. H. Auden’s “the Unknown Citizen”

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Auden’s “Unknown Citizen” gives the reader a sense that there is a powerful bureaucracy that watches over its citizens and collects data on them that makes the poem a bit eerie. From the very outset of the poem, with its evocation of a Bureau of Statistics, the power of the ominous bureaucracy is set forth. The man being described has had every aspect of his life catalogued. He served his community, he held a job, he paid Union dues, he did not hold radical views, he reacted normally to advertisements, he had insurance, he possessed the right material goods for one of his class, he had proper opinions about current events, he married and had the right amount of children. It does not appear on paper that he did anything wrong or out of place; in fact, “he was a saint”. The words used to describe the man –“normal” “right” “sensible” “proper” “popular” –indicate that he is considered the ideal citizen. At the end of the poem, the poet, rather than the anonymous civil servant presumably delivering the monologue, asks, “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: / Had anything been wrong, we should certainly / have heard”. With these last lines comes the deeper meaning of the poem, and the realization of the death of the irony. Verbal irony, for instance, depends on our noticing the incongruity between the speaker’s words and their meaning; an ironic point of view, by contrast, plays upon a discrepancy between the author’s attitude and that of the speaker; dramatic irony requires us to compare the limited knowledge of the speaker or character with our more complete and far-reaching knowledge.” It becomes clear that the citizen is only “unknown” to the speaker because in this statistical gathering of data a man’s individuality and identity are lost. This bureaucratic society only bases their knowledge of a person off of external, easily-catalogued modes of

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