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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen


by W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen Theme of Manipulation

Monuments and public celebrations are always political. Even your town’s Fourth of July parade is a staged political event. Now, "political" doesn’t have to have a negative connotation (who doesn’t love free candy and bead necklaces on the Fourth of July?), but in this poem, the State is a creepy, manipulative bureaucracy that is most concerned with preventing oddballs from getting in the way with the status quo. So they have created this expensive marble monument to the blandest person in the country, the one least likely to mess things up for those in power. The inscription on the monument – the poem – tells us almost nothing about the man to whom it is dedicated. It tries to convince the imaginary reader to be more like the Unknown Citizen.

Questions About Manipulation

  1. Who is in control in the society depicted in "The Unknown Citizen."
  2. How might the "marble monument" be a form of manipulating? Who is it intended to manipulate?
  3. Why is it important that he never interfered with his children’s education?
  4. Who benefits most in a bureaucratic system? What does it take to get inside the bureaucracy?

Chew on This

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

Despite the poem’s sinister tone, there is no reason to think the Unknown Citizen is being manipulated by anyone.

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