Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard. (Lines 28-29)
These lines are extracted from W.H.Auden’s poem The Unknown Citizen. After enlisting (rather ironically) the features of an average citizen of a modern metropolis, the poet here tries to sum up what he actually is and how far he is happy or free.
The poet has spoken of an unknown citizen about whom there was no official complaint, no contrary or critical view in any sphere. He was found to have satisfied his social obligations ungrudgingly as a duty-bound citizen, loyal worker, ideal supporter of modern commercialism, good husband and passive follower of the opinion in force. Yet, the poet cannot but raise two vital questions about him. Was the man free in his work, conduct, and opinion? Secondly, how far was he happy with his social situation and mode of living? Those issues might have been the matters of debate. But there is no use to bother about them, for nothing wrong or irregular was reported or heard about or from him. The man did not seem to have openly opined on those matters which were, therefore, of no material importance.
These lines are powerfully ironical. The poet shows sharply the total regimentation of the lifestyle and the viewpoint in an urban, artificial community. The individual man is found to have lost here his personal entity and inclination and become a mere number in the all-pervasive social existence. He is to conform to the set patterns, whatever those may be, for any deviation from the same is liable to be discredited as abnormally and eccentricity This is a situation, highly ironical yet tinged with pathos.