Compare/contrast the duties required of the citizen in Auden's"The Unknown Citizen" and the soldier in Hardy's "The Man he Killed."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both Hardy's and Auden's poems concern themselves with an ironic observation about life and the power of each individual.  With the subject of "The Man He Killed" being the death of an unknown soldier, Hardy's speaker wonders at the disparity in the encounter with this stranger had war not been waged.  Because of the power of a fate that Hardy termed the Imminent Will, the speaker, as a soldier, is forced by duty to kill the stranger with whom he would have had a drink if circumstances were different.  However, unlike Auden's unknown citizen, Hardy's soldier loses his individuality only in wartime. 

On the other hand, Auden's "The Unknown Citizen," a man lives his entire life in subserviance to the duty of serving "the Greater Community."  Like the speaker of Hardy's poem, Auden's speaker asks about the man's individuality:  "Was he free?  Was he happy?"  The man, too, is a stranger to Auden's speaker as Hardy's speaker's enemy is a stranger.  Neither man has the exercise of any individuality and the ironic tone of the poems suggests the disillusionment of their authors regarding the control that the government has over the individual.

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