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“The Unknown Citizen” by Auden

Each poem carries a unique style of its author and a message that reflects the trends of society. An author conveys these meanings through elements and details such as images, rhythm, and tone to create a coherent story. This paper will interpret the meaning of “The Unknown Citizen” by Auden, elements of poetry that the author used, and the central images of the narrative to reveal its features.

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At first glance, it might seem that Auden’s poem is just a story about a man who lived an ordinary life. Texts of this type are written about deceased people to honor their memory. However, the verse’s real meaning is condemnation and mockery of a society in which the government controls everything. This idea sounds from the first line, since The Bureau of Statistics, but not relatives or friends, speaks about the man’s life (Auden). All memories of him are reduced to facts and numbers, which are valuable primarily for the state but not for an individual. For example, the man paid taxes and dues, was a union member, had insurance, and bought things in installments, which benefits the state (Auden). However, these metrics are usually not important for people who want to say something about their friends or colleagues.

This poem speaks from the side of statistics, even about the man’s qualities and personal life. This feature is reflected in the fact that his attitude was assessed by “Social Psychology workers”, his opinion was typical according to “researchers into Public Opinion”, as well as the normal number of children for his generation (Auden lines 11, 22, 26). In addition, the successful total control of the state is demonstrated in the fact that the man bought a newspaper every day, believed in advertisements, and did not interfere with the children’s education. In other words, he was an ideal consumer of propaganda. The last two lines emphasize the poem’s anxiety and sarcasm since they say that if a man were unhappy or dissatisfied, the state would know about it (Auden). This fact speaks of the state’s complete control over a person and leads the reader to the idea that all of the listed factors are not indicators of freedom or happiness. Thus, while the poem has a disturbing tone and is not meant to be laughed at, Auden is actually making fun of the system of total power.

This poem has almost no classical direct symbols that authors usually use; however, the verse’s idea and title exhibit central images of bureaucracy and total control. The name “Unknown Citizen” and the numbers instead of man’s name are a symbol of the state’s attitude towards its people, who are only a source and a means of achieving goals. The government does not care about the name; it is crucial for it that everyone complies with the rules to ensure the quality of work, payment of taxes, and consumption that generate income for the state. For this reason, all the described details of the life of the unknown citizen, as well as the tone of the verse, form the image of a controlling and insensitive state power and bureaucracy. Thus, while Auden is generally straightforward in his poem, its central image of power is strong and leading.

However, the author uses many elements of poetry to convey the mood and idea of ​​the poem. First, Auden creates an impersonal and monotonous tone to emphasize the indifference inherent in the state machine of bureaucracy. In addition, the author uses alliteration to c increase monotony. For example, the letter “h” at the beginning of a word is repeated in these lines: “Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured, / And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured” (Auden lines 16-17). The verse also does not have a clear rhyme scheme, since some rhymes are in adjacent lines, for example, “views” and “dues,” and some are separated, for example, “content” and “went” (Auden lines 9-10, 22, 24). This approach allows the author to show that this poem is not a real expression of grief for the man, but rather a parody, since it is written carelessly.

Another element is the rhetorical questions at the end of the verse. The author does not use in the rest of the poem, since he lists the exact facts that the state considers important. However, the concepts of happiness and freedom are not understood or are not necessary for the government and are not measured by statistics; this, it cannot express its opinion. For this reason, Auden uses rhetorical questions, since the state simply cannot answer them, which once again underlines the absurdity of total control.

An interesting feature of the verse is the lack of some other poetry elements that are most often used by authors, such as epithets, similes, or metaphors. For example, instead of a dry fact about five children, the author could write “wonderful children” or note that the man was “the soul of the company” instead of the word “popular”. The only metaphor and figurative meaning are demonstrated by the word “saint,” since it has nothing to do with religion, although the author immediately explains that the man earned such a status by serving the Greater Community (Auden line 5). The absence of these elements is not accidental because it also emphasizes the government’s insensitivity and alienation from its citizens and creates a more formal voice. Thus, Auden uses all the poetry elements to ironically show and ridicule societies of total control by the authorities and demonstrate the government’s inhumanity.

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In conclusion, “The Unknown Citizen” by Auden is an example of a poem that raises an important social theme through irony and allusion. The author does not express his thoughts directly but hides them behind irony, which he reveals with poetry elements. The most significant and notable of these elements are the poem’s tone and the central image of controlling government, which is clearly read between the lines, although not directly mentioned in the text. In addition, other details such as lack of a rhyme scheme, alliteration, and rhetorical questions reinforce the display of this image and tone. At the same time, the absence of frequently used elements such as epithets, metaphors, and similes also contribute to the creation of a sense of detachment, formality, and indifference that are important for the understating of the message. At the same time, the topic of total control of citizens by the government remains relevant today, as well as at the time of writing the poem, although its methods have changed. Consequently, “The Unknown Citizen” is a prime example of significant poetry due to its socially important theme and writing style.

Work Cited

Auden, Wystan H. “The Unknown Citizen”. Poetry.org, Web.

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