Analysis of the poem "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H. Auden (1940)
The poet presents the monotonous life of a man who has conformed himself to the State, losing his happiness and his ability to rebel. It is described a modern society in which there was a reversal of values and in which the individual becomes anonymous: he does not count within it. This main theme is presented through the description of the seemingly perfect life of an "unknown citizen", who "was a saint". This affirmation could suggest you a perfect way of life, but shows the behavior of a man who has no opinion, who is "saint", not because he has values, but because he is submissive to the will of the State. There is a contrast between the form of the poem and its content because, on the one hand, the form seems to describe the behavior of a perfect and famous man, who has distinguished himself within the society; on the other hand, the content-dedication is a sort of parody of the common man, who has lost his individuality and is constantly controlled by the State. Also, the title seems to allude to a monument erected by the State for great merits achieved by a common man. The language of the poem is colloquial and bureaucratic, but also, at times, ironic.
There are some examples of irony, such as "Fudge Motors Inc." and "he was a saint": they are clear examples of the deceit that the State shows in order to hide the true reality of the human condition within a possible totalitarian regime. The characters of the poem are two: the unknown citizen and the State. The unknown citizen (He) is the modern man with his anonymous life, the State (Our) is the totalitarian state, which imposes itself by force, subtly. It is also possible that the unknown citizen is the Jew, persecuted by the totalitarian State during the Second World War.
The citizens, subservient to the state, have a eventful life because there are many material goods that have influenced them. This sign of conformity becomes very important within modern society thanks to the publicity and the media. According to Auden, modern society is a dangerous dimension in which man loses his personality and becomes one like many others, significant only for what he can offer to the State, for his contribution (such as participation in the war).
The State control is not necessary but, however, is always present, though invisible. Society is a dimension of continuous control on man's life. In modern State, since all goods are easily available, the happiness becomes less important, at the same, also the freedom. Modern man loses his freedom but is comforted by material goods on hand. The rhymes used are various: the poet at the beginning uses alternate rhymes, then he uses couplets.