Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 13

The Unknown Citizen In A Nutshell During the 1920s and 30s, many American writers left the states

to become expatriates overseas, particularly in Europe. Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are three famous examples. W.H. Auden, however, did the opposite. He was an Englishman who moved back to "the colonies" (the U.S.) in 1939, at the height of his creative powers. Auden wrote "The Unknown Citizen" while living in New York, and the poem gives evidence of his culture shock when suddenly confronted with American-style chaos and consumerism. As a poet, Auden is a chameleon capable of writing in many different forms and styles. He is considered a "modernist" writer, but his work is unlike that of any other poet of the past century. At a time when many poets were experimenting with obscure forms and new ways of using language, much of Audens poetry had more popular appeal. He was a master, for example, of the rhyming couplet (AA, BB, etc.), the simplest rhyme scheme in English. "The Unknown Citizen" is so accessible it almost sounds like an elaborate joke. The poem is written in the voice of a fictional government bureaucrat someone who sits at a desk and shuffles papers all day whose decisions affect the lives of people he has never met. You could consider it a poetic version of George Orwells 1984 or Aldous Huxleys Brave New World, in that it concerns a Big Brother-like state that knows everything about its citizens except the things that really matter. But the poem doesnt sound as pessimistic or tortured as either of these novels It uses good oldfashioned humor to protest the numbing effects of modern life. Its not the most "intellectual" of Audens works, but that doesnt make it any less powerful to read. "The Unknown Citizen" is proof that great poetry does nt have to take itself seriously all the time. Why Should I Care? "The Unknown Citizen" is a great poem to read in an election year. Fortunately, its always an election year in the U.S., so its always a good time to read the poem. Why? Because so many American politicians that run for office, no matter how interesting and extraordinary they might be, pretend to be the equivalent of the "The Unknown Citizen": a sensible, good worker and consumer, with no major vices or strange opinions, and

(usually) happily-married with bright, smiling kids. This is funny, because we know that no ones life could possibly be so picture-perfect. Even if life were this perfect, we would probably find that person to be dull and even creepy. The person Auden calls "The Unknown Citizen" is a composite of information from every poll and survey that politicians use to figure out what the people called "swing voters" are really like. Union member? Check. Served in the military? Check. Reads the morning paper? Check. Buys things on credit? Check. His life is measured in statistics. Nowadays, the speaker wouldnt even have to visit "Bureau of Statistics" or "Producers Research" to learn about the habits of "The Unknown Citizen"; he could just hop on the Internet. With his completely inoffensive background, we think the Unknown Citizen would do well running for office himself. But Audens point goes even deeper than that. He is arguing that the myth of a perfect citizen is created by those in power. The fictional monument and epitaph (inscription) that celebrate "The Unknown Citizen" are actually the means by which this power is exercised. The manipulative "State" in Auden's poem celebrates "The Unknown Citizen" as the ideal citizen: he never thinks about whether a war is just or not, he creates a lot of government revenue because he spends money on expensive, taxable appliances, and, most importantly, he never rocks the boat by voicing opinions that are different from those around him. He is the kind of person who says, "My country, right or wrong." This reminds us of a quote from the writer G.K. Chesterton: "My country, right or wrong, is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case." In Auden's opinion, being a conformist and going with the flow all the time isnt just mind-numbingly boring; its also dangerous and unpatriotic. The Unknown Citizen : W.H. Auden - Summary and Critical Analysis The Unknown Citizen by W.H. Auden is a satiric poem. It describes an average citizen in a governmentcontrolled state. In many big cities, there is a monument to the Unknown Soldier that stands for the thousands of unknown soldiers who die for their country. The title of Audens poem parodies this. The citizen to whom the monument has been built has been found to be without any fault. He was a saint not because he searched for God but because he served the

government perfectly. He did not get dismissed form his job. He was a member of the Union and paid all his dues to the union. A report on the Union shows that it was a balance union and did not take extreme views on anything. The social psychology workers found that he was popular among his fellow workers and had a drink with them now and then. He also bought a newspaper everyday. He reached to the advertisements normally. He had good health and although he went to hospital once, he came out quite cured. The citizen was sensible about buying things on an installment basis. He had everything a modern man needed at home. Moreover, this ideal citizen was found to be sensible in his view. When there was peace, he supported it. But when there was war, he was ready to fight. He didnt hold his personal views on anything. He had the right number of children and he did not quarrel with the education they got. The poet now asks the important questions. Was this man free? Was he happy? No government statistics can ever answer these kinds of questions. The Unknown Citizen is a typical Audens poem in that it shows the poets profound concern for the modern world and its problems. A keen intelligent observer of the contemporary scene, Auden was one of the first to realize that the totalitarian socialist state would be no Utopia and that man there would be reduced to the position of a cog in the wheel. A citizen will have no scope to develop his initiative or to assert his individuality. He will be made to conform to the State in all things. It is the picture of such a citizen, in a way similar to Eliots Hollow Man, which is ironically presented in the poem. Auden dramatizes his theme by showing the glaring disparity between the complete statistical information about the citizen compiled by the State and the sad inadequacy of the judgments made about him. The poet seems to say, statistics cannot sum up an individual and physical facts are inadequate to evaluate human happiness- for man does not live by bread alone. In the phrase The Unknown the word unknown means ordinary, obscure. So the whole phrase means those ordinary, obscure soldiers as citizens of the state who laid down their lives for defending their motherland wanted name and fame, but remained unknown. The title of Audens poem parodies this. Thus The Unknown Citizen means the ordinary average citizen in the modern industrialized urban society. He has no individuality and identity. He has no desire for self-assertion. He likes to remain unknown. At the end of the poem the poet asks two questions. Was he free? Was he happy? No government statistics can ever answer these kinds of questions. By asking these questions, the poet is drawing our attention to the question of freedom and happiness. And ironically, the poet suggests that the modern man is slaver to routine and he is incapable of understanding such concepts freedom and happiness. Therefore, such a question in this context would be absurd. Thus, this poem The Unknown Citizen is a bitter attack on modern society-its indifference towards individuality and identity. The only way for an individual to survive in a regimented society is to conform, obey and live in perpetual mental slavery.

