PoetryW.H. Auden

Analysis of “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden

5 Mins read

The unknown citizen is without doubt one of the vital poems of W.H Auden with a recurrent theme, the dilemma and chaos modern man faces within the quickly altering world. The poem was written in 1939, throughout the horrific situation of world war 2 and on this poem Auden encapsulates the postwar chaos and its up roots. Besides immense bodily struggling, Auden highlights how troublesome it’s to retain individuality and identification in quick altering world of chaos. The theme of loss of identification accompanied by these materialism of contemporary man, conformism, manipulation, encroachment of technology on the lives of people, lack of true freedom and lack of values are predominant within the poem.

It was the time of authoritarianism in Europe, and amid dictatorship within the varied international locations in Europe, Man as a rational particular person was shedding his stance and distinctiveness. The definition of the typical citizen was confined to how properly he conformed. With ever-advancing technology of the modern world it’s as if humanity of the world is reducing. Humans have gotten increasingly like faceless residents, or unknown citizens. It is due to this technology that people have turned out to be nothing greater than statistics and information on a chunk of paper. The image that the poem paints of a ‘Modern Man’ is that he’s somebody who’s devoid of the values that make him human. He has no notion of freedom or happiness. Emotions, feelings, desires and hopes don’t matter anymore.

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He talks concerning the endeavor and battle of the modern man to adapt to the norms set by the facility constructions which makes him an accepted and respectable citizen however, by doing so he fails to get his important pleasures. It is a critique on totalitarianism eliminating democracy as a result of all through the poem it’s seen how the unknown citizen is compelled to do all of the works of various organizations and Auden sarcastically mocks him concerning the appreciation he get from totally different businesses. In the very starting of the poem, as a substitute of mentioning the unknown citizen by the title he has been represented via a figure „‟To JS/07/M/378/ „‟ which exhibits the immense control of state over the unknown citizen. Furthermore, the phrase „‟saint „‟ has been sarcastically used for the unknown citizen that he’s a saint who sacrifices his happiness and conforms to what he has been advised by the state. The authorities sees him as a quantity on a file in a drawer in some government building. The solely factor that would determine him from others in his neighborhood is as Auden wrote,

“He was married and added five children to the population,

Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation”

This nonetheless provides an obscure reference to how old he could be. He buys numerous things that are taxable to assist the federal government. He possesses all the things a contemporary man has, however relinquishes his identification to serve the state. This conformity and subservience to the state exhibits full lack of identification and individuality. Conformity has created apathetic and obedient citizens which is precisely what the federal government needs. Therefore, Auden believes that conformity is harmful.

At the end of the poem the poet asks two essential questions. Was he free? Was he completely satisfied? No authorities statistics can ever reply these sorts of questions. By asking these questions, the poet is drawing our consideration to the query of freedom and happiness. Therefore, such a query on this context could be „absurd‟. The solely manner for a person to outlive in a regimented society is to adapt and obey. The unknown citizen is devoid of any urge for self-assertion. The poet means that our society has created an algorithm and rules wherein people are purported to comply with and work because the system states. The stress for people to adapt on this system makes one loses his or her individualism. An ideally suited citizen, then, is the one who fulfills the social expectations of habits. Auden satirizes the sort of strategy to human behavior which judges the residents based on their usefulness for the higher goodness.

The Unknown Citizen Themes:

Theme of Identity:

By definition, the Unknown Citizen has no identification. With the associated idea of the Unknown Soldier, it’s the soldier’s physical remains, or useless physique, that can’t be recognized. But for the Unknown Citizen, it’s extra that his life was so standard that he didn’t distinguish himself in any manner from his fellow residents. There have to be hundreds, even hundreds of thousands, of Unknown Citizens out there, about whom little could be mentioned, besides that they didn’t get in anybody’s manner.

Theme of Manipulation:

Monuments and public celebrations are all the time political. Now, “political” doesn’t need to have a damaging connotation, however on this poem, the State is a creepy, manipulative paperwork that’s most involved with stopping oddballs from getting in the best way with the established order. So they’ve created this costly marble monument to the blandest individual within the nation, the one least prone to mess things up for these in power. The inscription on the monument – the poem – tells us nearly nothing concerning the man to whom it’s  devoted. It tries to persuade the imaginary reader to be extra just like the Unknown Citizen. 

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Theme of Patriotism:

Some folks say, “My country, right or wrong.” Other folks suppose argument and dissent are the indications of a real patriot. Auden’s poem falls extra towards the latter end of the spectrum. The poem tells us that “in everything he did he served the Greater Community,” however we’re unsure what this implies. 

Title of The Unknown Citizen:

The Unknown Citizen is a parody of “The Unknown Soldier”, a term used to acknowledge folks whose bodies are discovered after a battle which can’t be recognized. The US Army makes use of steel dug tags to establish soldiers who’re killed in action, however these tags could be misplaced or melted and typically it is simply unattainable to find or determine an individual’s remains.

Literary Devices in “The Unknown Citizen”


An oblique reference to some character or occasion in literature, history or mythology that enriches the meanings of the passage.

The title of W.H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” is an ironic allusion to the unknown tomb of unknown soldier.


There is a verbal irony within the poem “The Unknown Citizen”. It is a comparability between an everyday citizen who goes about his business day by day and leads a really fairly life. The other is the unknown soldier, who acquired numerous monuments from the allied powers of World War 1.


In a nutshell, “The Unknown Citizen” matches simply into the traits of contemporary literature and highlights the issues that the individuals face in the present day. The citizen stays unknown although he serves the Community as a result of we’re not shown who he actually is as a person which elucidates that individuality is decreased and diminished for the sake of worldly business. The poet says that statistics can not sum up a person and physical information are insufficient to judge human happiness. Therefore, the poem displays Auden’s perception of the idea of control versus freedom which brings to gentle the risks of shedding sense of individuality.

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