4. “He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be One against whom there was no official complaint, And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint.”

These lines are taken from the poem “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden, a celebrated poet known for his social commentary and introspective exploration of human identity and society. Published in 1939, the poem presents a satirical and thought-provoking portrayal of an individual’s life in a conformist and bureaucratically controlled society.

In this excerpt, the speaker discusses an individual who has been thoroughly evaluated and analyzed by the “Bureau of Statistics.” This bureau, symbolizing a highly regulated and dehumanized system, assesses the person’s life and finds no official complaint against them. The absence of complaints suggests that the person has adhered to societal norms and regulations, behaving in a manner that does not disrupt the established order.

The lines “And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint” introduce a satirical tone. The notion that the individual is deemed a “saint” is ironic and highlights the superficiality of such an evaluation. The use of the phrase “modern sense of an old-fashioned word” suggests that the term “saint” has been stripped of its traditional spiritual and moral connotations and is instead being applied in a shallow and bureaucratic manner.

The poem as a whole critiques the dehumanizing effects of modern society, where individuality and genuine human qualities are reduced to quantifiable data and conformity. The person’s identity and significance are determined solely by their alignment with societal norms and their lack of disruptive behavior. This underscores the loss of authentic human connections and values in a world driven by bureaucratic efficiency and superficial measures of success.

By presenting this individual as a mere statistic, the poem highlights the alienation and anonymity that can arise in a society overly concerned with categorization and control. The juxtaposition of the individual’s life with the label of “saint” invites readers to question the true meaning and worth of such labels when divorced from genuine human experience and morality.

In conclusion, these lines from “The Unknown Citizen” epitomize the poem’s critique of a conformist and dehumanized society. The speaker’s tone of irony and satire underscores the disconnect between an individual’s true identity and the shallow evaluation by a bureaucratic system. The passage prompts readers to reflect on the implications of valuing societal conformity over genuine human expression and the complexity of individual existence.

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