Such a creative is this unknown citizen who is utterly devoid of any urge for self-assertion. Such a modern man is a slave to the routine, is incapable of understanding such concepts as freedom and happiness. The Unknown Citizen - Poem by W.H. Auden (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 a saint 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 to drink. The Press are convinced that he bought a Paper every day And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way. Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured, 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 of his generation, And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education. Was he free? Was he Happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard. The Unknown Citizen Summary We learn that the words we are about to read are written on a statue or monument dedicated to "The Unknown Citizen." The poem consists of several different kinds of people and organizations weighing in on the character of our dear "Citizen." First, the not-so-friendly-sounding "Bureau of Statistics" says that "no official complaint" was ever made against him. More than that, the guy was a veritable saint, whose

good deeds included serving in the army and not getting fired. He belonged to a union and paid his dues, and he liked to have a drink from time to time. His list of stirring accomplishments goes on: he bought a newspaper and had normal reactions to advertisements. He went to the hospital once we dont know what for and bought a few expensive appliances. He would go with the flow and held the same opinions as everyone else regarding peace and war. He had five kids, and were sure they were just lovely. In fact, the only thing the government doesnt know about the guy is whether he was "free" and "happy," two utterly insignificant, trivial little details. He couldnt have been unhappy, though, because otherwise the government would have heard. Section I (Epigraph) Summary Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Epigraph (To JS/07 M 378 This Marble Monument ?Is Erected by the State) The epigraph lets us in on a secret: were reading a dramatic poem. Its all an act. The poem is pretending to be an official celebration of a dead person: the Unknown Citizen. The words are inscribed on a "marble monument" that was paid for by the State, or government. Which government? We dont know. But referring to "the State" makes it sound very ominous, like George Orwells "Big Brother" from 1984. Marble isn't cheap, and most people cant afford to use it as a building material. The government, however, has seemingly infinite financial resources to work with, because it takes money from everyone. As for "JS/07 M 378," we think Auden is just having fun by stringing a bunch of letters and numbers together in some incomprehensible way. It seems that "JS/07 M 378" is how the Unknown Citizen is identified, and the monument is dedicated "To" him. Referring to people in this way is, obviously, very cold and impersonal, but it can also be convenient, so bureaucrats do it all the time. To give a chilling but relevant bit of context, at the time this poem was written, the Nazis were already starting to identify Jewish prisoners with numbered tattoos, though this is not something that Auden would have known. But, in retrospect, this grisly parallel makes the "marble monument" seem that much more sinister.

By the way, the monument is clearly a parody of the Tomb(s) of the Unknown Soldier, found in many different nations and dedicated to soldiers who died anonymously in battle. One of the most famous of such tombs lies underneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which is a marble monument. You can read more about the Unknown Soldier in "Whats Up With the Title?" Section II (Lines 1-5) Summary Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 1-2 He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be One against whom there was no official complaint, The poem begins by describing a person referred to as, simply, "He." We take this to be "The Unknown Citizen," which makes sense, because his name isnt known. For simplicitys sake, were going to refer to him as "The UC." (UC is impersonal, but slightly less impersonal than JS/07 M 378".) The Bureau of Statistics has found that "no official complaint" has been made against our guy, the UC. Now, this is a strange way to start a poem of celebration. Its a total backhanded compliment. Its like if you asked someone what they thought of your new haircut, and they replied, "Well, its not hideous." Um, thanks? But heres a question: what on earth is the Bureau of Statistics, and why is it investigating the UC? There isnt any Bureau of Statistics in any country that we know of, but most "bureaus," or government offices, deal with statistics every day. The Bureau of Statistics seems to be a parody of such "bureaucracies," which are large, complicated organizations that produce a lot of red tape and official paperwork. If the Bureau of Statistics has information about the UC, then it probably has information about everyone, because, in a certain sense, the UC represents everyone. Hes the average Joe. The fact that there was no "official" complaint against the UC doesnt tell us much. Were there "unofficial" complaints? We dont know, and from the poems perspective, it doesnt seem to matter. Auden subtly pushes back on the anonymity of the UC in one interesting way, however. The first word of the second line is "One," which produces a minor joke if you stop reading there: The UC was found to beOne, as in he was found to be a single person: an individual. This is funny, because an individual is exactly what the idea of an "Unknown Citizen" is not.

