The Unknown Citizen
The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Is the poem a criticism of American life in particular, or could it apply to other cultures? Does America have equivalents to a "Bureau of Statistics," a "Eugenist," and "researchers into Public Opinion"?
  2. The poem was written in 1939, and some critics have found parallels with the rise of fascist, authoritarian governments in Europe. Is the "State" of the poem a fascist state, or is it merely a subtle parody of democratic and socialist governments?
  3. If someone were to write a poem on a monument dedicated to you, what would it say? How are you like or unlike the Unknown Citizen? Do you have any "odd views"?
  4. How would you describe Auden’s style? Does it sound like anything you have read before? Is it consistent? Did you laugh out loud at any parts of the poem?
  5. Parts of the poem obviously sound old-fashioned ("frigidaire," "Eugenics," etc.). But, on the whole, is it still relevant today? Do governments know more or less about citizens before than they did in the 1930s? What about corporations?

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