March 4, 2015
The Battle against Big Brother
The poem “The Unknown Citizen”, by W.H. Auden, is about the ideal person that the government wants in their society. The man does everything the right way and always agrees with the government, whether they are at war or they are at peace. Although the man is a perfect citizen to the government, they do not even know what his name is. At the top of the poem, they refer to the man as “JS/07/M/378”(343) and do not even bother to learn what his name is. To the government, this man was nothing but a number and this shows how little they actually value the people of their society. When this poem was written, it was during the time of World War II, when people were scared of what the world could become if the allies would have lost and I think this poem shows us what was on the mind of some people at the beginning of the war.
The tone created in this poem is one that has strong negativity towards the government. At the end of the poem it says “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd / Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard”(343). To me, this quote shows that the tone the author creates is one that believes the government has too much control over its people and can control what they think. The poem reminds me of a book I read called 1984, by George Orwell. The book basically shows the world through Winston’s mind and what it would be like to live in a dystopian society where the government controls how you act and what you think is right and wrong. Winston, the main character, struggles to conform into the government’s ideal person and by the end of the story, he eventually conforms after being brainwashed by the government. In the poem, the same concept applies because the man does everything right in the eyes of the government, but that does not necessarily mean that the man is happy.
In this poem, Auden tries to show the reader that conformity does not mean happiness in a society. Just because the man does all the right things and listens to his government, does not mean that he is truly living a good life. In the poem it says “That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink”(343), which makes me think that this seems like a relatively normal guy and that he fit in with the crowd quite well. This line is also one of the few lines in the poem that does not rhyme with anything. I think Auden may have done this to show the reader that this was his one thing that he actually enjoyed in his life and he wanted it to stand out for us to see. Also, I believe that Auden’s purpose of this poem was to show us that we should not always be so conforming to the government’s ideals because we may never live our life to the fullest potential if we do so. I think he is warning us that if one does not stand up for what they truly believe in, that they will just become another statistic in a dystopian society.
In this poem, I thought Auden used his words to really show the reader what point he was trying to get across. In the beginning of the poem, Auden refers to the man as a saint. I find it odd that he refers to the man as a saint, but the government still does not even know his name and refers to him almost like a person in prison by using the social security like numbers. Also, later in the poem, we are told the man works at Fudge Motors, which to me sounds a lot like Ford Motors. This then makes me begin to think if Auden actually knew a person like this in his real life. I think that maybe he knew a man that was the perfect citizen in the eyes of the government and maybe that is where he got the inspiration to write this poem from.
After reading this poem several times, I noticed something different after every time I read it. The poem caught my interest and really made me think about what this person was really like and made me think if I was like this guy or not. I began to consider whether or not I have conformed to the government’s ideal person and then began to think what would be our government’s ideal person in this generation of people. Thinking about most people I know and myself included, many do not agree with a lot of what the government does. Whether or not we talk about politics, taxes, or religion, many people have different opinions on how the country should be run. I think that these differences in opinions is what makes it very hard to pin point what the ideal person is like in our society and it almost ensures us that a dystopian society will not prevail in our lifetime. I think that Auden’s point of the poem was to show people that conformity will not lead to happiness, so you might as well be yourself and happy than to conform and let the government control what you do and what you think is right and wrong.
Auden, W.H. “The Unknown Citizen.” Literature and the Writing Process. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, et al. Backpack ed. Chicago: Pearson. 2011. 343. Print Orwell, George. 1984. London. Signet Classic, 1949. Print