Explain Auden's ironic tone in "The Unknown Citizen."
How does Auden's ironic tone reveal to us that "The Unknown Citizen" is being honored for being a model of the conformity to the policies of the state?
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Every nation erects a monument to honour its soldiers who lay down their lives for their nation. Auden, however, uses this patriotic concept to sarcastically mock at the dehumanizing control which a modern state exerts over its ordinary citizens.
Auden ironically describes the dystopian vision of the Modern state which is committed to take the notion of perfection and equality to the extreme:"in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a/saint." A person is canonized as a saint after he has sacrificed his life for the sake of others, but the 'unknown citizen' is 'a saint' because he conformed passively to the dictates of the state.
The names of many soldiers will be inscribed on the national monument to honour its war heroes, but in the poem the 'unknown citizen' has been dehumanized and reduced to a mere number. The irony is that the Modern state has done its maximum to completely rob him of his individual identity and then it has built a monument to honour him for passively allowing himself to be stripped of the uniqueness of his personality. 'Marble' emphasises the cold and deathlike hold of the state authorities over its citizens.
The poem ridicules the materialistic prosperity which the modern welfare state provides its citizens-"And had everything necessary to the Modern Man" - but at the very high cost of killing his soul and personality: "Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd."
This has to do with the fact that the soldier was a person serving his country. His deeds are what will be remembered, not his name. When one joins the military, one agrees to serve one's country. One is representing one's country and serves with all others who are serving the same purpose. Auden uses the soldier's number and not his name because he will not be remembered for his name, only his deeds. eNotes states:
The title of the poem itself, “The Unknown Citizen,” reminds the reader of the unknown soldiers who followed their countries’ calls, who gave their lives in defense of their countries, who died to ensure the continuity of the society for which they fought, and who stood for the bravery of all soldiers. They are honored for their deeds; only their deeds, not their names, remain as silent witness that they lived.
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