Reading is a Journey to me –on “the Unknown Citizen”

Reading is a journey to me. And this journey will never end. As we learn, we read, and in return we learn again.

Like a destination for a journey, before I really start to read, I know I must have a purpose in mind. “No purpose of reading is to walk instead of learning” is a well-known scholar Hu Shih practice guidelines. Truly, reading with a concrete purpose is the first rule of my reading. When I am assigned to read the poem “the Unknown Citizen”, I bear in mind that our topic this week is about types of poetry and tone.

Raising the awareness of how reading purpose changes at different stages of reading is more important than just simply having one purpose. Along with my reading, I always find something beyond my expectation and make me do some adjustments of my purpose of reading. When I read this poem, I found that even though I bear in mind the major purpose, I couldn’t help to pay attention to other aspects of this poem. Through multiple reading, I found that the more I read, the deeper I can reach to the sole of the poem.

Reading, in my point of view, should be communicative which means there is an invisible bond between a text and a reader and thus interaction. Readers can build or make meaning by a communicative reading. And to me, “communicative” means through the process of reading, I should ask questions that I don’t understand and try to answer the questions that the poet raises and remember those questions that cannot be explained. It turns out that asking and then answering questions are always necessary for me to fully understand the poem.

When it comes to “The Unknown Citizen”, the technique has been applied. After my first reading, I looked into my initial thoughts and found that some questions have been raised. Why is he an unknown citizen when the poet nearly listed all information about him? Is it because he is a common citizen just like millions of others?

Then I read it again and I tried to answer those questions and gave some suppositions. Maybe In this sense, the man in the poem is not just a particular man but stands for a common kind of men so that the poet named him the unknown citizen.

The old questions have been answered and yet the new questions occurred after my second reading. Every day, every week, every month, every year, the life he leads is the same. Will he himself feel a little bored? It seems that every people around him are satisfied with him. I wonder, is he ever unsatisfied with anything? Is there anything that he wants to complain about? Is there anything that would annoy him? The poem did not give us a clue. Life is filled with changes and opportunities. I am sure that it happens in his life, too. But what did he do to deal with a single one of them? Is there just one time that he wants to get away from his unchanged life? Have the thought of changing a little bit ever occurred to him?

And then I read it another time. The pattern is the same: some questions have been answered, but new ones appear. I now get the title “unknown”. Surely he had everything necessary to the Modern Man. His life is stable, has no changes, no accidents, very much stable. He has everything that a citizen should have do a man should do. He was a “saint” in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word. But all in all, he is an unknown citizen. People met him, forgot him, or remember him as anybody else because there are no remarkable characteristics that can tell him from others. At the end of the poem, the poet asked, was he free? Was he happy? And then he said that the questions are absurd. If anything had been wrong, we should certainly hear. The question is in everyone’s eyes, everything about him is just fine. Maybe, or maybe not, because the poet never told us anything about what the man was thinking and feeling. Everything of him comes from others, the Bureau of Statistics, the reports filed by others, his employers, his Union, his Social Psychology workers, his mates, the newspaper seller, but nothing from himself. But I know that knowing a man requires one to spend time with him and listen to his ideas, thoughts and philosophy of life. Sometimes, many people’s lives appears very much alike, but what distinguish them are and always will be their minds.

In order to fully understand the poem, it is not enough to just read with questions. A good reader should also bring to the poem a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, values, and ways of looking at the world. The connections that between literary works and experiences can make it easier for readers to build or make meaning.

When I read this poem “The Unknown Citizen”, I could immediately imagine one based on the books that I’ve read and movies, TV series I’ve seen before. I could see him as a citizen, a soldier, a workmate, a husband, and a father. It seems like that every role he has played can be matched to a certain archetype in my mind. I could name a lot of men like him portrayed by the poet which certainly help me to better understand the poem.

All readers come to a text from certain positions or situations, as children of certain kinds of parents, as males/females in certain kinds of relationships, as parents perhaps themselves, as members of a certain class, race, ethnic group, etc. When I approach this poem, I cannot help to see me as a daughter. Being a daughter makes me feel real. I assumed him as my father and I saw him in a daughter’s eye. I felt more compassion for him because when he serves the family food and money, inevitably along with sacrifices of his own life. He shoulders all the responsibilities which make our life easier.

Readers allow their own values and beliefs to influence a reading, but they also allow the work itself to do some of the work. And I, too, allow for interaction between the text and what they bring to it. This interaction, this give and take, is part of constructing a reading, an interpretation or an understanding of the work. My philosophy of life differentiates me from others and when it comes to this poem, I wonder what is his philosophy of life, stable is everything?

Achieving something from reading may be seen as an ultimate goal. Shakespeare once put in his poem that the sole purpose of reading and study is to make independent innovations, ability to avoid duplication with the former. Reading is a source of inspiration that can trigger some new thoughts and ideas that belong to ourselves which is much valuable than just memorize the thoughts of others. After reading this poem, I question my own philosophy of life. Life is always about love, responsibilities and sacrifices. We serve a lot of roles in our family, our society. Sometimes we cannot have or achieve them all. Shouldering the responsibilities comes with sacrificing. Even though the reading has completed, the influence will not end.

Reading is a never-end journey that everyone will take. It is always a priority to make reading meaningful.


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