east” and he is described as “blowin’ in the wind” which is a clear reference to the popular Bob Dylan song of the 1960s. The lazy enjambment of this stanza could be trying to make the hitcher sound as boring as possible. However, the hippy's comment that the truth could perhaps be “round the next bend” is an ominous precursor to what follows.
The fact that stanza three describes the narrator's sudden violent attack on the hitcher reveals the envy that he felt when confronted by a person who appeared to have total freedom. 'I let him have it' is a blunt description of the physical attack during which the narrator hit the hitcher initially with his own head and then “six times with the krooklok”, directly in his face. Ruthlessness is all too apparent when he tells us that he carried on driving, perhaps because he 'didn't even swerve' during the attack. Violence is a common theme in Simon Armitage’s poetry as Armitage worked as a probation officer originally in Manchester. This job, during which he had to deal with drug dealers and murderers could have given him a bleak and violent outlook on life that seems to have influenced his poetry. The colloquial and casual language, such as “I dropped it into third” makes the crime even more disturbing and the relaxed tone in which the main character talks after brutalising someone shows his psychopathic tendencies. Colloquial language is often used in Simon Armitage’s other poetry which reinforces the down-to-earth qualities of his poems (“My father though it bloody queer” and the hard-edged phrase, “People talk nonsense and I put them straight”).
Armitage uses enjambment to link the third stanza to the fourth, as the narrator describes how he pushed the hitcher out of the car and watched him “bouncing off the kerb”. The statement “We were the same age, give or take a week” tells us that the narrator obviously made a direct comparison between himself and the hitcher. The hitcher “said he liked the breeze/to run its fingers/through his hair”: the personification brings to life this description that must have aroused such envy in the narrator at the hitcher's freedom that he began his frenzied attack.
In the last stanza we again see the cold-heartedness of the narrator in the matter-of-fact tone in which he speaks, “it was twelve noon”. Realism is added to the poem in the abrupt way the narrator says, “stitch that”, a violent, northern phrase uttered when head-butting someone. The chilling humour and flippant style shown in the line, “you can walk from there” is shocking and shows that the narrator shows no remorse.
In conclusion, the combination of the colloquial tone in which the protagonist speaks and the violent actions that he depicts effectively portrays experience and, in particular, a man who lacks experience and yet is tired of life.
Drawing parallels with other poems in the “Book of Matches” explore the ways in which Armitage effectively conveys experience in ‘Hitcher’.