The opening lines of the poem establish an ironic tone as the speaker of the poem begins to construct a satiric portrait of the average citizen. In the first line of the poem the speaker turns to the “Bureau of Statistics,” and in line 3 to “reports,” as a source for information regarding the “unknown” citizen. This is intensely ironic, for while the Bureau does not identify the citizen by name, such a Bureau does contain detailed data regarding every citizen. The data the Bureau collects identifies an individual in terms of detailed facts and figures; however, it fails to truly identify those qualities which distinguish him/her from all others. For instance, such data gives no information regarding a person’s hopes, dreams, or desires, or those personal or idiosyncratic qualities that distinguish each individual. Although certain “details” regarding a person are contained in such reports, the individual remains truly unknown, and this is the central irony the poem plays upon. Lines 4-5
The irony continues to build in these two lines of the poem. In line 4, the unknown citizen is referred to as a “saint” in the “modern sense” of the word. In the old-fashioned sense of the word, a saint is someone who overcomes great challenges, maintains their personal convictions in the face of intense adversity, usually stands alone and often perishes while maintaining and defending their beliefs. Such a life, in other words, is an extraordinary one. The poem, however, suggests that in the modern sense of the word, a saint is one whose life in anything but extraordinary. What distinguishes sainthood in this poem is a life of complete and utter ordinariness. For instance, the unknown citizen always acts in the accepted or expected way. As noted later in the poem, when there was war, he was for war; when there was peace, he was for peace. This suggests that his convictions and beliefs are formed not through individual reflection and personal conviction,...
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