Routine is something that everyone follows. The question is that does the routine shape your life or does your life shape your routine. This question is addressed throughout W.H Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen.” The poem is a piece of fiction that analyzes and criticizes the identity of a man or maybe even a statistic. The speaker has written the poem with great description. Everything is described in great detail and many examples are provided throughout the poem. The poem is filled with sarcasm and literary devices.
When a man lives in conformity, he seems to be free but he actually isn’t. Auden portrays such a human being through his poem “The Unknown Citizen.” Someone who lives with such conformity doesn’t even have the time to question the life that he is leading. The issue of conformity is addressed throughout the poem. The man in the poem follows everything he is supposed to do. He is responsible, sensible, and cordial to all. Although he has all the materialistic things, he doesn’t have a free mind. He doesn’t form his own opinions, nor does he argue for what he thinks is right. This leads to the question, is the man actually even happy.
The speaker’s tone is very interesting throughout the poem. The speaker’s tone changes from praising the man to mocking the man’s life. The speaker uses a great deal of sarcasm as he describes the man in the poem. The sarcastic tone is shown through the rhetorical questions he asks at the end of the poem. These questions show that the speaker wasn’t actually praising the man’s life throughout the poem but actually mocking it. Although the man in the poem is a human, the speaker refers to him as a statistic. The line “He was married and added five children to the population” shows the speakers treatment of the man as a statistic. The line used to describe the children shows the speaker’s apathy towards the man’s human form. The speaker makes the birth sound mathematical and statistical.
The speaker uses an extended metaphor in the poem. The title “The Unknown citizen” itself is an extended metaphor. Every citizen has an identity but how can an identity be unknown. This comparison is addressed throughout the poem and an extended metaphor is formed. The man in the poem is a citizen because he fulfills all the duties of a citizen but he has no identity because he doesn’t think or act for himself. The speaker uses rhyme in this poem. The rhythm adds to the sarcasm of the poet by adding a beat to it. Certain words used in the poem catch the attention of the reader because of the different meaning they can have. For example the word normal, used in the poem to describe the identity’s response to newspaper commercial, adds to the sarcasm that starts to become evident in the poem. Another word that catches attention is “Greater” in line 5. The word is capitalized, which makes it seem like it is very important. It is a very important word because in the lines following this line, examples of the man serving the greater community are shown.
W.H Auden was originally from Europe. He was an outcast in Europe because he was gay. He decided to move to the America’s in the hope that he would be accepted there. But in the Americas he faced the same problem. This poem mocks a man who lives in conformity. Auden did not live in conformity, he was the complete opposite. He thought for himself and did not follow what others had to say. The purpose Auden wrote this poem could be to ridicule what a man who lives in conformity is like. He didn’t live in conformity and for that he was out casted. So he tries to show that a man who lives in conformity isn’t free and that he is the one who is actually free and happy not the others who just follow what they are told to do.
The end of the poem is of the most importance. The last line states “Had anything been wrong we should certainly have heard.” The line hints the reader’s about how the author feels a society works. The speaker seems to feel that when someone goes onto the right path without doing anything wrong they are unknown. However, as soon as someone does something wrong they will be recognized by everyone. In conclusion, to be known someone has to go against the rules rather than follow them. The speaker also seems to be introducing a society where everyone is referred to as a number or a statistic rather than a human with feelings. The speaker is trying to predict our lives in the future when a human will be only worth a statistic or a number in a pool of many others.
In conclusion, the poem “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H Auden is a mystery which can be perceived by different people differently. The poem can be the future to some, portraying the values in society to some, and for some just a description of a statistic. This extended metaphor denatures a human and is filled with sarcasm. The speaker has magnificently used a rhetorical question and the sarcastic tone in the poem. The poem’s main theme is conformity and how it affects a human’s happiness and freedom. Conformity is a good thing until it reaches a certain extent, after that it just takes over your life and you have no freedom or happiness left.