15 February 2011
W. H Auden: The Unknown Citizen
The marble monument erected by the state or town is usually of a hometown hero. The person is almost always someone who did well for the country and originated from a certain town. The statue is almost never of someone who is just an ordinary man living life just like everyone else around him. This man is the model citizen; one who never causes a stir, goes to war when asked, and does everything to serve the common good. He is a conformist, a person whom the government holds high and promotes for others to strive toward becoming. The monument covers everything from his job record to his health history, all documented parts of his life, showing the reader exactly what the “State” is concerned with. Looking at the poem’s structure, use of sound, and the style we see that the man is celebrated because “he served the Greater Community” (Auden 5) in everything he did and never questioned the government.
The narrative structure of the poem represents a speech by the local representative. The statue only has a reference number JS/07/M/378 because to the government the behavior is more important the man himself. While the speaker calls this man, “in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint” (4), he only knows this because of the research prior to the event. The representative decides to talk about how the man performed all t he correct tasks throughout his life. The state hardly cares whether or not the man "was popular with his mates and liked a drink" (13) so long as he "wasn't a scab or odd in his views" (9). It is also important to note that "he held the proper opinions for the time of year" (23) than if he was "free" and "happy" (28).
The use of sound reveals that the Unknown Citizen lived an ordinary life. The speaker consistently uses a simple rhyming scheme- “Our report on his Union shows it was sound/ And our Social Psychology workers found” (11-12) to show the...