The Unknown Citizen Analysis

Good Essays
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden are similar in the ways that they use analysis of social collectivism to explore existential themes. The main character of Crime and Punishment struggles with the implications of his conviction that he is above the bulk of his society. This differs from “The Unknown Citizen,” where the main focus of the poem is a man who has no apparent distinguishing traits to set him aside from the rest of society, yet at his death, the Auden’s society erects a monument in honor of his “achievements”. Each work explores the existential consequences of their respective protagonist’s situation through the use of archetypes in order to expose issues in the societies in which they…show more content…
Auden explores the consequences of existentialism through the subject of a man only memorialized by the facts of his life that fit societal standards whereas Dostoevsky explores this concept through a character suffering from his own delusions of grandeur. Auden’s unknown citizen is referred to only by a government identification number, which immediately strips the man of any individualism. To even further deface the man, the statue of the man is constructed not to memorialize him but to hold up the conformist ideals in his society. Auden was part of a generation that believed that the modern world was subject to diminishing individualism and “The Unknown Citizen” is a satirical piece highlighting Auden’s own fears of society becoming increasingly totalitarian. This fear appears again in Crime and Punishment, which reflects on Dostoevsky’s own life experience. The main character of Crime and Punishment relies heavily on his own theory which pushes him above normal social consequences. This is further explained by Uwamsoba in her article analyzing the socio-psychological aspect of Crime and Punishment as she discusses the Raskolnikov’s delusions, “We discover a direct and obvious source of Raskolnikov’s notion of inferior and superior men; the superior ones having the right to commit breaches of morality while the inferior ones are obliged to…show more content…
Each author creates an archetype to portray their societies. In Auden’s work, his archetype lacks the depth necessary to fully develop the character, as Auden begins the poem, “(To JS/07 M 378 This Marble Monument is Erected by the State) He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be one against whom there was no official complaint” (Auden). whereas in Crime and Punishment the archetype has the necessary depth, but the schism seen in Raskolnikov creates both a protagonist and an antagonist out of the character. This duality seen in both works through each author’s archetype can be taken to represent the complex nature of the author’s fictional and own societies that they set to critique through these works. The actions of the unknown citizen may be viewed as actions of a person without a purpose for life, so, consequently, by creating the perfect citizen, Auden ultimately creates an imperfect character. Such is said by Arvind Deshmukh on his in-depth discussion on “The Unknown Citizen”, “The Unknown Citizen is nobody. He has no individuality. That is why he is 'unknown citizen ' -he is anybody. He is not a free human being. He is submissive, meek, passive. He accepts everything meekly. It has become a habit with him. He never asserts himself. He always swims along the stream, and never against it. He takes the trodden path. He is with the world” (Deshmukh 2). However, in Dostoevsky’s novel, the
Get Access