Lines 3-5 And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint, For in everything he did he served the Greater Community. Get out your highlighters and reading glasses: were still poring through the paperwork of the lovable Bureau of Statistics. Now we have in front of us the "reports on his conduct." Lets see: ah, yes, it appears the man was a saint. But not a saint like St. Francis or Mother Teresa: those are "old-fashioned" saints, who performed miracles and helped feed the hungry and clothe the poor. No, the UC is a "modern" saint, which means that he always served the "Greater Community." This community could include the poor and the hungry, but somehow we think thats not what the speaker has in mind. And the words "Greater Community" are capitalized as if it were a proper name, though its not. As in the first two lines, these lines raise more questions than they answer. Who issued these "reports"? His friends? Lovers? Co-workers? Some guy in an office somewhere? We dont have an answer. Section III (Lines 6-11) Summary Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 6-7 Except for the War till the day he retired He worked in a factory and never got fired, The UC had one of the most boring jobs in the world: factory work. (Were assuming he didnt work in Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory.) Notice how the poem says very few truly nice things about the UC. Everything is phrased in the negative. Instead of, "he was great at his job and everybody loved him," we get, "he never got fired." Its another backhanded compliment. We should probably assume that he didnt work in the factory during the war because he was fighting as a soldier. Formally, these lines sound slightly different than what came before, maybe even a little "off." The formal structure of these two lines differs from the two preceding lines in two ways. First, the syntax (the order of the words) is weird because line 6 begins with the phrase "except for the war," which we would normally expect to come at the end of a sentence.

Secondly, the poem unexpectedly shifts from an ABABA rhyme scheme to a rhyming couplet (retired/fired). This is such a simple and obvious rhyme that it makes the UCs life sound even more awkward and boring.

Lines 8-11 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) Finally, we get a positive accomplishment. The UC "satisfied his employers." Wait a minute, that doesnt sound so impressive after all. "Satisfied" is a lot more neutral than, say, "thrilled" or "wowed." But right after this lukewarm praise, we get more negative praise for not being something. The UC was not a "scab" and he didnt have unusual opinions around the workplace. (A "scab," by the way, isnt just the thing your mother told you not to pick off your scraped elbow. Its also the word used to describe people who would replace workers who were on strike.) Unions arent nearly as powerful as they used to be, but back in the 1930s, they had the power to cripple major companies through labor strikes assuming there was no one with whom to replace the workers. Although companies were happy to find "scabs," no one really respected the replacements because they were not team players and only looked out for themselves. The fact that the UC wasnt a scab is really just another example of his normalcy. He was a good union member and "paid his dues." More importantly, the union itself was normal, or "sound." The biggest accusation made about unions during this time was that they were secretly socialist or even communist organizations. The speaker confirms that the UCs union is neither of those things. In this poem, it seems that everyone is investigating everyone else. Behind all the reassuring clichs, there is a lot of suspicion and paranoia on the part of the State. Finally, these lines are the first to really suggest a particular nation or culture, and the giveaway is "Fudge Motors, Inc." For one thing, most car manufacturers were located in America in the 1930s. For another, the name of the company sounds a whole lot like Detroit-based "Ford Motors, Inc." the first and largest auto company in the world at the time. And, yes, "Fudge" is a very silly name, as were sure Auden was aware. Section IV (Lines 12-15) Summary

Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 12-13 And our Social Psychology workers found That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink. Now the poem shifts from his employment to his social life. But, dont worry: there are still comically absurd bureaucrats to provide us with unnecessary information. Stop the presses! Headline: "Average Joe Enjoys Drinking With Pals." Even in his carousing with friends, though, the UC takes things in moderation. He likes "a drink," and the singular form implies that he doesnt drink too much and isnt an alcoholic. At the time when Auden wrote the poem, "Social Psychology" was still a relatively new field. Social psychologists study the behavior of humans in groups. This sounds good in concept, but in practice, a lot of the early work done in this field simply pointed out things that were so obvious they didnt need to be pointed out. (Dont worry, psychology majors, the field has gotten quite a bit more complicated since then.) Its like when you read about some scientific study that says that unhappy people are more likely to drink a lot, and you wonder why on earth they needed a study to support such an obvious conclusion. Nonetheless, we have to think that the UC might have been flattered to be getting so much attention from all these intellectual types. That is, if he were still alive.

Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 16-17 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. Were starting to suspect that the government must have an entire room full of paperwork on this guy. Now we are rifling through his health insurance policy, looking for any evidence that he wasnt a totally straightedge, middle-of-the-road personality. He was "fully insured," which is sensible. This guy wasnt exactly a risk-taker. Even though he had insurance, he only went to the hospital once, which means he wasnt too much of a burden on the health system. He left the hospital "cured".

