The Unknown Citizen Explication Essay

999 Words Apr 6th, 2012 4 Pages
Alek Haugen
Advanced Placement English 12
Dr. Werner
05 March 2012
The Unknown Citizen
By W. H. Auden

Several conflicts are dramatized in The Unknown Citizen, the most prominent being: conformity of the middle class, government manipulation, and the loss of individualism to the standards of an average citizen. The speaker of this poem is non-traditional as the poem is, in fact, an inscription on a “marble monument erected by the State.” The inscription is dedicated to a “JS/07 M 378”—presumably, “The Unknown Citizen,” although this term only appears in the title. The Unknown Citizen is essentially an elegy, a lament for the dead, written by either a government official or a strong believer in the government. This becomes clear
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Among his “praises,” for example: “When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went” (24). In this, it becomes clear to the reader that you do not want to be an average citizen; you do not want this to be your elegy. Some critics argue this, however, as Auden stating that there is nothing disgraceful in being unknown. The poem is, above all, a satire of the way conformity hinders the individual and leaves ridiculous and solely external distinctions between human beings. Auden presents an allegory in The Unknown Citizen that begins even before the poem itself. The phrase “Unknown Citizen” appears only once—in the title. This term is an immediate allusion to and parody of the “Unknown Soldier,” especially considering the details of who the poem is dedicated to and the fact that it is found on a marble monument, much like those one might expect to see in Washington, D.C. where the United States is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The “Unknown Solider” is a soldier who cannot be recognized after being found in battle. This sometimes-controversial idea can be interpreted to mean that many people die as unknowns because they lived uninfluential lives. Aside from this large allegory, the poem uses only a few rhetorical devices. In line four, for example, “…in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint” is quite an exaggeration because being “one against whom there was no official complaint” is hardly saintly (2). Another
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