The Unknown Citizen essay
The Unknown Citizen essay
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.(N)
The Unknown Citizen was written by Wystan Hugh Auden in 1939. He was born in York, England, in 1907 and died in Vienna in 1973. The title of the poem parodies a marble monument which was dedicated for the Unknown Soldier that stands for the thousands of unknown soldiers who die for serve their country. “(To JS/07 M 378 This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)” in the beginning of the poem means that “JS/07 M 378” is how the state identified them only by arbitrary numbers and letters, not personal names. Auden wants to portray soldiers as ideal citizens in a government-controlled state who risks their lives for serve their country wanted name and fame, but remained unknown.
Auden uses the state as the speaker of the poem, while “he” represents “the unknown citizen”. The background of the poem is in real life of America in 1930s where the society was modern industrialized urban society. The Bureau of Statistic which deal with statistics every day and have information about everyone in the country says that there were no official complaint of the Unknown citizen. He worked in a factory named Fudge Motors Inc. which was the first and largest auto company in the world at the time.
He never got fired from his job. He was a member of the Union and paid all his dues. The social psychology workers found that he was popular among his fellow workers and often had a drink with them. He was a good American consumer for bought a newspaper and had normal reactions to advertisements. He was “fully insured“ means he wasn’t exactly a risk-taker. But, even though he had insurance, he only went to the hospital once, which means he wasn’t too much of a burden on the health system. He liked buying things on an installment plan. He had everything a modern man needed at home; a phonograph (the 1930s equivalent of an MP3 player), radio, car, and frigidaire (refrigerator). He didn’t have any weird or improper opinions which mean that he believed what the people around him seemed to believe. When there was peace, he supported it, and when there was war, he left.
He had five children. It’s good that he had so many children because a growing population usually helps a nation’s economy and also ensures that there are enough soldiers just in case a huge world war comes along. He did not quarrel with the education they got which means that their education was left up to the control of the State. From the first line until line 27, the state seems to know everything about the unknown citizen. However, in line 28 and 29, whether he felt free and happy, the state never knows because no government statistics can ever answer these kinds of questions. The poet suggests that the modern man is slaver to routine and he is incapable of understanding such concepts freedom and happiness. The Unknown Citizen is free form poem which consists of 29 lines and doesn’t have any stanza. Auden doesn’t follow a standard rhyme scheme. He alternates between a few different, simple rhyme schemes.
The poem begins with an ABABA pattern, but then switches to a rhyming couple (CC, EE, FF, etc.), after which he starts hopping around a lot. The rhyme is ABABA CCD EEFFD GG HH IJJI KXK MMM NN. This harmonization makes the poem sounds beautiful. One of the important elements that often used by Auden to make the poem more vivid and forceful is figurative language. The title “The Unknown Citizen” is a key to the entire poem. It lets us know that the poem is an allusion, or an extended comparison to figures the second meaning outside the poem. The title recalls the idea of “The Unknown Soldier,” or a soldier who remains unidentified after a war.
In line 1, “The Bureau of Statistics” is a symbol that represents the way bureaucracies treat people as arbitrary numbers and letters, not personal names. “he was a saint,” in line 4 is a metaphor to symbolize that he was very obey to the state and did everything the state wants. The phrase “everything necessary to the Modern Man” in line 20 is hyperbole because obviously, a person doesn’t really need a phonograph (the 1930s equivalent of an MP3 player), radio, car, and frigidaire (refrigerator) in order to survive. The writer wants to emphasize that he was a modern man, so he need those things as accomplishment of his life. The phrase “When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.” In line 24 is a symbol means that he believed what the people around him seemed to believe. When there was peace, he supported it, and when there was war, he left.
The use of imagery in “The Unknown Citizen” is very important. Auden expresses the purpose of the poem through use of imagery, representation through language of sense experience. “And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.” in line 15, “Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,” in line 16, and “And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.” In line 17 is visual imagery. “Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.” In the last line is auditory imagery. To conclude, through “The Unknown Citizen” poem, Auden wants to emphasize that the lives of many normal people are so uneventful that they might as well be unknown or anonymous even though they always please their state by obeying the state and becoming a good citizen.