Sometimes it is easy to form an opinion about someone based on what you see from the outside, but by no means is this an effective way of assessing the way someone is inside. Just like you cannot judge a book a book by its cover, you cannot judge a person without getting to know them. Both Edwin Robinson’s, Richard Cory, and Wystan Auden’s, The Unknown Citizen try to do this. Who is to say that their analysis of the two characters is correct? The two poems are based only on what is observed, not what is known.
Richard Cory is structured in a very consistent, easy to read manner, but is as harsh and radical as the form is classical and neat. The poem is an extended description of a man, a very rich, successful man, named Richard Cory. The narrator of the poem spends a good part of the poem, the first three stanzas, doing nothing but genuinely praising this man. In the first stanza, Richard Cory is portrayed as the envy of all those around him, the object of everyone’s attention. He refers to Cory as a “gentleman from sole to crown”, and even uses language that sounds suited to describe royalty when he calls Cory “Clean favored, and imperially slim.”
The second and third stanzas go on in much the same way. In the second stanza, the narrator describes Cory’s social standing. In the narrator’s eye’s, Cory continues to be the perfect, polite gentleman, as he was “always human when he talked.”. Cory was certainly not the picture of a snobbish or rude man. Cory was also a very popular fellow, as he “fluttered pulses” with a simple “Good-morning”, Cory was an impressive social figure indeed.
However, the poem takes a sudden, dark twist in the last stanza. Robinson does this by first revealing a little more about the narrator. In the first two lines of the fourth stanza, the narrator says: “So on we worked, and waited for the light, And went without meat and cursed the bread . . ..” This is obviously a reference to the narrator’s own poor financial and social state. For the narrator, work is a place of darkness and hardship where you simple “wait for the light.” For the narrator, there is no meat to eat at dinnertime, and after so many meals without it, you begin to curse the cheap bread that you do have to eat. However, not one bad word about Cory passes from the narrator’s lips. This speaks volumes about Cory’s character, and makes the reader think that maybe this Richard Cory is as great a guy as he seems.
In the last two lines of the last stanza, with a minimum of detail and no explanation, Robinson simply tells how Cory “…one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet through his head.” With that, the poem ends, but the questions remain. Robinson never even gives us a clue as to why this popular rich man would do a horrible thing such as this, but this just goes to show that not everything is as it seems. By taking what is viewed only from a distance, you cannot assume everything is right.
In comparison, just as Richard Cory was told from an outside standpoint, The Unknown Citizen was written in the same way. This time, instead of the story being told by someone looking up to him, admiring him, it is told from the perspective of an unemotional, unexcitable individual.
The speaker of this poem seems to be a government employee or an official from the State. He is someone who strictly follows rules and regulations. He makes sure that the unknown citizen obeys the rules and does everything in order. He shows no emotion in describing the events and records of the unknown citizen. His routine is highly emphasized. To the speaker, statistics are extremely important to grade and categorize the unknown citizen.
The unknown citizen is someone who pays his taxes, satisfies the employers, reads the newspaper daily, has the correct number of children, fights for peace and supports the war. In spite of all these facts, the subject remains “unknown”. We do not see any strong traits in this unknown citizen. He is merely like any other ordinary man we can find around us. We cannot see how special he appears or anything that could distinguish him from others. Although we know all of the facts, we might not be able to recognize him, but somehow the speaker is able to tell us who this person is.
Just as the end of Richard Cory showed us that things are not always as they seem, how is anyone able to judge what type of person the Unknown Citizen was. Nobody can, the description is based on the statistics that were gathered, not the person himself. What someone can see on the outside is not the same as what is within, the part of the person that makes them unique.