The Unknown Citizen

The Poem “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden
is a satire. Its narrator is the state. In this, the state pays tribute and describes
a successful and positive product of its efficiency and effectiveness. In other
words, it builds the character later described to the reader as “the perfect
citizen.” The narrator speaks as if he is delivering a speech or common tribute
using words and phrases that are familiar to the reader. Using such imagery
helps the reader paint a clear picture of the character. The subject or
character is illustrated as a hardworking, common, tax paying, proud – to –
be American citizen living in an obvious post Depression setting. The post
Depression setting is key, as the reader knows during that time bracket in
History, citizens went on the hunt for what was known as the “American
Dream.” A driving force to recover and reinvent as well as the thirst to
prosper. The government (or state, as described earlier) by use of statistics
wanted to not only show, but also greatly embellish and make grand, its
effectiveness and success in its recovery and prosper. The narrator takes a
sincere yet ironically humorous approach in doing so. Humorous and ironic
because the reader knows that no such person exists as the “perfect citizen”
as described in this poem. It is found that the poem is set during the post
depression and post war period. Supported by the picture painted in the
minds of the audience by the speaker’s content. In his content he mentions
words and phrases such as; (6) Except for the war ‘til the day he retired” (6)
“He worked in a factory” (10) “For the Union reports that he paid his dues”
(24) “When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he
went.” The audience knows that the work in factories; formation, existence,
and belonging of unions; talk of war and peace; are all associated with the
post Depression/war era. By that we can define our setting and later on helps
us begin our characterization. The narrator uses words and phrases familiar to
the reader such as (8), “Fudge Motors Inc.”; the reader would think it to be
Ford Motors Inc. A technique used by the author for both imagery and humor
purposes. The narrator describes the subject in a way that is like the character
himself. Common, conversational, easy to understand with a touch of
understood humor. The author uses examples from daily life to get the point of
humor and fact across to the reader. (20) “And he had everything necessary
to the Modern Man” (21) “ A phonograph, a radio, a car, and a frigidaire.”
(25 & 26) “He was married and added five children to the population, Which
our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.” Lines
5-15 are clear and accurate examples the narrator gives in better quality detail
to clearly state the character’s success in his being common. Although, the
above is found to be satirical. The narrator goes on to describe a man that he
himself does not personally know. The character is a nicely complied group of
statistics to describe the nonexistent “perfect citizen.” (1) “ He was found by
the Bureau of Statistics to be (2) One against whom there was no official
complaint.” (5) For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.”
(7) He worked in a factory and never got fired.” The irony comes into play
because the audience knows that there is no such person as the “perfect
citizen.” The citizen(s) did complain. The complaints fell upon deaf ears that
did not choose to hear or accept them. Why should the state believe that there
were flaws in the perfect society of their subject? After all, the Bureau of
Statistics did prove such perfection by their records and statistics. And the
Bureau does state, challenge, and answer such questions by lines 28 & 29.
(28 & 29) “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had
anything been wrong we should have certainly have heard.” Notice in line 1
the use of the phrase, “was found”, the word “found” is key. It proves that the
state had no solid evidence of a “perfect citizen.” Just an implied creation
based upon fact on paper. The poem and the statements made within it were
very far fetched from reality because they weren’t based on a true story about
a living, breathing, human being. The poem is a clear criticism of our society,
our government, and the people within