“A Consumer’s Report” by Peter Porter is a commentary on the post-war capitalist and modernist society which parodies the real-life incidents of consumer reviews
The poem is a conversation between a consumer and a marketing survey in the form of a dramatic monologue of 51 lines in free verse. In this poem, the speaker provides a review of his observations and experiences of life. The poem presents to its readers the theme of consumerism, human greed, disappointment, and cynicism.
Peter Porter was a British-based Australian poet who spent his adulthood in the UK. “A Consumer’s Report” is a part of his fourth collection ” The Last of England” published in 1970. Peter’s writings are playful, and satirical and comment on the modernist and consumerist society of the living.
A Consumer’s Report | Summary and Analysis
The name of the product I tested is Life,
I have completed the form you sent me and
understand that my answers are confidential.
The speaker explains that the product he has tested is life. He has completed the form. After testing the “product” for some years, he is now providing his judgment and assessment in response. The manufacturer seems to have made it clear that the form is confidential which makes the speaker aware of the confidentiality of his response as well.
The title is self-explanatory and the first stanza creates a base for the poem and gives a general idea to the readers. The speaker is a consumer who has completed the form, ” A Consumer’s Report”. The name of the product he mentions is “life” and this context asserts that the Speaker is talking about existence. Since the speaker in the first line says that he has tested the product, this implies that he has lived, and experienced it for years and now submitting his review based on his experience.
The introductory lines leave the readers in suspense because it doesn’t explain who has sent the form to the speaker, or the reason behind sending the form.
A Consumer’s Report | Stanza II
I had it as a gift,
I didn’t feel much while using it,
I think I’d have liked to be more excited.
It seemed gentle on the hands
but left an embarrassing deposit behind.
It was not economical
and I have used much more than I thought
(I suppose I have about half left
but it’s difficult to tell)—
The speaker says he received life as a gift, he did not feel much while using it and believes he would have liked his life to be more exciting. His life seemed gentle at first but after years it has just been a pile of embarrassing memories. He feels he might have used and wasted it more than he thinks. He thinks he has a half-life left but he cannot be sure about it.
The speaker explains how humans receive life as a gift. He thinks of making good memories out of it but he is mostly left with embarrassing experiences. He knows it is inexpensive and precious but still keeps on using it to an extent that he realizes he has used more than he expected. The speaker shows the mundanity of life in this part because he is disappointed with how he spent his life. He wished it to be more exciting but rather struggled with boredom.
although the instructions are fairly large
there are so many of them
I don’t know which to follow, especially
as they seem to contradict each other.
I’m not sure such a thing
should be put in the way of children—
It’s difficult to think of a purpose
for it. One of my friends says
it’s just to keep its maker in a job.
Also, the price is much too high.
The speaker explains that there are too many instructions and they are lengthy as well but the problem is they are contradictory which confuses him. He cannot make up his mind as to what to obey. He does not think it’s a good idea to expose the children to those rules as he feels they are not safe for them. The speakers cannot find the purpose of life. It’s hard for him to find the meaning of his life. He resorts to his friend for advice, expecting a satisfactory answer from him. His friend says the meaning of life is to keep the “maker ” employed, to have a purpose, and not to lose his significance. Besides, life is really expensive.
This part shows the speaker is oblivious regarding the concept of life. The lengthy, as well as complex rules of life, contribute to his indecisiveness and his clueless. He wants to protect children from the rules to keep their innocence intact.
Things are piling up so fast,
after all, the world got by
for thousand million years
without this, do we need it now?
(Incidentally, please ask your man
to stop calling me ‘the respondent’,
I don’t like the sound of it.)
There seem to be a lot of different labels,
sizes and colors should be uniform,
the shape is awkward, but it’s waterproof
but not heat resistant, it doesn’t keep
yet it’s very difficult to get rid of:
He does not like that his bad experiences have piled up so fast. The Earth has existed for aeons and survived millions of years without life on it. So the speaker asks if it is necessary for life on earth now. He seems annoyed by the term “respondent” and asks not to be referred to by it. He then goes on to talk about the human body, and the complex ways a body is illustrated. One body varies from the other in terms of colour, size, and physique. He says the body is waterproof but immune to extreme heat. Life can perish easily but is difficult to end purposefully.