Lines 18-19 Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan What are "Producers Research" and "High-Grade Living"? They sound like organizations intended to help consumers know what stuff to buy. In fact, they sound suspiciously like the existing Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping, both of which were around when Auden wrote the poem. Both of these groups test out new products and provide ratings.Good Housekeeping, for example, is known for the famous "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." So Producers Research and High-Grade Living have done a little research and learned that the UC used "installment plans" to buy expensive things. This is when you pay for something in small payments over a period of time. Although we dont use the term "installment plans" very much anymore, the practice remains extremely common. Our love of buying things and paying for them over time is one of the reasons Americans have a larger debt per household than almost any other country. Since installment plan advertising didnt really begin until the 1920s, Auden probably thought it was weird to buy something you couldnt afford (read more).

Lines 14-15 The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way. This is starting to sound like an infomercial you might see for some exercise machine on cable at 3 a.m. There are testimonials galore. Now "The Press," or news media, offers its take. Of course, they dont really care about the UC as a person; theyre just glad he seems to have bought a paper every day. Or, rather, they are "convinced" that he did . Wed like to know what convinced them. Not only that, but he also had "normal" reactions to the advertisements in a paper. ("Hey! An inflatable kayak! I sure could use one of those") In short, hes a good America n consumer. Section V (Lines 16-19) Summary

We dont know about you, but we think these are the funniest lines in the poem. The phrase "fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan" is just hilarious, as if being conscious ("sensible") at all required you to know about the Plan. Section VI (Lines 20-26) Summary Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 20-21 And had everything necessary to the Modern Man, A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire. Ever heard the Rolling Stones song, "You Cant Always Get What You Want." The song says, "You cant always get what you want, but you get what you need." The point is that we always think we need more than we really do. This is precisely the idea behind these lines. Obviously, a person doesnt need a phonograph (the 1930s equivalent of an MP3 player), radio, car, and frigidaire (refrigerator) in order to survive. But if you want to be a hip, "Modern Man," these things are absolutely "necessary." We get the impression that the UCs greatest accomplishment, in the opinion of the speaker, was buying things.

Line 25-26 He was married and added five children to the population, Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation. Youd think that a persons marriage and children would be one of their biggest accomplishments. But the State doesnt really care about such intimate concerns, so the bureaucratic speaker only mentions them in passing. From the perspective of the State, its good that the UC had so many children because a growing population usually helps a nations economy and also ensures that there are enough soldiers just in case (cough, cough) a HUGE WORLD WAR comes along (hint: this poem was written in 1939). "Eugenics" is a term from history that you may not have heard before. It refers to a social movement that believed that the human species could be improved by engineering changes in its gene pool. Eugenics relied on the relatively new fields of genetics and the theory of evolution. This new scientific field was all the rage in the beginning of the twentieth century, until a guy named Adolph Hitler starting adopting its ideas. Most people now agree that eugenics was a disastrous concept, although most of its followers were not as evil as Hitler. The eugenist in this poem thinks he can direct the size of the population by telling people how many kids they should have. Section VII (Lines 27-29) Summary Get out the microscope, because were going through this poem line-by-line. Lines 27 And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education. This line is somewhat creepy: the speaker implies that the UC was a good parent because he didnt "interfere" with the education of his kids. In other words, their education was left up to the control of the State. (Notice that the speaker calls them "our" teachers and not "their" teachers.) But shouldnt it be the other way around?

Lines 22-24 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. The "researchers into Public Opinion" are like the people nowadays who call your house during dinnertime to ask you who youre voting for and whether your jeans are stone-washed or boot-cut. The UC didnt have any weird or "improper" opinions. He was a conformist, which means that he believed what the people around him seemed to believe. He was like a weather vane, going whichever way the wind blew. Indeed, the UCs beliefs were partly determined by the seasons or "time of year." Line 24 is also pretty funny. We imagine a pause for comic suspense after word "war." "When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war(pause)he went." The line leads us to expect that it will end "he was for war," but we actually get something much more hesitant. Because, really, who could be "for war"?

Lines 28-29 Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard. The poem ends on a final, rhyming couplet that takes a big detour from the conventional topics that have occupied the speaker so far. Now he asks two questions "Was he free? Was he happy?" that really do seem interesting. These questions are not interesting to the speaker, though, who calls it "absurd." Its interesting that these two questions are referred to in the singular, as "the question," as if being free and being happy were the same thing. In the final line, the speaker explains why the question is absurd: if things had been going badly for the UC, the State ("we") would have known about it, seeing as they know everything. The speakers confidence in this line "we certainly should have" is downright chilling. But, of course, the big joke here is that the speaker defines happiness in the negative, as things not going wrong, instead of as things going right. From the perspective of the State, it is much more important that people are not desperately unhappy so they dont rock the boat and stop buying things than it is that they experience personal fulfillment. The Unknown Citizen Symbol Analysis This isnt a poem that uses a lot of similes and metaphors. In fact, at times it seems deliberately un-poetic. The only metaphor we could find was the comparison between the Unknown Citizen and a saint. Then again, the entire poem is an elaborate comparison between the Unknown Citizen, whose accomplishments are ridiculously overstated, and the Unknown Soldier, which was created to honor heroic sacrifices that were never witnessed or confirmed. Title: The title is the only place where the term "Unknown Citizen" is used, so it is a key to the entire poem. It lets us know that the poem is an allegory, or an extended comparison to figures outside the poem. "The Unknown Citizen" is meant to recall the idea of "The Unknown Soldier," or a soldier whose remains could not be identified after a battle. Line 4: The word "saint" is a religious term, so the Unknown Citizen cant actually be one, except in the modern sense, which means that were dealing with a metaphor. Its also a drastic hyperbole lets face it, the guy wasnt Gandhi.

