Analysis of The Age of Anxiety by W.H. Auden Essay

This essay has a total of 2522 words and 14 pages.

Analysis of "The Age of Anxiety" by W.H. Auden

The themes and ideas in Auden's "The Age of Anxiety" reflect his belief that
man's quest for self actualization is in vain.

I. Auden's background
A. As a 1930's poet
1. Views of Society
2. Diagnosis of the industrial society
B. Major conflicts of his works
II. "The Age of Anxiety" overview
A. As a quest poem
1. Characters' search for self-actualization
2. Characters' inevitable failure in the quest
B. Characters' views on the general situation
1. Their belief to be in Purgatory when they are
allegorically in Hell
2. Their disbelief in impossibility
III. "The Age of Anxiety" character analysis
A. Quant
B. Malin
C. Rosetta
D. Emble
IV. Part I
A. Commonly called "Prologue"
B. Introduces scene and characters
C. Characters think aloud to reveal their nature
1. Quant views himself with false admiration
2. Malin examines the theoretical nature of man
3. Rosetta endeavors to create an imaginary and happy past
4. Emble passes his youthful judgment on the others' follies
V. First act of Part II, "The Seven Ages"
A. Malin's domination of this act
1. Serves as a guide
2. Controls the characters through his introduction of each age
B. Others support Malin's theories by drawing from past, present, and
potential future experiences
C. The ages
1. The first age
a. Malin asks the reader to "Behold the infant"
b. Child is "helpless in cradle and / Righteous still"
but already has a "Dread in his dreams"
2. The second age
a. Youth, as Malin describes it
b. Age at which man realizes "his life-bet with a lying
self"
c. Naive belief in self and place in life is boundless
d. It is the age of belief in the possibility of a
future
3. The third age
a. The sexual awakening
b. Distinction between dream and reality
c. Discovery that love, as it was thought to be, is a
sharp contrast to love in the bounds of reality
4. The fourth age
a. Presents circus imagery "as a form of art too close
to life to have any purgative effect on the
audience"
b. Rosetta's definition of life and the world
5. The fifth age
a. Conveys the image of man as "an astonished victor"
b. Man believes he has made peace with the meaning of
life
c. Anxiety declines as "He [man] learns to speak /
Softer and slower, not to seem so eager"
d. Man is no longer confined to a prison of prismatic
color, but is free in the dull, bland place
that is the world
e. Emble's opposition of the fifth age
(1) Refuses to go willingly into middle age
(2) Demands to know why man must "Leave out
the worst / Pang of youth"
(3) Is disturbed by time unlike the others
for he is still young enough to have
a future
f. Quant's domination of the fifth age
(1) Attempt to eliminate all hope
(2) View on man's adaptation to the fifth age
6. The sixth age
a. Man begins to show age
b. "Impotent, aged, and successful," Malin's portrayal
of a man of this age is indifferent to the world
7. The seventh age
a. Hypothetical man is tired out
b. Malin is ready for this age in contrast to the
others' reluctance to die just yet
VI. Second act of Part II, "The Seven Stages"
A. Unlike "The Seven Ages," this act is nothing more than a dream
B. "The Seven Stages" is an attempt to find the perfect time of life
C. The stages
1. The first stage
a. Each character begins alone, "isolated with his own
thoughts"
b. Justification of the view that the quest is for
naught
2. The second stage
a. Is initiated by the first pairing of characters
(1) Shows possibility of hope
(a) Emble
(b) Rosetta
(2) Shows futility of hope
(a) Quant
(b) Malin
3. The third stage
a. Begins as the couples turn inland
(1) Emble and Rosetta by plane
(2) Quant and Malin by train
b. The characters complete the third stage without
success in their search for self
4. The fourth stage
a. Malin speaks for them all in his derogatorative
statements about the city
b. Malin passes judgment on its citizens based on
the urban surroundings
5. The fifth stage
a. Rosetta visits a mansion in which she wishes
she were raised and to which she wishes she
shall return
b. While Rosetta is within the house, the others
examine its exterior and its comparison to
he human body
c. Rosetta finds life inside the house no better
than before
6. The sixth stage
a. A "forgotten graveyard" is the setting
b. Symbolizes "The results of life"
7. The seventh stage
a. The characters wander deep into a forest, each
taking a solitary path
b. They meet at the edge of the forest with a desert
before them
c. As they realize that life has no meaning, the
desert becomes the real world, thus ending
this stage with their awakening
VII. The remaining three parts
A. Follows the characters from the bar to their homes
B. The four remember the despair of the conclusion of "The Seven
Stages" rather than the journey itself


In Auden's lengthy poem, "The Age of Anxiety", he follows the actions
and thoughts of four characters who happen to meet in a bar during a war. Their
interactions with one another lead them on an imaginary quest in their minds in
which they attempt, without success, to discover themselves. The themes and
ideas that Auden's "The Age of Anxiety" conveys reflect his belief that man's
quest for self-actualization is in vain.
W. H. Auden was born in York, England, in 1907, the third and youngest
son of Constance and George Auden (Magill 72). His poetry in the 1930's
reflected the world of his era, a world of depression, Fascism, and war. His
works adopt a prose of a "clinical diagrostician [sic] anatomizing society" and
interpret social and spiritual acts as failures of communication (Magill 74).
They also put forth a diagnosis of the industrial English society among economic
and moral decay in the 1930's (Magill 72). Conflicts common in his works are
those between war and peace, corruption of modern society, and the "dichotomy
between the rich and the poor" (Barrows 317).
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