Advanced Placement English 12
05 March 2012
The Unknown Citizen
By W. H. Auden
Several conflicts are dramatized in The Unknown Citizen, the most prominent being: conformity of the middle class, government manipulation, and the loss of individualism to the standards of an average citizen. The speaker of this poem is non-traditional as the poem is, in fact, an inscription on a “marble monument erected by the State.” The inscription is dedicated to a “JS/07 M 378”—presumably, “The Unknown Citizen,” although this term only appears in the title. The Unknown Citizen is essentially an elegy, a lament for the dead, written by either a government official or a strong believer in the government. This becomes clear through the speaker’s repeated use of possession, such as in line 12, “…our Social Psychology workers found…” and “Our researchers into public opinion are content…” (22). These references establish the poem’s criticism of government manipulation and very closely mirror the same notions within the novel 1984. The speaker offers insight into just how severe this government infiltration is, mentioning an active “Bureau of Statistics” (1), a “Health-card” administered to all citizens (17), and personal information drawn from “…reports on his conduct…” (3). Another conflict that arises within the poem is that of a dominating middle class. The author defines the “Modern Man”—which is also capitalized to represent a distinct faction—as one who possesses all the “necessities,” including: “a phonograph, a radio, a car, and a Frigidaire” (21). The poem becomes almost satirical here. The speaker continues, “He was married and added five children to the population…the right number for a parent of his generation” (25-26). The poet outlines society and the government’s idea of the ideal middle class modern man, however, with much irony. Regardless, with this elegy, the author intends to praise the life of the unknown citizen, but succeeds only...
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