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Analysis Of "The Age Of Anxiety"

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Poetry & Poets

Analysis Of
Analysis Of
Analysis Of
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In Auden's lengthy poem, "The Age of Anxiety", he follows the actions and thoughts of four characters who happen to meet in a bar during a war. Their interactions with one another lead them on an imaginary quest in their minds in which they attempt, without success, to discover themselves. The themes and ideas that Auden's "The Age of Anxiety" conveys reflect his belief that man's quest for self-actualization is in vain.
W. H. Auden was born in York, England, in 1907, the third and youngest son of Constance and George Auden (Magill 72). His poetry in the 1930's reflected the world of his era, a world of depression, Fascism, and war. His works adopt a prose of a "clinical diagrostician [sic] anatomizing society" and interpret social and spiritual acts as failures of communication (Magill 74). They also put forth a diagnosis of the industrial English society among economic and moral decay in the 1930's (Magill 72). Conflicts common in his works are those between war and peace, corruption of modern society, and the "dichotomy between the rich and the poor" (Barrows 317).
"The Age of Anxiety" is, in general, a quest poem. Unlike the ideal quest, however, this quest accomplishes nothing. The characters search for the meaning of self and, in essence, the meaning of life, but because their search is 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 of Purgatory when they are allegorically in Hell. They fail to realize this due to "the modern human condition which denies possibility but refuses to call it impossible" (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 action typical to a drunken man. He is an aging homosexual widower who finds refuge in the mirror because it offers him the easiest way of facing himself (Nelson 117-118).
Malin, the most dominant character overall, is a medical intelligence officer 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 is reminiscent, in relation to the war, of a malingerer, and the composition of his personality 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 the poem. Emble is a young sailor and would-be prince whose wish is to have sex with Rosetta. Ironically, his failure to do so is the primary composition of the 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 in monologue so as to reveal their true nature to the reader. Quant views himself with false admiration, and Malin questions the natue of man. Rosetta constructs an imaginary past to compensate for a less than adequate one. Emble, with youthful 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 his introductions to each age. The other characters support his theories by drawing from 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 "Dread in his dreams." By this, Auden means that even when we are most innocent, we are still imperfect (Nelson 119).
The second age is youth, as Malin describes it. It is at this age at which man realizes "his life-bet with a lying self." Despite this, man's naive belief in self and place in life is boundless. It is in this age that the belief in the future is possible (Nelson 119).
The third age is termed by Malin as the age of sexual awakening. It is in this age that the distinction between dream and reality begins to surface in the mind of man. With this distinction comes the discovery that love, as it was thought 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 to life to have any purgative effect on the audience." It is reinforced by Rosetta's definitions of life as an "impertinent appetitive flux," and the world as a "clown's cosmos" (Nelson 119).
Malin conveys the image of man as "an astonished victor" in the fifth age. 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 prison of prisimatic color, but free in the dull, bland place that is the world (Nelson 119-120).
Emble, being the youngest of the four, refuses to drift into the middle age of the fifth age willingly. Instead, he demands to know why man must "Leave out the worst / Pang of youth." He is unlike the others in that he is still young enough to have an influence on his future (Nelson 120).
Quant is more dominant in this age than any other for it is this age that he represents. In it, he attempts to eliminate all hope for a future. He feels that "if man cannot adjust to mediocrity, it is too bad. . . If man asks for more, the world only gets worse" (Nelson 120).
The sixth age is attributed to man's "scars of ...

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Keywords: the age of anxiety analysis, age of anxiety definition, what is the age of anxiety in history, what caused the age of anxiety, how an age of anxiety became an age of depression

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