The speaker is annoyed with the existence of life on earth. He does not understand why life is introduced on earth when millions of years ago the earth survived without it. He is annoyed with the standardization of the bodies. He is bewildered by the idea of having different body shapes and sizes as containers of life. The body for him feels burdensome because of the complexity that it is extremely difficult to get rid of it purposefully but it can easily perish on its own.
whenever they make it cheaper they tend
to put less in—if you say you don’t
want it, then it’s delivered anyway.
I’d agree it’s a popular product,
it’s got into the language; people
even say they’re on the side of it.
Personally I think it’s overdone,
a small thing people are ready
to behave badly about. I think
we should take it for granted.
When life is undervalued it feels less fulfilling and burdensome. And whenever you say you don’t want life it is delivered to you anyway. The speaker agrees that life is a popular product that has its language etched into people’s minds. They tend to love and enjoy life and prefer life to any other product. But the speaker believes that life is overdone. Life is too unimportant for people to be ready to act foolish or behave badly. The speaker thinks life should be taken for granted rather than being treated as something exceptional.
The speaker explains how every time you try to avoid life you get more of it anyway. Life is inevitable once you are blessed with it. He feels life is overrated. It has manipulated people into thinking it is precious and enjoyable. Life has manipulated them and convinced them to be on its side that people are ready to resort to evil to sustain life. The speaker feels life should not be treated so seriously or with so much importance and that it should not be considered something that special.
If its experts are called philosophers or market
researchers or historians, we shouldn’t
care. We are the consumers and the last
law makers. So finally, I’d buy it.
But the question of a ‘best buy’
I’d like to leave until I get
the competitive product you said you’d send.
The speaker says we humans should not care about philosophers, historians, or market researchers who analyze life. We, the consumers are important because we use life and it is we who are important. He concludes that he would buy it but he will not label it as “best buy” until he tries the competitive product.
The consumers have the power of having a final say because they are the ones who use the “product”. Philosophers and historians analyze life but the product gets its meaning because of the consumers. They make the laws and decisions that decide the betterment of life. He doesn’t label life as the “best product ” because he wants to know if it’s the best investment only after he has tried the alternative he was promised. Here the competitive product refers to death or the afterlife. He wants to experience death and decide if life, as people believe, is better and greater than anything on earth.
A Consumer’s Report | Analysis
Peter Porter is reflecting on the meaning of life through the poem “A Consumer’s Report”. The title is a metaphor that portrays life as a product and the speaker as the consumer. The poet shows how the speaker is providing a review of the life he is living by filling up a form.
The speaker presents his mundane life to the readers, remembering how his past is filled with awkward memories and bad experiences and how he has used more of his life than he expected. The half of his life that he assumes he has lived, is confusing, awkward, and monotonous. He finds difficulty coping with it because the rules besides being lengthy are complicated as they contradict each other.
He finds it difficult to fit in and find his true purpose in life. He doesn’t understand the necessity of the existence of life on earth when the earth has survived centuries without it. It bothers him that life is easily perishable but difficult to end on purpose. He doesn’t understand how people find life to be joyful as he feels it is overpriced and overrated. It is we whose opinions matter rather than those who analyze life because we are the ones who live it, use it and experience it. He holds off the title of “best buy” till he gets to use the competitive product.
The poem shows how the inherent challenges of life are presented to the readers using parody. Porter uses the idea of a consumerist society that offers responses to various surveys. He is submitting his honest reviews on his experience of life in a way as if life is a product that can be bought, used, given review, and discarded. He thinks it was too easy to just discard it but it bothers him when he finds it difficult to get rid of. So he explains how you get it even after you say you don’t want it. The poem uses the idea of consumer and product reviews to show the truly inherent challenges and problems of life.
