The Unknown Citizen Essay
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The Unknown Citizen
In "The Unknown Citizen," Auden is implying that people are statistics and easily conformed to the normality of society. Throughout the poem, Auden portrays the character as being an all around normal citizen and "one against whom there was no official complaint." In lines 4 and 5, the speaker describes the character as a "saint" and "for in everything he did he served the Greater Community." He served in war, never got fired from his job, popular with his mates, and "normal in every way." Auden develops the theme by describing the character's life through the research of different bureaus, researchers, and psychology workers. Each one of these descriptions point to the same idea that the character is a…show more content…
Also, by focusing on the descriptions of the character's life, the readers become more aware of their own lives and how their lives compare to his. This makes the poem intriguing and brings a more personal affect towards the reader.
One literary device the author uses is symbolism. This poem was written in 1940. During this time period the common occupation was a factory worker. In line 8, "Fudge Motors Inc" is the factory that the character works for. Also, in line 26, the character had "a phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire." These were all the things "necessary to the modern man." Auden uses these cultural symbols to accentuate the main idea of the poem. He wants the reader to realize the commonality of the character's lifestyle.
Another device that Auden uses is alliteration. In line 29, the speaker said "that he held the proper opinion for the time of year; when there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went." The alliteration, "when there was war he went" enhances the meaning of the poem because it emphasizes to the reader the type of citizen the character was and the conformity of the character.
Auden also uses visual imagery to contribute to the meaning of the poem. Almost every single line is effective in describing the character's life, his personality, and how he lived. For instance, in line 13, the "Social Psychology worker found that he was popular with his mates and liked a drink."
In addition to these ironies, in his satire, Auden highlights opposing measures of the progress of JS/07 M 378 through life. One of these measures is represented by good behavior in the factory; in a sound Union (as opposed to a trouble making Union); proper conduct within his Union (e.g., not being a "scab," which is an anti-union worker); the proper beliefs about and participation in war and peace; and the correct absorption of propaganda from the daily Press (remember, the press played a big role in the Cold War for all countries involved). An opposing measure, perhaps seen as the reward or pay-off for the first measure, is JS/07 M 378's standard of living. He bought goods on the Installment Plan (monthly payments for large, otherwise unaffordable purchases); he had a phonograph for records, "a radio, a car and a frigidaire" (the original refrigerator). One of these opposing measures reflects conformity and party line, the other represents wealth, prosperity, progress and ostensible freedom.
In the end, the narrator, a representative of the "state," which has access to all levels of data collection and analysis, asks what the "state" thinks of as purely rhetorical questions about freedom and happiness and dismisses them out of hand as "absurd." The surprise, a sad surprise really, is in the last line: "Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard." The surprise is that the "state" actually, truly expected to have heard about unhappiness and restraints to freedom (1) in the society pictured (reflecting 1946) and (2) through the means established and exercised. In summary, "It's a good life, Charlie Brown," as long as you don't attend to the background framework and the rigidity; as long you look only at the popularity and cars and phonographs and radios and purchases on the Installment Plan. (Maybe we should have attended to this poem a little more carefully in 1946.)