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What examples of irony can be found in "The Unknown Citizen"? Are there...

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lindsayrana | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 12, 2008 at 11:38 AM via web

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What examples of irony can be found in "The Unknown Citizen"?

Are there specifc clues to remind us that the poet is speaking ironically? What about the citizen's attitude toward war?

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 19, 2008 at 10:09 AM (Answer #1)

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Auden titles the poem "The Unknown Citizen," yet the subtitle clearly identifies a man identified by combination of letters and numbers. The incredible amount of statistical information about this man, who represents the vast middle class in mid-20th century, assures the State that they knew all they needed to know. They label the man a "saint"; he did all the right things, from joining a good union to having the right number of children to buying the applicances everyone wants (frigidaire, phonograph)

"When there was war, he went," according to the poem. The man fulfilled his duty, but nothing here suggests patriotism or enthusiasm. His actions are seen as robot-like, but of course, he's a human being. The State, however, has never considered if he is "free" or "happy." In fact, "the question is absurd" because his emotional state is of no concern to them. They're convinced if anything had been wrong, they would have known because of the statistics they gather. Ironically, none of the data they collect can possibly measure the man's personality. 

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