Line 20: Everything necessary? Really? What about food, water, and shelter? This line is classic hyperbole, or exaggeration. Bureaucracies and Investigation Symbol Analysis The society depicted in the poem isnt a real, historical place: its more like an ironic prophecy of the future using present-day parallels (or at least present-day from the perspective of 1939). The Unknown Citizen has been investigated to an absurd degree by all kinds of bureaucracies, from his employer, Fudge Motors, to Social Psychology workers, to Public Opinion researchers. Theres a paper trail a mile long on this guy, but none of it tells us anything useful about who he is. Epigraph: The epigraph furthers the allegory set up by the title, comparing the non-existent Unknown Citizen to the idea of the Unknown Soldier. The "marble monument" to the Unknown Citizen makes us think of the various Tombs of the Unknown Soldier in places like Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Line 1: The "Bureau of Statistics" is a symbol representing the way bureaucracies treat people as mere numbers and figures. Line 5: The "Greater Community" is a vague clich used by bureaucracies to foster a sense of teamwork. Its not clear what the "community" refers to his family, job, nation? Not all communities are compatible with one another, so it doesnt make sense to speak of just one Greater Community. Line 26: We think the "Eugenist" is a personification of the field of eugenics as a whole. No government would ever have a single person called a Eugenist in charge of population control. Parodies and Irony Symbol Analysis The whole idea of the Unknown Citizen is a parody of the serious military concept of the Unknown Soldier, which was created in order to recognize the sacrifice of soldiers who died anonymously. The poem is dripping with irony, as the speaker lists off accomplishments that are nt accomplishments at all. At many points, the poem directly parodies existing American companies or organizations. Line 2: Its ironic that a poem of praise would begin on such a dull and tepid point as the lack of "official complaints." Line 8: Fudge Motors, Inc. sounds to us like a parody of Ford Motors, Inc, the biggest auto company in the world at the time. But more delicious.

Line 18: "Producers Research and High-Grade Living" are parodies of real consumer organizations like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping. Line 19: To say that he was "fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan" is a hilarious understatement. He must have been aware at a higher level than his "senses." Line 20: The phrase "everything necessary to the Modern Man" is a clich used by advertisers to sell stuff. Today it sounds so old-fashioned that we can easily recognize it as such. The Unknown Citizen: Rhyme, Form & Meter Well show you the poems blueprints, and well listen for the music behind the words. Satiric Elegy in Rhyme An "elegy" is a poem about a dead person. These types of poems can be sad and mopey or grand and celebratory. "The Unknown Citizen" is of the grand and celebratory variety, but its also a satire, which means that it is making fun of the person it pretends to celebrate. Theres not much thats grand about the Unknown Citizen. We know that hes dead because the speaker refers to him in the past tense, and also because the monument for "The Unknown Citizen" reminds us of "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," which was created to honor soldiers who died in battle but whose remains were never identified. The speaker of the poem thinks he is paying a lot of nice comments, but most of his compliments amount to saying that the UC never caused anyone any problems. He sounds like the guy who agrees with everything and whom everyone calls "a nice person." This is called "damning with faint praise," because the praise is so weak and half-hearted that we know its just masking his utter insignificance. And, just so you know, Auden didnt write satiric elegies exclusively; he also wrote two of the best heartfelt elegies of the 20th century: "In Memory of Sigmund Freud" and "In Memory of WB Yeats." At a time when many poets were throwing themselves fully into unrhymed free verse, Auden was happily continuing the tradition of writing in rhyme. His rhymes dont sound old-fashioned, either, although sometimes they seem ironic. When people complain that his poetry doesnt rhyme anymore, you can point them back to Audens work. However, he was far from a conventional poet, and "The Unknown Citizen" doesnt follow a standard rhyme

