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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

Patriotism Theme

Some people say, "My country, right or wrong." Other people think argument and dissent are the signs of a true patriot. Auden’s poem falls more toward the latter end of the spectrum. The poem tells us that "in everything he did he served the Greater Community," but we’re not sure what this means. Who decides what the interests of the Greater Community are? Does this group exclude anyone? Is individual identity at odds with it? These are a few of the disturbing questions that the poem raises in relation to patriotism. And, of course, things are complicated by the fact that the poem seems to be set in America but was written by an Englishman.

Questions About Patriotism

  1. What do you think the Greater Community represents in this poem? Is it a nation? Is it some smaller group? A larger group?
  2. Have you ever heard the argument that buying things is patriotic? What does this mean? Do you agree?
  3. Do you think it’s appropriate to compare an average, anonymous middle-class American to the Unknown Soldier? How does the metaphor work?
  4. What is the difference between a "modern" and an "old-fashioned" saint? Can an old-fashioned saint be a patriot?

Chew on This

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

The Unknown Citizen argues that patriotism is always a bad thing, and that a person’s primary loyalties should be toward mankind.

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