Analysis of "The Age of Anxiety" by W.H. Auden
The themes and ideas in Auden's "The Age of Anxiety" reflect his belief that man's quest for self actualization is in vain.
I. Auden's background
A. As a 1930's poet
1. Views of Society
2. Diagnosis of the industrial society
B. Major conflicts of his works
II. "The Age of Anxiety" overview
A. As a quest poem
1. Characters' search for self-actualization
2. Characters' inevitable failure in the quest
B. Characters' views on the general situation
1. Their belief to be in Purgatory when they are
allegorically in Hell
2. Their disbelief in impossibility
III. "The Age of Anxiety" character analysis
IV. Part I
A. Commonly called "Prologue"
B. Introduces scene and characters
C. Characters think aloud to reveal their nature
1. Quant views himself with false admiration
2. Malin examines the theoretical nature of man
3. Rosetta endeavors to create an imaginary and happy past
4. Emble passes his youthful judgment on the others' follies V. First act of Part II, "The Seven Ages"
A. Malin's domination of this act
1. Serves as a guide
2. Controls the characters through his introduction of each age
B. Others support Malin's theories by drawing from past, present, and potential future experiences
C. The ages
1. The first age
a. Malin asks the reader to "Behold the infant"
b. Child is "helpless in cradle and / Righteous still"
but already has a "Dread in his dreams"
2. The second age
a. Youth, as Malin describes it
b. Age at which man realizes "his life-bet with a lying
c. Naive belief in self and place in life is boundless
d. It is the age of belief in the possibility of a
3. The third age
a. The sexual awakening
b. Distinction between dream and reality
c. Discovery that love, as it was thought to be, is a
sharp contrast to love in the bounds of reality
4. The fourth age
a. Presents circus imagery "as a form of art too close
to life to have any purgative effect on the audience"
b. Rosetta's definition of life and the world
5. The fifth age
a. Conveys the image of man as "an astonished victor"
b. Man believes he has made peace with the meaning of
c. Anxiety declines as "He [man] learns to speak /
Softer and slower, not to seem so eager"
d. Man is no longer confined to a prison of prismatic
color, but is free in the dull, bland place that is the world
e. Emble's opposition of the fifth age
(1) Refuses to go willingly into middle age
(2) Demands to know why man must "Leave out
the worst / Pang of youth"
(3) Is disturbed by time unlike the others
for he is still young enough to have a future
f. Quant's domination of the fifth age
(1) Attempt to eliminate all hope
(2) View on man's adaptation to the fifth age
6. The sixth age
a. Man begins to show age
b. "Impotent, aged, and successful," Malin's portrayal
of a man of this age is indifferent to the world
7. The seventh age
a. Hypothetical man is tired out
b. Malin is ready for this age in contrast to the
others' reluctance to die just yet VI. Second act of Part II, "The Seven Stages"
A. Unlike "The Seven Ages," this act is nothing more than a dream
B. "The Seven Stages"...
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Bahlke, George W., ed. "Critical Essays on W. H. Auden". New York: G. K. Hall
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Barrows, Marjorie Wescott, ed., et al. "The American Experience: Poetry". New
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Salem Press, 1982.
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