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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen


by W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen

Symbol Analysis

This isn’t a poem that uses a lot of similes and metaphors. In fact, at times it seems deliberately un-poetic. The only metaphor we could find was the comparison between the Unknown Citizen and a saint. Then again, the entire poem is an elaborate comparison between the Unknown Citizen, whose accomplishments are ridiculously overstated, and the Unknown Soldier, which was created to honor heroic sacrifices that were never witnessed or confirmed.

  • Title: The title is the only place where the term "Unknown Citizen" is used, so it is a key to the entire poem. It lets us know that the poem is an allegory, or an extended comparison to figures outside the poem. "The Unknown Citizen" is meant to recall the idea of "The Unknown Soldier," or a soldier whose remains could not be identified after a battle.
  • Line 4: The word "saint" is a religious term, so the Unknown Citizen can’t actually be one, except in the modern sense, which means that we’re dealing with a metaphor. It’s also a drastic hyperbole – let’s face it, the guy wasn’t Gandhi.
  • Line 20: Everything necessary? Really? What about food, water, and shelter? This line is classic hyperbole, or exaggeration.

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