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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen


by W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen Theme of Identity

By definition, the Unknown Citizen has no identity. With the related concept of the Unknown Soldier, it is the soldier’s physical remains, or dead body, that cannot be identified. But for the Unknown Citizen, it is more that his life was so conventional that he did not distinguish himself in any way from his fellow citizens. There must be thousands, even millions, of Unknown Citizens out there, about whom little can be said except that they didn’t get in anyone’s way. On the other hand, you might think that there is nothing wrong with being "unknown," and that the poet is being elitist.

Questions About Identity

  1. Is the Unknown Citizen a specific individual, or just a bunch of statistics thrown together?
  2. How does the practice of Eugenics or population control affect individual identity in a society?
  3. Do you think the Unknown Citizen would have anything to talk about at dinner parties? Does he have any fun?
  4. Who decides what "normal" behavior is within a society? Does having an identity simply refer to the way we deviate from the norm; for example, by having "odd views"?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Unknown Citizen isn’t a particular person – he represents the average of all people in a society.

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