The structure of the poem shows the speaker’s answers as a response to the questions in the form. The responses become shorter as the poem moves forward which focuses on the theme and idea of experience.
The speaker explains how life is not economical and has lived more than he thinks, where he hints at how he wasted that part of his life, doing nothing which made him feel it could have been exciting. He feels half his life has been a disappointment with all the embarrassing memories he doesn’t seem to be proud of himself. He waits for the alternative product, which implies death or the afterlife so that he can compare both products to see which is the “best buy”.
A Consumer’s Report | Themes
Consumerism – ” A consumer’s Report” is a satire on the existing consumerism in modern times. Life is shown as a “product” to be reviewed by the speaker. As explained in the poem in today’s capitalist society humans are confused, disappointed, and even evil. The world capitalizes on everything – even the existence of humans. The speaker considers life as a product and feels he can use and discard it the way he wants and is disappointed when he finds it difficult to end it purposefully. When the speaker says he has used life more than he thinks, it shows the consumer attitude that makes people greedy for more, and they forget to appreciate their life.
The poet shows consumer culture through the speaker’s attitude as he believes that life is something consumers could accept or reject if they wanted. Life, in reality, has no “maker “except the poem has hinted at the existence of God as the creator of life. The speaker holds off the label of ” best buy” till he used the competitive product, hinting at death, and this shows how death is considered a possible alternative and improvement on life. The speaker says how his friend thinks the purpose of life is to keep the maker at its job so that the maker does not lose its significance, and how human life is termed as cheap. These ideas express a completely pessimistic attitude.
The consumer culture makes people greedy hoping for more, filled with unrealistic expectations, leaving them bored, and disappointed with their lives. In a consumer world where one can buy and use anything, people take something as precious as life for granted. They expect there is always something better out there because they always do so with materialistic things and so the speaker won’t label life as the best, with greed if the competitive product turns out best.
Life – The poem shows how the speaker who has tested the “product” is disappointed and expects to have spent a more exciting life. The poem talks about the speaker’s experience evaluation and observations on life. At the beginning of the poem the speaker complains how he didn’t feel much while using it, and would have liked his life to be more exciting later presents the observation that it is very difficult to get off life purposefully while it is easily perishable. The speaker is not proud of the life he has lived and he is just filled with disappointment and bad experiences. The speaker’s reviews seem unfavourable on life as he goes on complaining “didn’t feel much while using it”, ” it was not economical” and “shape is awkward”. These reflect the speaker’s objections to life and how life is boring.
The speaker praises life charily like ” it’s popular” and “seemed gentle at first”.
He explains how they are the lawmakers whose opinions matter eventually rather than those “historians”, “philosophers” and “market researchers” who just analyze life. The speaker eventually admits that he’d buy it but keeps the label “best buy” open to the possibility that the alternative product turns out better. It shows people hold on to the hope of experiencing something better than their ordinary, boring life.
A Consumer’s Report | Structure
“A consumer’s Report” is a free-verse poem of 51 lines containing two stanzas in first-person form. The first stanza serves as a prologue and the second serves as the speaker’s review. The second long stanza elaborates on the answer as a response to the first stanza. The speaker makes a dramatic monologue as if he is responding to a marketing survey.
A Consumer’s Report | Poetic Devices
The poem is an extended metaphor that shows that life itself is a product. The speaker has filled out the form and provided his reviews on the product he has tested. The consumer culture shows how something precious like life is treated like a product that the speaker thinks he can use and discard as he wishes. He is disappointed with the product and it is truly evident through his reviews throughout the poem.
The line “and understand that my answers are confidential” in the poem shows irony, the speaker feels the review that he is providing is confidential whereas reviews are always discussed in conferences so that marketing brands can make their products better. The line “I’m not sure such a thing should be put in the way of children” is ironic too because the children are already exposed to this modern and consumerist world, “the competitive product” is ironic too, because the competitive product implies death and one cannot share the experience of death.
Death is the end of life and one cannot return to share his observations and experiences.
There is a simile evident in the poem in the line “I had it as a gift” as the speaker compares life to a gift.