What is a person worth to their society? People do not normally consider what their community values them for, and perhaps ignorance is better than the realization of the truth. “The Unknown Citizen,” a poem by W. H. Auden, is an almost tedious epitaph of a deceased man’s life, but the poem is unexpectedly profound in its purpose of causing the reader to evaluate his or her own meaning to society. Other works that touch on the same topic as Auden’s poem are the plays Mrs Warren’s Profession by Bernard Shaw and Endgame by Samuel Beckett, which both portray the cold way that society evaluates its members like “The Unknown Citizen” does. These two plays and single poem compel the reader to question what is his or her life means to society, and see how people within their community view one another.
By far the best at illustrating the severe judgment that exists within civilization is “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H Auden. The poem is an orderly list containing the facts of a deceased man’s life. While alive this man had a job, he was married, had a respectable number of children, was in good health, and owned multiple modern devices. Society views the man’s life as successful based on the things listed in the poem, but the final lines read: “Was he happy? The question is absurd:/Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.” (Auden 29-30) According to the government and society this man apparently had a reasonably happy life, but the truth is how can they possibly know that based off a list of achievements? How the society in the poem comes to the conclusion that this man was happy shows that it thinks a person is worth only what position he or she holds and their possessions are.
Societies are good, right? They can bring order to things, provide jobs, and bring those in them closer together—all of which useful things, but in the end it seems that all the value a culture places in its members is what those members provide for it. In Bernard Shaw’s play Mrs Warren’s Profession, most of the characters pass harsh judgment on Mrs. Warren when it is found out that she, a wealthy and supposedly respectable woman, made her fortune by turning to prostitution. These characters are making judgments based on the fact that their society considers being a prostitute to be one of the most disgraceful occupations a woman could have. The immediate judgment concerning prostitution in society prevents the characters from considering if Mrs. Warren is really a foul woman, or actually a decent one beneath her profession.
In the non-fictional world, doctors are seen as good and respectable because of the money they make from their job, but is that really the truth about their character? The public also likes to pass extremely harsh judgments on celebrities based on what they own and their actions are, but can it really know what those in the public eye are actually like? Society evaluates people’s worth by material things, but this method...