Magritte painted it as a self-portrait. The painting consists of a man in an overcoat and a bowler hat standing in front of a low wall, beyond which is the sea and a cloudy sky. The man's face is largely obscured by a hovering green apple. However, the man's eyes can be seen peeking over the edge of the apple. Another subtle feature is that the man's left arm appears to bend backwards at the elbow.
About the painting, Magritte said:
At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.
The Son of Man resembles The Great War on Façades (La Grande Guerre Façades), another Magritte painting featuring similar imagery. Both feature a person standing in front of a wall overlooking the sea. The Great War on Façades, however, features a woman holding an umbrella, her face covered by a flower. There is also Man in the Bowler Hat, a similar painting where the man's face is obscured by a bird rather than an apple.
The Son of Man is a prominent motif in the 1999 art heist remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. In this film, a copy of the painting is prominently displayed in the home of the protagonist. The love interest takes note of it as "the stereotypical faceless businessman". The protagonist of the film uses numerous accomplices, all dressed like the subject of the painting, to confuse the police while he enters the museum to apparently return the painting he stole earlier in the film. The bowler-hatted men all carry identical briefcases full of copies of The Son of Man.
In Gary Braunbeck's novel Keepers, the antagonist figures (the "Keepers" of the title) resemble the nattily-dressed, bowler-hatted figures of Magritte's painting. Also, in the opening scene of the book, the reference is directly made and explained to this resemblance because of an apple-scented car air freshener printed with the image of the painting hanging in the protagonist's car.
In Araki Yasusada's 1994 novel The Dynamics of an Asteroid, the protagonist, Alice, is plagued by packages from an elusive character referred to as 'K', whose recurring motif is the distinctive apple from the painting.
The music video to "Astral Traveller" by the band Yes features a similarly dressed man walking away from the camera throughout the video. He turns to the camera at the end of the video to reveal a large picture of a green apple floating in front of his face.
The painting appears several times in the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, especially in the final robbery scenes when men wearing bowler hats and trench coats carry briefcases throughout the museum to cover Crown's movements and confuse the security team. 
In the film Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007), the painting is seen hanging on the wall half finished; at the end of the film Mr Magorium is seen to be painting the rest of it.
The cover of the book Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business (2009) has a version of the painting, with a pomegranate.
During his performance in the 2012 semi-final of UK talent show The Voice, judge (and The Script frontman) Danny O'Donoghue reenacted the scene depicted in the painting, donning the distinctive hat and clothing, with a model of the apple suspended in front of his face.