scheme. Instead, it alternates between a few different, simple rhyme schemes. The simplicity of Audens rhymes is striking, as if he had nothing to prove. Which he didnt, considering that he was also a whiz with more complicated forms of rhyme. The poem begins with an ABAB pattern, but then switches to a rhyming couple (AA, BB, etc.), after which he starts hopping around a lot. Some of the rhymes are sandwiched between other rhymes. Check out lines 8-13, which follow the pattern ABBCCA. You think hes not going to rhyme anything with "Inc.", but then, five lines later, he comes at you with "drink." These two words are so far away that you might not even realize he was rhyming, but we bet your inner ear did. Finally, the rhythm of the poem roughly centers on the anapest, a metrical foot that has two unstressed beats followed by a stressed beat. In the future, whenever you hear the tricky-sounding term anapest, think of the first two lines of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," which has eight perfect anapests in a row: "Twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas and ALL through the HOUSE, / not a CREAture was STIRing not EVen a MOUSE." Auden doesnt ever use that many anapests in a row, but they are pretty common in the poem, such as at the beginning, "He was FOUND by the BUReau . . ." Now, if this meter sounds corny to you, then youre on to something. Remember that this is a dramatic poem, and the fictional speaker is a government bureaucrat, so we would expect it to sound a bit corny, like something you might read on a greeting cardor a monument. Speaker Point of View Who is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him? Were so familiar with the uptight bureaucrat as a source of parody that its easy to forget that we didnt always have bureaucrats. It wasnt until governments got really huge and corporations became the center of the economy that the large, complex organizations we call "bureaucracies" really took off. The speaker of "The Unknown Citizen" is a bureaucrat who works for the State, or government. Or at least hes a big fan of bureaucracies. How do we know? Because he cites thema lot. The first line, even, calls attention to the Bureau of Statistics. Bureaucrats love to gather data and statistics, because they help managers run an organization more efficiently. However, its a problem

when living, breathing people become mere statistics: John Doe watches 1,356 hours of television a day, runs 22 miles a week, reads 12.7 books, etc. To the speaker, the Unknown Citizen is just a collection of statistics, which is why he remains "unknown." The speaker doesnt just speak for himself, though; he represents the entire apparatus of the State. Like a king during the Middle Ages, he uses the "Royal We" to make clear that his assessment of the Unknown Citizens character is not just one persons opinion: its the official position of the State. So he says, "our Social Psychology works" and "our Eugenist." Clearly he has consulted with a lot of people before writing this poem. Its a real team effort, but also very creepy. Seeing as the concept of "The Unknown Citizen" is a parody of the idea of "The Unknown Soldier," we see a parallel here to the process of awarding a really high military award, like the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is given out for extraordinary heroism in battle. Before such an award can be given out, the army conducts detailed research into the recipients background and their deeds of heroism. Although the Unknown Citizen doesnt win any awards, he does have a marble monument in his honor, which is a big deal. We might imagine the speaker as some guy in a grey suit sitting in a windowless office somewhere, reading reports turned in by other people and organizations. He doesnt know the UC, and probably doesnt care, but its his job to write up some flattering piece of verse, and by golly, he doesnt want to let the State d own. He stinks at delivering compliments, and he gets a bit testy at the suggestion that maybe the Unknown Citizen wasnt free and happy. Its like when you call up a company to tell them their product is broken and the Customer Service person gets annoyed and says, "Thats not possible our products never break you must be using it wrong!" The last thing to say about the speaker is that hes not actually speaking. That is, in the fictional world of the poem, these lines are inscribed on the monument to the Unknown Citizen. It had to have been written by someone, but this "someone" is also "unknown." Lets call him "The Unknown Bureaucrat." The Unknown Citizen Setting Where It All Goes Down Its hard to know what kind of setting to imagine for this poem. Youve got the setting of the monument on which

the poem is inscribed, and then youve got the setting of The Big Man himself, our Unknown Citizen. What kind of monument is it? We think a bronze statue of this famous Magritte painting would be a good fit. We dont think the monument would let us know very much about the UC at all. Maybe it would just be a slab of clean white marble with no decoration, or a big marble replica of a dollar bill (because he was so good at buying things), or maybe it would be an obelisk like the Washington Monument. Were sure you can come up with something interesting. Anyway, were going to plop our monument down right in the middle of the Washington Mall, maybe next to the Lincoln Memorial. The Unknown Citizen deserves a central place in our nations capital, considering all his huge accomplishments like having five kids! It will be right down the street from the Bureau of Statistics, a huge, drab marble building. And, of course, it will have that strange dedication "To JS/07 M 378" on it. As for the Unknown Citizen, he lives a very neat, organized society. It looks like a squeaky-clean 1950s TV show except in the 1930s. The new Ford has just been waxed, the Jell-O is cooling in the frigidaire, and the kids are on the living room floor, listening to the latest episode of Little Orphan Annie on the radio: "Who's that little chatter box? The one with pretty auburn locks? Whom do you see? It's Little Orphan Annie." If youve ever seen the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, you know what we mean. But theres a slightly seedy underside to this quaint little vision, and its that the government seems to know everything. There are tons of reports and paperwork to fill out, and researchers into Public Opinion are walking the streets, taking the mood of the public on every subject under the sun. If you say something odd or dont pay your Union dues, people will look at you cock-eyed and maybe even stop talking to you. And, trust us, no one is ever going to ask if youre happy. Sound Check Read this poem aloud. What do you hear? This poem could be the first number of a really wild Andrew Lloyd Weber musical that is set in the windowless office building of a government bureaucracy.

