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Literary Research


A literary research paper is essential in English Literary writing which provides students with skills of critical analysis in works of literature. These works analyzed can include poems and short stories in which primary and secondary sources of materials can be used for a successful literary research paper. The aim of works analysis is to depict the message, essential background and literary works of the author focused to portray the setting and capsule plot summary.

 This study will analyze and focus on the poem of Auden in ‘The Age of Anxiety’ in the characters depicted for search in man’s inevitable failure in the self-actualization quest and the belief in impossibility.Thesis on this paper will lie in the analysis of Auden’s ideas and themes in his poem ‘The Age of Anxiety’ which reflect his belief of man’s vain in the quest for self actualization through the four characters Quant, Rosetta, Malin and Emble..

Auden’s poem analysis

The poem by Auden is comparatively long in ‘The Age of Anxiety’ in which the four characters depicted are evaluated in the process of thoughts and actions as they interact in a bar during a war period. The meeting of these characters leads them to attempt an imaginary quest in which they try to discover themselves but fail to do so. In this quest poem, the characters assess the meaning of life and meaning of self in essence. However, this quest will not succeed because the characters are already intoxicated with alcohol. In their quest to search for meaning in life, they believe to be in a Purgatory form of world. The quest cannot be realized because of “the modern human condition which denies possibility but refuses to call it impossible” (Nelson 117). The character Quant is first introduced in the poem who finds refuge in mirrors which is common action to drunken men.

He speaks to himself in the mirror as it offers him an easy way to face himself because he is a homosexual widower catching up with age  The second character is Malin who is the overall dominant character in the setting and who is just on leave as an intelligence officer working for the Canadian Air Force. Malin has a reminiscent name of a malingerer in comparison to war. His personality traits and composition depict the evil in him. The Rosetta character in the poem is the most human and comes nearly to the quest of self actualization more compared to other characters in Auden’s narration. She buys department stores. The last character is Emble who is a would-be prince and young sailor and wishes for Rosetta to have sex with him. His ironical failure to achieve his feat is contributed by the composition of the work as a sailor (Nelson 118). The prologue of Auden’s poem depicts the scene and introduces the characters. The true nature of the characters’ are revealed to the reader in the monologue loud thoughts of each person. Malin questions man’s nature while Quant has false admiration of himself. Emble judges others’ follies because of his youthful tact. Rosetta makes up an imaginary past which she views will compensate for a less adequate one.

 The second part of the poem entails “The Seven Ages” that Malin dominates by guiding and controlling the characters actions at the introduction of each age. The other characters draw their experiences from their present, past and potential future by supporting Malin’s theories where in the first age, he describes ‘Behold the infant’ to the reader. This age details the infant, a child who “helpless in cradle” and “Righteous still”. Through this clauses Auden passes the meaning that people are still imperfect even when they are most innocent (Nelson 119). The second age is described by Malin as youths where a man realizes “his life-bet with a lying self”. The man’s belief is naïve in respect to his belief in place and self in life as boundless. The youth believe that the future is possible.  Malin details the third age to be sexual awakening where the distinction between reality and dreams surfaces in a man’s mind. With the discovery of this distinction comes love which contrast sharply in thought and the reality bounds it encompasses (Nelson 119). Circus imagery is presented as the forth age where it is reinforced by Rosetta in definition of life. Rosetta describes life as “impertinent appetitive flux” to have any purgative consequence.  

“An astonished victor” is the image of a man conveyed by Malin where man feels he has made peace relative to the meaning of life in the fifth age. Man’s anxiety of life declines when he learns to speak in not so eager manner. He speaks slowly and softly as he discovers freedom in a bland and dull place and not a prison confinement like a prisimatic color prison, that is the world (Nelson 119-120). Emble argues that he is the youngest and refuses the drift of fifth middle age and demands explanation on reasons why man should leave out “Pang of youth”. His discontent is based on the fact that there is still more influence on his future as he is comparatively young in the group. Quant represents his age and more dominant in it as he also attempts to eliminate a future with hope. He feels that things only get worse when man asks for more and that man should adjust to mediocrity or else he cannot cope (Nelson 120).

The attributes of man’s aging in the “scars of time” denote the sixth age. Malin portrays man to be “aged, impotent and successful” and at the same time indifferent to the world. The exhaustion of the “hypothetical man” combined with lost patience and his last illusions details the seventh age. Malin is prepared to greet his age as other characters are reluctant to the aspect of greeting death. In the last stage, each character is confronted by the vast thought of life as Quant asks the question whether one has to know how the world ends and the love of the world. As the four realize and heed the question, realization dawns to them the meaningless of their quest as they drift from their dreams to the realm of consciousness and practical reality (Nelson 122-123). Auden finishes his poem with the exiting of each character from the bar as they head towards their respective homes. Each of them remembers in despair of “The Seven Stages” conclusion but have no journey recollection of it (Nelson 123).     


Auden’s ideas in this poem have effectively portrayed the unfruitfulness in man’s flaw in the quest for self actualization and meaning of self. The representation of Malin and Quaint who have a bleak future is countered by Rosetta and Emble’s cheery and bright illusion of a possible future but which in reality death is the only sure future.


Auden, W.H. 19th Century British Minor Poets. New York: Delacorte Press, 1966.

Bahlke, George W.,ed. Critical Essays on W.H.Auden. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1991.

Magil, Frank N., ed. Critical Survey of Poetry. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Salem Press, 1982.

Nelson, Gerald. “From Changes of Heart (The Age of Anxiety).” Critical Essays on W.H. Auden. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1991. 117-123.


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