H. AudenThe themes and ideas in Auden’s “The Age of Anxiety” reflect his belief thatman’s quest for self actualization is in vain. I. Auden’s backgroundA.
As a 1930’s poet1. Views of Society2. Diagnosis of the industrial societyB. Major conflicts of his worksII. “The Age of Anxiety” overviewA. As a quest poem1.
Characters’ search for self-actualization2. Characters’ inevitable failure in the questB. Characters’ views on the general situation1. Their belief to be in Purgatory when they areallegorically in Hell2. Their disbelief in impossibilityIII.
“The Age of Anxiety” character analysisA. QuantB. MalinC. RosettaD.
EmbleIV. Part IA. Commonly called “Prologue”B. Introduces scene and charactersC. Characters think aloud to reveal their nature1. Quant views himself with false admiration2.
Malin examines the theoretical nature of man3. Rosetta endeavors to create an imaginary and happy past4. Emble passes his youthful judgment on the others’ follies V. First act of Part II, “The Seven Ages”A. Malin’s domination of this act1. Serves as a guide2.
Controls the characters through his introduction of each ageB. Others support Malin’s theories by drawing from past, present, and potential future experiencesC. The ages1. The first agea.
Malin asks the reader to “Behold the infant”b. Child is “helpless in cradle and / Righteous still”but already has a “Dread in his dreams”2. The second agea. Youth, as Malin describes itb. Age at which man realizes “his life-bet with a lyingself”c. Naive belief in self and place in life is boundlessd.
It is the age of belief in the possibility of afuture3. The third agea. The sexual awakeningb. Distinction between dream and realityc. Discovery that love, as it was thought to be, is asharp contrast to love in the bounds of reality4.
The fourth agea. Presents circus imagery “as a form of art too closeto life to have any purgative effect on theaudience”b. Rosetta’s definition of life and the world5. The fifth agea. Conveys the image of man as “an astonished victor”b.
Man believes he has made peace with the meaning oflifec. Anxiety declines as “He man learns to speak /Softer and slower, not to seem so eager”d. Man is no longer confined to a prison of prismaticcolor, but is free in the dull, bland placethat is the worlde. Emble’s opposition of the fifth age(1) Refuses to go willingly into middle age(2) Demands to know why man must “Leave out the worst / Pang of youth”(3) Is disturbed by time unlike the others for he is still young enough to have a futuref. Quant’s domination of the fifth age(1) Attempt to eliminate all hope(2) View on man’s adaptation to the fifth age6.
The sixth agea. Man begins to show ageb. “Impotent, aged, and successful,” Malin’s portrayalof a man of this age is indifferent to the world7. The seventh agea. Hypothetical man is tired outb.
Malin is ready for this age in contrast to theothers’ reluctance to die just yetVI. Second act of Part II, “The Seven Stages”A. Unlike “The Seven Ages,” this act is nothing more than a dreamB. “The Seven Stages” is an attempt to find the perfect time of lifeC. The stages1. The first stagea.
Each character begins alone, “isolated with his ownthoughts”b. Justification of the view that the quest is fornaught2. The second stagea. Is initiated by the first pairing of characters(1) Shows possibility of hope(a) Emble(b) Rosetta(2) Shows futility of hope(a) Quant(b) Malin3. The third stagea.
Begins as the couples turn inland(1) Emble and Rosetta by plane(2) Quant and Malin by trainb. The characters complete the third stage withoutsuccess in their search for self4. The fourth stagea. Malin speaks for them all in his derogatorativestatements about the cityb. Malin passes judgment on its citizens based onthe urban surroundings5.
The fifth stagea. Rosetta visits a mansion in which she wishesshe were raised and to which she wishes sheshall returnb. While Rosetta is within the house, the othersexamine its exterior and its comparison tohe human bodyc. Rosetta finds life inside the house no betterthan before6. The sixth stagea.
A “forgotten graveyard” is the settingb. Symbolizes “The results of life”7. The seventh stagea. The characters wander deep into a forest, eachtaking a solitary pathb. They meet at the edge of the forest with a desertbefore themc. As they realize that life has no meaning, thedesert becomes the real world, thus endingthis stage with their awakeningVII.
