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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen


by W. H. Auden

Bureaucracies and Investigation

Symbol Analysis

The society depicted in the poem isn’t a real, historical place: it’s more like an ironic prophecy of the future using present-day parallels (or at least present-day from the perspective of 1939). The Unknown Citizen has been investigated to an absurd degree by all kinds of bureaucracies, from his employer, Fudge Motors, to Social Psychology workers, to Public Opinion researchers. There’s a paper trail a mile long on this guy, but none of it tells us anything useful about who he is.

  • Epigraph: The epigraph furthers the allegory set up by the title, comparing the non-existent Unknown Citizen to the idea of the Unknown Soldier. The "marble monument" to the Unknown Citizen makes us think of the various Tombs of the Unknown Soldier in places like Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
  • Line 1: The "Bureau of Statistics" is a symbol representing the way bureaucracies treat people as mere numbers and figures.
  • Line 5: The "Greater Community" is a vague cliché used by bureaucracies to foster a sense of teamwork. It’s not clear what the "community" refers to – his family, job, nation? Not all communities are compatible with one another, so it doesn’t make sense to speak of just one Greater Community.
  • Line 26: We think the "Eugenist" is a personification of the field of eugenics as a whole. No government would ever have a single person called a Eugenist in charge of population control.

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