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English novelist William Somerset Maugham once said, If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too. I believe Maugham is foreshadowing conformity taking over in society where the people are losing their own identity by pursuing their blatant forms of contentment. The common belief of obtaining complete happiness through external means will ultimately cause the demise of a society. Edwin Robinsons Richard Cory and W.H. Audens The Unknown Citizen speak volumes about the pursuit of happiness. The underlying theme of both poems is not what appears on the outside, but what happiness may or may not lay within. Each poem satires the common perception of conformity and wealth leading to happiness. What each poet is trying to tell the reader is that internal happiness is worth more in life than all the riches and normalitys of the world.
If you are as wealthy as a noble king or as poor as an infamous slave the idea of happiness for most people is only skin deep. People have this conception that such a flawless man as Richard Cory could never turn out to be a man of misery because all his external needs were satisfied.
Richard Cory was described as a man who fluttered pulses when he talked (7) and glittered when he walked (8); what more could he ask for?
As I attempt to get inside the mind of a suicidal man, I begin to make a few key realizations of Richard Corys psyche. The common-folk had no idea the mask he presented to the world when, in fact, he was in pain. He was quietly arrayed. (5) There was no mention of the emotions of Richard Cory which implies no one knew of his true feeling; they were only perceived as they sought fit. Being such an important figure of the town, as well of any individual of power or leadership, Richard Cory felt it was just to keep his internal struggles at bay. An analogy by Levi Costanza fits perfectly within Richard Cory:
You cannot influence true friendship and complete happiness by the size of your wallet. A king may sit upon his throne for his entire life and count his gold, but that throne, no matter the size or comfort could never replace the delight and warmth of another human being. And as that gold slowly collects dust over time its sparkle will fade and so will he. Money can buy anything in the entire world except the things that matter most in life, such as love, serenity, and contentment.
Richard Cory was a prime example off imperfection in a seemingly perfect world. Robinson uses Cory as a parable for societies need for conformity and normality which ultimately produces adverse results. Richard Cory was considered a perfect man, but the poem suggests Richard Cory was alone in the world because there is no mention of a family, wife, or even close friend. Although his admirers saw his successes as being obtainable, but in reality, Richard Cory felt his life was a mirror failure.
Wystan Hugh Audens poem entitled the Unknown Citizen is about the illusion of the average citizen and the mundane lifestyle that entails such and average citizen. In order to have a staple citizen, Auden inputs the influences of a governmental power that has control over its citizens. This type of government control, although a seemingly impossible ideology from todays standpoint, was a popular belief during the 1940s. As explained throughout the poem, the Bureau of Statistics (Auden, 1) was new branch of the government whose sole purpose was to research and hypothesize its citizens.
Auden cleverly entitles the poem the Unknown Citizen because even though the man in question is considered a saint (4) who would do anything to have served the Greater Community. (5) The poem says, He worked in a factory and never got fired. (7) Auden uses the ironic reference of a factory to juxtapose an assembly line to the monotonous and mundane lifestyle of the highlighted man. Auden further explains how the man is accompanied by a wife and five children which represents the typical suburban lifestyle his peers should work to become part of. Auden explain, When there was peach he was for peace; when there was war, he went. (24) Auden is stressing how when the government has this type of control over its citizens, they lose control of their own lives. It is quite possible that Auden is making a strong reference to his fears of the United States turning into a Communist country because throughout the poem, the reader gets the sense of a man who will do anything to serve his country. Similar to the Communist idea, the working class is the foundation of a society and the government is in control of the society. Therefore, the working class has no real power because they are at the mercy of the government who make the decisions for them. The poem continues on this idea by adding, (He) had everything necessary to the Modern Man. (24) There is a true emphasis on the word necessary because the poem suggests the citizen is given all the tools he needs in order to serve the higher power, nothing more, nothing less. The Modern Man is an indication that he is a slave to a higher power. Thus, he was a slave to society.
Edwin Robinson and Wysten Auden intertwine their join beliefs with finesse on the modern social hierarchy. Each use their particular style of an ideal citizen for others to look up to. In Robinsons Richard Cory, a man is depicted as the perfect person with successes that even the gods would be envious of. His battles of internal discontentment go unnoticed by all his admirers until the faithful night where he kills himself. Similarly, Audens the Unknown Citizen, gives the exact depiction of an ideal citizen except he illustrates a working class man rather than an upperclassman. Auden uses the ideal citizen as a preconceived warning to society explaining how if they allow their government to take control of the people, all forms of happiness will be lost. Robinson and Auden equally explain how the true goal in life is not pursuing riches or becoming the perfect person, even though society says you must, but to find ones own internal happiness. Without a strong, internal constitution, man might as well become a sheep amongst wolves.
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