Q. Explain with reference to the context: [Full Marks: 05]
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
Ans. The lines have been taken from the concluding part of the satiric poem “The Unknown Citizen” written by W. H. Auden. The poem gives an account of a ‘common’ citizen’s life from the perspective of an anonymous civil servant in the form of a dramatic monologue.
It may be said that the the questions asked in the quoted lines would not have occurred to the speaker; presumably, the poet inserts them so that we can gain a critical insight into the situation. The citizen for whom the marble monument is built has been reduced to a statistic to be used in graphs and flowcharts by various bureaucratic organisations. The question of his freedom and happiness is absurd to the speaker (the civil servant); but it is the most pressing one to the deceased unknown citizen. To the reader, the lines thus evoke the discrepancy between the two perspectives, thereby exposing the ruthless, dehumanising bureaucracy of a totalitarian government. The system claims to be cognisant of every single matter of the citizen’s life; but, ironically, it is oblivious of the most fundamental elements of his existence: freedom and happiness.