The remaining three partsA. Follows the characters from the bar to their homesB. The four remember the despair of the conclusion of “The Seven Stages” rather than the journey itselfIn Auden’s lengthy poem, “The Age of Anxiety”, he follows the actionsand thoughts of four characters who happen to meet in a bar during a war. Theirinteractions with one another lead them on an imaginary quest in their minds inwhich they attempt, without success, to discover themselves.
The themes andideas that Auden’s “The Age of Anxiety” conveys reflect his belief that man’squest for self-actualization is in vain. W. H. Auden was born in York, England, in 1907, the third and youngestson of Constance and George Auden (Magill 72).
His poetry in the 1930’sreflected the world of his era, a world of depression, Fascism, and war. Hisworks adopt a prose of a “clinical diagrostician sic anatomizing society” andinterpret social and spiritual acts as failures of communication (Magill 74). They also put forth a diagnosis of the industrial English society among economicand moral decay in the 1930’s (Magill 72). Conflicts common in his works arethose between war and peace, corruption of modern society, and the “dichotomybetween the rich and the poor” (Barrows 317). “The Age of Anxiety” is, in general, a quest poem. Unlike the idealquest, however, this quest accomplishes nothing.
The characters search for themeaning of self and, in essence, the meaning of life, but because their searchis triggered by intoxication due to alchohol, the quest is doomed from the start. Throughout the quest, the characters believe themselves to be in a form ofPurgatory when they are allegorically in Hell. They fail to realize this due to”the modern human condition which denies possibility but refuses to call itimpossible” (Nelson 117). In “The Age of Anxiety”, there are four characters of significance. Quant, the first to be introduced, addresses himself in a mirror, an actiontypical to a drunken man.
He is an aging homosexual widower who finds refuge inthe mirror because it offers him the easiest way of facing himself (Nelson 117-118). Malin, the most dominant character overall, is a medical intelligenceofficer on leave from the Canadian Air Force. His background labels him as the”would-be doctor and leader” in the world of “The Age of Anxiety”. His name isreminiscent, in relation to the war, of a malingerer, and the composition of hispersonality hints at the evil within him (Nelson 118). Rosetta, the most human of the characters, is a department store buyer,and comes closer to self-actualization than any of the other characters in thepoem.
Emble is a young sailor and would-be prince whose wish is to have sexwith Rosetta. Ironically, his failure to do so is the primary composition ofthe climax of the work (Nelson 118). Part I of “The Age of Anxiety”, the “Prologue” as it is commonly called,introduces the scene and characters. The characters each think aloud inmonologue so as to reveal their true nature to the reader. Quant views himselfwith false admiration, and Malin questions the natue of man. Rosetta constructsan imaginary past to compensate for a less than adequate one.
Emble, withyouthful tact, passes judgment on the others’ follies (Nelson 118). The first act of Part II, “The Seven Ages,” is dominated by Malin,acting as a guide. He controls the actions of the characters through hisintroductions to each age. The other characters support his theories by drawingfrom their past, present, and potential future experiences (Nelson 118-119). The first age begins with Malin asking the reader to “Behold the infant”as though he is observing us as the infant while his own infancy fails to exist. The child is “helpless in cradle and / Righteous still” but already has a “Dreadin his dreams.
” By this, Auden means that even when we are most innocent, weare still imperfect (Nelson 119). The second age is youth, as Malin describes it. It is at this age atwhich man realizes “his life-bet with a lying self. ” Despite this, man’s naivebelief in self and place in life is boundless. It is in this age that thebelief in the future is possible (Nelson 119). The third age is termed by Malin as the age of sexual awakening.
It isin this age that the distinction between dream and reality begins to surface inthe mind of man. With this distinction comes the discovery that love, as it wasthought to be, is a sharp contrast to love in the bounds of reality (Nelson 119). The fourth age presents circus imagery “as a form of art too close tolife to have any purgative effect on the audience. ” It is reinforced byRosetta’s definitions of life as an “impertinent appetitive flux,” and the worldas a “clown’s cosmos” (Nelson 119).
