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The Unknown Citizen

W.H. Auden

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Added by: Lin Wang
this poem is clearly about the dangers of conformism and totalitarianism. The person in the poem is 'perfect' in the eyes of the government - Auden is saying this is what our Government wants us to be: the perfect law abiding citizen.

Anyone who listens to punk - proper punk like NoFx, propaghandi not good charlotte - would be able to see how similar the message punk songs is to that of this poem. Even good charlotte's "the Anthem" deals with this issue. In fact I would not be surprised at all if a punk band appropriated this poem into a song.
Added by: Angella Hardy
I just wanted to thank everyone for their opinions shared it has helped me alot with figuring out this poem
Added by: shaun
There is no "speaker." The poem is an inscription on the base of a statue "Erected by the Sate," as the subtitle says. And yes, all the lines do rhyme, including the subtitle--"8" rhymes with "state." (The only exception is the line ending with "year," which is probably meant to be a slant rhyme with "frigidaire."

The best way to understand the poem is to replace the word "Unknown" with "Average." The poem is about the theoretical average citizen who appears in polls and censuses and statistics but doesn't physically exist. He's the one with 2.8 children who was married 1.4 times and so on. In this particular poem, of course, instead of the average citizen, it's the government's ideal of a perfect citizen.

It's a satire, but the target is not just the government but science as well--the poem makes fun of the idea that you can find out anything about important things like happiness and freedom with charts and graphs and opinion polls.

Added by: Ayashi
In WH Auden's poem, the speaker is the governement or the state. It
views the individual as statistics, figures, numbers, data. The time
period in which Auden lived/wrote this seems to affect his protest
that's protrayed in this poem. For example, during the Great Depression,
social security is coming into use, and althought it is great, it
greatly diminished the individual into numbers that can be tracked down.
Thus, I think Auden is criticizing how a democracy is allowing the state
to become more and more powerful to the point where it's morphing into
some kind of dictatorship. Moreover, the "unknown" citizen is praised
and used as an example in the story shows how the so-called democratic
society encourages its people to become average. No, even more than just
average. The state wants the people to cease to be individuals with
their originality in actions and thought, their pride for their work,
and become a unit in the Greater Community, or the bureaucracy. This
bureaucracy is unlike others because it revolves around technology. It
could not 'live' without technology, because it is technology that has
allowed the governemnt to become so powerful and almighty. Thus,
technology has taken over the lives of individuals; reducing them to
mere numbers that is part of the Machine, or the bureaucracy.
Added by: Varnon
Anyone considered that the monument to the unknown citizen is an allusion to the tomb of the unknown soldier?
The difference being that the soldier IS totally unknown and the citizen is very well known... just not the stuff about who he was...
Also... about the odd rhyming scheme... does it serve any real purpose, I can't seem to figure it out.
Anyway I do very much like this poem. Its sort of a satirical elegy.
Rock On
Added by: W.V.SINSKI
Written almost exactly 100 years after Henry David Through wrote Walden, I am not sure why so many suspect Aduen is warning us about communism. The poem seems to be a simple and poetic way to express everything “Walden” is about and, at the same time celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the work.
Added by: Austin
this poem says that the state interprets a persons quality of life based on how closely they fit in with the ideal model of a citizen

when the poem asks "was he free? was he happy? the question is absurd"
we can see that they believe that the data they record is the only thing needed to see everything about a person - even if he was free or happy

and so the state believes he led a perfect happy life because he fit in with all the data
Added by: Just a View
This Poem by W. H. Auden expresses his views of the government in a totaliterism manner. Although the speaker is regarding the "unknown citizen" as a conformist, it is the satire presented that lets the reader know that the author truly does feel this way. The speaker may also be known as the "State" and the State praises the unknown citizen as the "ideal person" in its community. This is proven by line 5, "...he served the Greater Community". The state also controlled or monitored his daily life, "he bought a paper ever day... his actions to advertisements were normal in ever way... liked a drink" and so on. The irony presented in the final two lines evokes the idea that the man was merely a conformist who abided the government’s views and had no thoughts or actions of his own. Since he was simply an "ideal citizen" he was considered an "Unknown Citizen". In the society presented in the poem, to be known, one had to be a radical of some sort and then one would be known, but not necessarily in a "good" way.
my view
Added by: subrat
in contrast to what others have said about the topic i think that the unknown citizen was happy.if you dont go to the background of the poem and just think about the context and the citizen, then you will feel that most of us live in quite similar way in modern world.You cannot find a single instance in the poem where it is mentioned [even indirectly] that the fellow was forced to do his duties. yes there are certain rules imposed on him. but those are for the welfare of the country and the people.
unattainable perfection
Added by: CC
The man who is the subject of this poem seems perfect in every way, so how could he possibly be unhappy?

He is a perfect citizen in the eyes of the government, but really there is no perfect citizen=irony==the unknown citizen! get it...

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