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The Tone Of Irony In The Unknown Citizen

1997 words - 8 pages

“The Unknown Citizen,” a poem written by W.H. Auden, alludes to a time of great change in American history, where the poem is meant to mock the government’s viewpoint of the perfect role model for an unrealistic, impractical citizen. The author, W.H. Auden, writes and intends for the historical context of his poem to be in the late 1930’s, when America was going through the Great Depression. Citizens were losing a sense of nationalism for America and had begun to negatively view the government. During this time period, the government had also begun to distribute Social Security cards with personalized federal numbers to American citizens, which was the mark of depersonalization in America’s political system. As a result, the tone is one of mockery, satire, and most importantly, irony. The ironic outlook is evident in some of the following aspects of the poem: the speaker, the portrayal of the speaker, the audience, the speaker’s situation, incongruity between the character’s words and the situation, use of diction, use of humor, and unique characteristics of the poem.
The author’s poem is told from the viewpoint of a member of the State, or American government; however, the author and speaker are different people in this particular poem. Textual evidence for the speaker of the poem is evident in the parenthetical title of the poem: “This Marble Monument is Erected by the State.” In this case, the “State” is the American government, as the speaker is a member of the State. The State closely monitors an American citizen who serves as a perfect role model for his fellow citizens in the view of the government. In addition, the speaker supports his political background by reporting his sources of how he discovers the citizen’s identity and individual life story. “Our report on his Union shows it was sound,” from Line 11 reveals that the citizen paid his taxes and financial statements on time. “Our Social Psychology workers found…,” from Line 12 demonstrates the citizen’s active social life. “Our researchers into Public Opinion…,” from Line 22 represents the citizen’s ideal public involvement and choice of activities such as going to war and having children. “Our Eugenist says…,” from Line 26 reflects the citizen’s supposedly correct number of children, according to the government. “Our teachers report…,” from Line 27 displays the citizen’s correct choice of avoiding interfering with American educational systems. “…we should certainly have heard,” from Line 29 represents the speaker him/herself, along with the American government and its early decision of assuming that if nothing else but the good was reported about the citizen, then the government would have heard otherwise. In all these lines, the speaker associates the describing of all aspects of the citizen’s life with his acquaintances from the government.
The speaker is uniquely portrayed in this poem through certain qualities that he possesses: being observant and...

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