The term "Son of Man", as used in The Waste Land, implies a sort of weakness: You are only human. You know only what your senses can tell you, and that's not much.

This is a lead-in to the subsequent offer of shelter under the red rock. My best guess is that Eliot intended this entire stanza to be from the perspective of a supernatural being - perhaps the same spirit(s) whom Madame Sosostris intended to contact with her Tarot? An alternative possibility is that Eliot intended the red rock to represent a teacher or mentor who sheltered him in a rough time.

"Son of man" is notable not only because it marks the entrance of the Biblical prophet's voice into the poem, but also because it also marks the poem's first direct apostrophe of the reader.

"Son of Man" is also a moderately-well-known painting by Rene Magritte. You may know it, just not by name -- it's the one with the man in a suit, wearing a bowler hat, whose facial features are completely obscured by an improbably large green apple (it's also known as "Man with Bowler Hat"). The background is a low wall, behind which is a blue expanse (the sea?) and a darkly-clouded sky, which looks as though a storm is on the way.

Most people now know this painting, if at all, from the modern remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, in which it plays a key role. TCA is a fairly good movie (at least the modern one -- I can't speak to the original), and the twists at the end are delightful. Go rent it.

In the New Testament, Son of Man is a term that Jesus used to refer to himself. There is some debate about what exactly the term means. There are three basic interpretations within Christianity.

First, there is the idea that it is a designation for the Messiah. This interpretation states that Jesus believed that he was the Messiah of Judaism. He was aware of the apparent Messianic figure from chapter seven of the Book of Daniel whose appearnce was like "a Son of Man". In this interpretation, Jesus used this phrase as a display of his self-conciousness as the Messiah.

The second interpretation states that Son of Man is a generic term of self-reference. This interpretation concludes that Son of Man was a term of self-reference equivalent to the use of "this man" in contemporary English. One difficulty with this interpretation is that there are no known references other than the gospels in which a person uses the term Son of Man. Only Jesus uses this term in the gospels.

A final interpretation states that the meaning of Son of Man has been lost throughout the course of time. Nobody actually knows what the term means in contemporary times.

As an aside, some scholars believe that Jesus never actually used the term. Instead, these scholars believe that it was acribed to him later by the early church. According to this belief, the early church desired to demonstrate a self-reference by Jesus as the Messiah, and falsely ascribed them to him.

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