Study Guide

The Unknown Citizen Section V (Lines 16-19)

By W. H. Auden

Section V (Lines 16-19)

Lines 16-17

Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.

  • We’re starting to suspect that the government must have an entire room full of paperwork on this guy.
  • Now we are rifling through his health insurance policy, looking for any evidence that he wasn’t a totally straightedge, middle-of-the-road personality.
  • He was "fully insured," which is sensible. This guy wasn’t exactly a risk-taker.
  • Even though he had insurance, he only went to the hospital once, which means he wasn’t too much of a burden on the health system. He left the hospital "cured".

Lines 18-19

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan

  • What are "Producers Research" and "High-Grade Living"?
  • They sound like organizations intended to help consumers know what stuff to buy.
  • In fact, they sound suspiciously like the existing Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping, both of which were around when Auden wrote the poem.
  • Both of these groups test out new products and provide ratings. Good Housekeeping, for example, is known for the famous "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."
  • So Producers Research and High-Grade Living have done a little research and learned that the UC used "installment plans" to buy expensive things.
  • This is when you pay for something in small payments over a period of time. Although we don’t use the term "installment plans" very much anymore, the practice remains extremely common.
  • Our love of buying things and paying for them over time is one of the reasons Americans have a larger debt per household than almost any other country.
  • Since installment plan advertising didn’t really begin until the 1920s, Auden probably thought it was weird to buy something you couldn’t afford (read more).
  • We don’t know about you, but we think these are the funniest lines in the poem. The phrase "fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan" is just hilarious, as if being conscious ("sensible") at all required you to know about the Plan.