'The Unknown Citizen' by W.H. Auden
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(To JS/07/M/378/ This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was asaint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in everyway.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left itcured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war,he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent ofhis generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with theireducation.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Unknown Citizen by W.H. Auden: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Do you ever wonder if your life is truly your own? Or if your actions are merely a reflection of the expectations and norms of society? W.H. Auden's poem, "The Unknown Citizen," explores these questions through a satirical lens, highlighting the absurdity of a world where conformity is valued above individuality.
At its core, "The Unknown Citizen" is a critique of the modern world and its obsession with efficiency and productivity. The poem tells the story of a man who, in death, is lauded for his unwavering adherence to social norms and expectations. He is hailed as a model citizen, a "saint" who embodied the ideals of his society. Yet, in reality, this man is not truly known or remembered as an individual, but only as a faceless member of the masses.
Auden's use of irony and satire is evident throughout the poem. The speaker describes the man's life in language usually reserved for heroes and martyrs, highlighting the ridiculousness of the situation. For example, the man is said to have "served the Greater Community" and to have "acted properly under all conditions." These phrases may sound impressive, but they are also generic and empty, devoid of any real meaning or substance.
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of rhyme and meter. The poem is written in a strict ABAB rhyme scheme, with each stanza consisting of four lines of iambic pentameter. This regularity and structure give the poem a sense of order and control, mirroring the society it critiques. Yet, within this rigid framework, Auden also includes moments of disruption and dissonance. For example, the line "And our Social Psychology workers found / That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink" disrupts the smooth flow of the meter, drawing attention to the absurdity of the man's life being reduced to a few simple facts.
Another notable element of the poem is its use of allusion. The speaker references several historical and literary figures, including the "Duke of Plaza-Toro" from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers and the "Fudge Committee" from the British government. These references add depth and complexity to the poem, inviting readers to draw connections between the man's story and larger historical and cultural contexts.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of "The Unknown Citizen" is its commentary on the nature of identity in modern society. The man in the poem is not known or remembered as an individual, but only as a symbol of conformity and obedience. His life is reduced to a set of statistics and facts, with no room for the messiness and complexity of human experience. This is a world where individuality is suppressed in service of the greater good, where the ideal citizen is one who blends seamlessly into the background.
Ultimately, Auden's poem serves as a warning against the dangers of conformity and the dehumanizing effects of modern society. Through its use of irony, satire, and allusion, "The Unknown Citizen" invites readers to question the values and norms that underpin their own lives, and to consider the true cost of sacrificing individuality for the sake of efficiency.
In conclusion, "The Unknown Citizen" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that offers a scathing critique of modern society. Through its use of irony, satire, and allusion, it exposes the absurdity of a world where conformity is valued above individuality, and highlights the dehumanizing effects of valuing efficiency over humanity. As readers, we are challenged to consider the true cost of sacrificing our individuality for the sake of the greater good, and to strive for a world where each person is valued and known as an individual, rather than as a faceless member of the masses.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, inspire thoughts, and challenge societal norms. One such poem that has stood the test of time and continues to resonate with readers is "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H. Auden. This poem, published in 1939, is a satirical commentary on the dehumanization of individuals in modern society. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the themes, structure, and literary devices used in this classic poem.
The poem begins with the title, "The Unknown Citizen," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The use of the word "unknown" suggests that the individual being described is not unique or special in any way. Instead, they are just another faceless member of society. The poem then goes on to describe the life of this unknown citizen in great detail, highlighting their conformity to societal norms and their lack of individuality.
The first stanza of the poem sets the scene by describing the "modern state" in which the unknown citizen lives. This state is portrayed as a bureaucratic machine that values efficiency and conformity above all else. The use of phrases such as "efficient, "normal," and "proper" emphasize the importance of fitting in and following the rules. The state is also described as being "free" and "equal," but these words are used in a way that suggests they are hollow and meaningless.
The second stanza of the poem provides a detailed description of the unknown citizen's life. We learn that he was a model citizen who worked hard, paid his taxes, and never caused any trouble. He was married and had five children, all of whom were "model" children. He was a member of various organizations and had a "card" for everything, from the union to the library. The use of the word "card" suggests that the unknown citizen's identity is reduced to a series of numbers and codes, further emphasizing his lack of individuality.
The third stanza of the poem describes the unknown citizen's death and the way in which he was remembered by society. He was given a "public monument" and his name was inscribed on a "list" of other model citizens. The use of the word "list" suggests that the unknown citizen is just one of many, and his individuality is once again erased. The monument itself is described as being "satisfactory," which suggests that it is not exceptional or unique in any way.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. It asks the reader to consider whether the unknown citizen was truly happy and fulfilled in his life. The use of the phrase "our Social Psychology workers found" suggests that the state has conducted research into the happiness of its citizens, further emphasizing the dehumanization of individuals. The poem ends with the question, "Was he free? Was he happy?" These questions challenge the reader to consider the true cost of conformity and the importance of individuality.
The structure of the poem is also significant. It is written in four stanzas, each with a different focus. The first stanza sets the scene, the second describes the unknown citizen's life, the third describes his death, and the fourth asks the reader to consider his happiness. The use of repetition, such as the repeated use of the word "model," emphasizes the conformity of the unknown citizen's life. The use of enjambment, where lines run on to the next without punctuation, creates a sense of flow and continuity, further emphasizing the idea of the unknown citizen as just another cog in the machine.
The poem also makes use of various literary devices to convey its message. The use of irony, such as the description of the unknown citizen's life as "free" and "equal," highlights the gap between the reality of his life and the ideals of the state. The use of satire, such as the description of the unknown citizen's monument as "satisfactory," highlights the absurdity of the state's obsession with conformity and efficiency. The use of rhetorical questions, such as "Was he free? Was he happy?" challenges the reader to consider the true cost of conformity and the importance of individuality.
In conclusion, "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H. Auden is a powerful commentary on the dehumanization of individuals in modern society. Through its use of satire, irony, and rhetorical questions, the poem challenges the reader to consider the true cost of conformity and the importance of individuality. The poem's structure and use of repetition and enjambment further emphasize the idea of the unknown citizen as just another faceless member of society. Despite being written over 80 years ago, this poem continues to resonate with readers and serves as a reminder of the importance of valuing individuality in a world that often values conformity above all else.
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