Malin conveys the image of man as “an astonished victor” in the fifthage. Man in this age feel as though he has made peace with the meaning of life. The anxiety of life declines as “He man learns to speak / Softer and slower,not to seem so eager. ” Here, man discovers he is no longer confined in a prisonof prisimatic color, but free in the dull, bland place that is the world (Nelson119-120). Emble, being the youngest of the four, refuses to drift into the middleage of the fifth age willingly.
Instead, he demands to know why man must “Leaveout the worst / Pang of youth. ” He is unlike the others in that he is stillyoung enough to have an influence on his future (Nelson 120). Quant is more dominant in this age than any other for it is this agethat he represents. In it, he attempts to eliminate all hope for a future. Hefeels that “if man cannot adjust to mediocrity, it is too bad. .
. If man asksfor more, the world only gets worse” (Nelson 120). The sixth age is attributed to man’s “scars of time,” to man’s aging. “Impotent, aged, and successful,” Malin portrays man to be indifferent to theworld (Nelson 120). “Hypothetical man” is exhausted when “His last illusions have lostpatience / With the human enterprise” in the seventh age.
Malin greets this agewith preparedness, but the other characters feel reluctance in greeting death(Nelson 120). The second act of Part II of “The Age of Anxiety”, “The Seven Stages,”is different from “The Seven Ages” in that the first act is based on experiencesand the second act consists entirely of a dream. The purpose of “The SevenStages” is to determine the ideal time of life for man in which he can residefor eternity (Nelson 121). The first stage begins like all quests begin, with all characters alone.
They are each “isolated with his own thoughts. ” Their journey ends in the samefashion, with each of them alone, which labels this as a false quest for nothingis accomplished (Nelson 121). The second stage is initiated by the pairing of the characters. Thispairing represents the possibility of hope with the two youngest, Emble andRosetta, and it also symbolizes the futility of hope with the two eldest, Quantand Malin (Nelson 121). The third stage begins as the couples begin to head inland. Emble andRosetta travel via plane, which symbolizes the useless attempt to escape life byflying above it.
Quant and Malin, on the other hand, travel by train, whichrepresents the same inability to escape life, although this time the method isthrough immersion into life (Nelson 121). In the fourth stage, Malin speaks for the group in his derogatorystatements about the city. Malin also passes judgment on the people of the citynot on the basis of personality content, but on that of the surroundings ofwhich he thinks so lowly (Nelson 122). The fifth stage is reached when the group sights “the big house” whileriding on a trolley. Rosetta, with her false past as an outline, references thehouse to one in which she was imaginarily reared, and to which she shall return. During her visitation to the house, Quant and the others analyze the house’sexterior.
Quant comments on the house’s appearance: “The facade has a lifelesslook. ” The house is compared to a human being, with its “book-lined rooms”serving as the brain and “the guards at the front gate who / Change with theseasons” serving as the senses. Rosetta finds her life within the house nobetter than before (Nelson 122). The sixth stage takes place in a “forgotten graveyard. ” It is observedas a “still / Museum exhibiting / The results of life,” which could either bedeath or the life that results from death as the “Flittermice, finches / Andflies restore / Their lost milieu” (Nelson 122).
The seventh stage begins as each character plunges deep into a denseforest where they are confronted by a vast desert. Here, Quant asks thequestion, “Do I love this world so well / That I have to know how it ends?” Thefour take heed of the question and realize that their quest has no meaning, andas they do so, their dream world drifts upwards into the realm of consciousnessand the vast desert makes the transition to reality (Nelson 122-123). The remaining three parts follow each of the characters from the bar totheir respective homes. They each remember the despair of the conclusion of”The Seven Stages,” but have no recollection of the journey itself (Nelson 123). Auden has effectively portrayed the flaw of man in his fruitless questfor the meaning of self. His representations of Quant and Malin as the elderswhose future is bleak counters the bright and cheery illusion that Emble andRosetta may possibly have a future, though, in reality, the only sure future isdeath.
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