The Unknown Citizen
How we cite our quotes:
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire. (lines 18-19)
The State and corporations depend on one another, so the State is happy when the Unknown Citizen buys stuff from corporations. The people with the most money in a society are almost always the ones with the most power. The monument is designed to manipulate the viewer by convincing him or her that these expensive appliances are "necessary." This is still how advertising works today: "You mean you don’t have the newest iPod?"
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went. (line 24)
Who decides when there is peace and when there is war? Usually, the people who deploy the troops: the government. Sometimes war is inevitable and necessary, but sometimes it’s not, and it sounds like the Unknown Citizen was not one to ask questions. If no one asks questions, the State can do almost whatever it wants. The "war" referred to here could be World War I, which made a huge impact on the psyche of Europeans like Auden. But, ominously, this poem was also written around the time World War II started. If you want to read a great Auden war poem, check out "September 1, 1939".
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation. (line 26)
The Eugenist manipulates people by telling them how many kids they should have. Although Eugenics become something of a dirty word after Hitler came along, some countries still practice a version of population control. Again we see that the UC had an appropriate lifestyle when it came to his children.