All youd have to do is add some simple music and actors, and change the title from "The Unknown Citizen" to "The Unknown Citizen!" It probably wouldnt hurt to throw in some exclamation marks elsewhere in the poem, too: "A phonograph, a radio, a car, and a frigidaire!" If youve ever seen a musical theater performance like "Ragtime" or "Phantom of the Opera," then you know that sometimes the actors belt out their songs, and sometimes they just seem to be talking-in-song. "The Unknown Citizen" could fit with the second approach. The verses sound catchy and have that "Twas the Night Before Christmas" meter, but the rhythm isnt consistent enough to merit the belting-out approach. That is, phrases like "in the modern sense of an old-fashioned" dont exactly lend themselves to melody (line 4). Instead youve got to imagine the actors shouting the lines with lots of enthusiasm and charisma, while instruments play a catchy beat in the background. Oh, and a tuba. Theres got to be a tuba. Places, people! In center stage you have the speaker, our faceless bureaucrat. But, just to make things more interesting, some of his faceless co-workers are crowded around him, presenting their own reports about the UC. This could work because the poem breaks down nicely into different chunks. Lines 6-11, for example, provide information about his job and Union membership. Some of these lines have a singable, Dr. Seuss-like sound (and dont forget to add those exclamation marks): "Yet he wasnt a scab or odd in his views! / For his Union reports that he paid his dues!" You could have a bunch of different characters representing the different kinds of bureaucrats who get to have their say, from the "Social Psychology works" to the "researchers into Public Opinion." Their words sound a little phony, but they could try to cover up the awkwardness of lines like "his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way" by having a huge smile plastered across their faces. So huge, in fact, that you could see it from the back row. Overall, the poem is trying to give the impression of a happy celebration, even though the subject matter is boring and, quite honestly, a little frightening. Just like in musical theater, when characters who are supposed to be sad and depressed always seem so darned cheerful because theyre singing.

So, there you have it. The first number of "The Unknown Citizen." the Broadway smash-spectacular coming soon to a theater near you! Now, if you were to write the script to the rest of the musical, how would it go? Whats Up With the Title? "The Unknown Citizen" is a parody of the "The Unknown Soldier," a term used to recognize people whose bodies are found after a battle but cannot be identified. The U.S. Army uses metal dog tags to identify soldiers who are killed in action, but these tags can be lost or melted, and sometimes its just impossible to locate or identify a persons remains. In this case, many countries use the concept of the "Unknown Soldier" to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers who die anonymously. France placed a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris; England has one in Westminster Abbey; and the United States has one in Arlington National Cemetery. Indeed, the epigraph implies that the poem is attached to a fictional "marble monument" dedicated to the UC. The concept of "The Unknown Citizen" suggests that the lives of many normal people are so conventional and uneventful that they might as well be unknown or anonymous. Theyre just an empty suit or a face in the crowd. Of course, its only a metaphor. Normal people dont often die anonymously though, sadly, it sometimes happens. With his tongue in his cheek, Auden is trying to celebrate or recognize the "sacrifice" of the Average Joe. However, this sacrifice is nothing like a soldiers, as Auden is well aware. Rather, the Unknown Citizen is praised for being a good consumer, for buying the same things as everyone else, and for not having opinions that might upset anyone. The message to the reader is clear: you dont want to end up like the Unknown Citizen. W. H. Audens Calling Card What is the poets signature style? Sort-of-Ironic Rhymes Its hard to pull off rhymes in 20th century poetry. First, because it sounds old-fashioned, like youre trying too hard to write "Poetry." Second, because there arent many "masters" to serve as models. W.H. Auden is a notable exception to the trend. He gets away with rhymes in part because were not sure hes doing it with a straight face. But he might be. You just dont know, especially in a dramatic poem like "The Unknown Citizen," where the speaker is a fictional person. Did Auden use rhymes in

part to make fun of the speaker? Maybe, but they sound so natural and unforced that we dont necessarily have to explain the decision as an ironic one. Well call it "sortof-ironic" and leave you to figure out what the heck that means. Tough-O-Meter Weve got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, youll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest) (2) Sea Level Ah, Auden. This poem is so simple, yet so intelligent. It takes a great writer to pull that off. The poem has hardly any metaphors and only a handful of historical vocab words. It sounds like something that a clueless bureaucrat could have writtenif he wanted to write a wicked satire of himself. he Unknown Citizen Trivia Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge According to poets.org, Auden is "generally considered the greatest English poet of the twentieth century." (This doesnt include American poets.) Do you agree? (Source) You can see where Audens family lived on Google Maps! The "Auden" family name goes back to at least 1726. (Read more.) One of Audens poems was misquoted in the best -selling bookTuesdays with Morrie. (Source) Auden reviewed J.R.R. Tolkiens The Fellowship of the Ring for The New York Times in 1954. And he loved it. Who says poetry and sci-fi dont mix? (Source) The Unknown Citizen Steaminess Rating Exactly how steamy is this poem? G The poem doesnt talk about the sex life of the Unknown Citizen, but he must have had sex at some point, because his wife gave birth to five babies. Nonetheless, we are going to take a stab in the dark and say that his sexual habits were probably conventional, like everything else about him. The Unknown Citizen Allusions & Cultural References When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, its usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Historical References "The Unknown Citizen" resembles the idea of "The Unknown Soldier" (title, epigraph) Eugenics (line 26) "Fudge Motors, Inc." sounds a lot like Ford Motors, Inc. (line 8)

