Study Guide

The Unknown Citizen Section IV (Lines 12-15)

By W. H. Auden

Section IV (Lines 12-15)

Lines 12-13

And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.

  • Now the poem shifts from his employment to his social life. But, don’t worry: there are still comically absurd bureaucrats to provide us with unnecessary information.
  • Stop the presses! Headline: "Average Joe Enjoys Drinking With Pals."
  • Even in his carousing with friends, though, the UC takes things in moderation. He likes "a drink," and the singular form implies that he doesn’t drink too much and isn’t an alcoholic.
  • At the time when Auden wrote the poem, "Social Psychology" was still a relatively new field. Social psychologists study the behavior of humans in groups.
  • This sounds good in concept, but in practice, a lot of the early work done in this field simply pointed out things that were so obvious they didn’t need to be pointed out.
  • (Don’t worry, psychology majors, the field has gotten quite a bit more complicated since then.)
  • It’s like when you read about some scientific study that says that unhappy people are more likely to drink a lot, and you wonder why on earth they needed a study to support such an obvious conclusion.
  • Nonetheless, we have to think that the UC might have been flattered to be getting so much attention from all these intellectual types. That is, if he were still alive.

Lines 14-15

The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.

  • This is starting to sound like an infomercial you might see for some exercise machine on cable at 3 a.m. There are testimonials galore.
  • Now "The Press," or news media, offers its take. Of course, they don’t really care about the UC as a person; they’re just glad he seems to have bought a paper every day.
  • Or, rather, they are "convinced" that he did . We’d like to know what convinced them.
  • Not only that, but he also had "normal" reactions to the advertisements in a paper. ("Hey! An inflatable kayak! I sure could use one of those…")
  • In short, he’s a good American consumer.