Pop Culture "Producers Research and High-Grade Living" sound similar to organizations like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping. (line 18) The Unknown Citizen Theme of Identity By definition, the Unknown Citizen has no identity. With the related concept of the Unknown Soldier, it is the soldiers physical remains, or dead body, that cannot be identified. But for the Unknown Citizen, it is more that his life was so conventional that he did not distinguish himself in any way from his fellow citizens. There must be thousands, even millions, of Unknown Citizens out there, about whom little can be said except that they didnt get in anyones way. On the other hand, you might think that there is nothing wrong with being "unknown," and that the poet is being elitist. Questions About Identity 1. 2. 3. 4. Is the Unknown Citizen a specific individual, or just a bunch of statistics thrown together? How does the practice of Eugenics or population control affect individual identity in a society? Do you think the Unknown Citizen would have anything to talk about at dinner parties? Does he have any fun? Who decides what "normal" behavior is within a society? Does having an identity simply refer to the way we deviate from the norm; for example, by having "odd views"? Chew on This Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate. The Unknown Citizen isnt a particular person he represents the average of all people in a society. The Unknown Citizen Theme of Manipulation Monuments and public celebrations are always political. Even your towns Fourth of July parade is a staged political event. Now, "political" doesnt have to have a negative connotation (who doesnt love free candy and bead necklaces on the Fourth of July?), but in this poem, the State is a creepy, manipulative bureaucracy that is most concerned with preventing oddballs from getting in

the way with the status quo. So they have created this expensive marble monument to the blandest person in the country, the one least likely to mess things up for those in power. The inscription on the monument the poem tells us almost nothing about the man to whom it is dedicated. It tries to convince the imaginary reader to be more like the Unknown Citizen. Questions About Manipulation 1. 2. 3. 4. Who is in control in the society depicted in "The Unknown Citizen." How might the "marble monument" be a form of manipulating? Who is it intended to manipulate? Why is it important that he never interfered with his childrens education? Who benefits most in a bureaucratic system? What does it take to get inside the bureaucracy? Chew on This Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate. Despite the poems sinister tone, there is no reason to think the Unknown Citizen is being manipulated by anyone. he Unknown Citizen Theme of Patriotism Some people say, "My country, right or wrong." Other people think argument and dissent are the signs of a true patriot. Audens poem falls more toward the latter end of the spectrum. The poem tells us that "in everything he did he served the Greater Community," but were not sure what this means. Who decides what the interests of the Greater Community are? Does this group exclude anyone? Is individual identity at odds with it? These are a few of the disturbing questions that the poem raises in relation to patriotism. And, of course, things are complicated by the fact that the poem seems to be set in America but was written by an Englishman. Questions About Patriotism 1. What do you think the Greater Community represents in this poem? Is it a nation? Is it some smaller group? A larger group? Have you ever heard the argument that buying things is patriotic? What does this mean? Do you agree? Do you think its appropriate to compare an average, anonymous middle-class American to the Unknown Soldier? How does the metaphor work? What is the difference between a "modern" and an "oldfashioned" saint? Can an old-fashioned saint be a patriot?

Chew on This Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate. The Unknown Citizen argues that patriotism is always a bad thing, and that a persons primary loyalties should be toward mankind. The Unknown Citizen Theme of Passivity The Unknown Citizen is called a modern-day "saint" by the State, but it isnt clear just what he has done that is so worthy of praise. His most potentially heroic deed is serving in the army during a war, but does serving in a war automatically make you a hero, even if you were only doing what everyone else did? On the whole, the Unknown Citizen belonged to the faceless masses, from his consumer habits to his love of having "a drink" with his mates. Attacking the conformity of middle-class America has always been a favorite sport of intellectuals, and you can find tons of more contemporary examples, like the Oscar-winning movie American Beauty. You may choose to disagree with Audens perspective, or you could say, "Right on!" This is the kind of poem that battles conformity by provoking strong opinions from its readers. Questions About Passivity 1. 2. 3. 4. Where in the poem does the Unknown Citizen take action, and where does he merely react to things? Does his wartime service run counter to his passivity? Could his passivity merely mean that hes really happy and content? What is the relation between his passive behavior and his consumer habits? Chew on This Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate. Even as a soldier, the Unknown Citizen remained a passive bystander to his own life. How we cite the quotes: (line) Quote #1 One against whom there was no official complaint (line 2) The Unknown Citizen isnt the only passive person in the poem. The speaker is also quite passive, or maybe passive/aggressive would be more accurate. The speaker never gets excited about anything. He can only delivered

2. 3.

4.

compliments in the negative, by saying what the UC didnt do wrong, rather than what he did right. Quote #2 Yet he wasnt a scab or odd in his views, For his Union reports that he paid his dues, (lines 9-10) These lines have a nonsensical connection to one another. The speaker deduces that the Unknown Citizen must not have been a scab or had strange opinions simply because he paid the regular membership fees for his Union. The point of a Union is to protect the rights of the factory workers, but, if left to their own devices, they can just suck up peoples money and give back nothing in return. Quote #3 And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way. (line 15) The Unknown Citizen doesnt act, he reacts. Its almost as if he were the subject of a scientific experiment, where things were being placed in front of him to see what he would do. "Hmm, I think Ill buy a frigidaire." Success!