Study Guide

The Unknown Citizen Summary

By W. H. Auden

The Unknown Citizen Summary

We learn that the words we are about to read are written on a statue or monument dedicated to "The Unknown Citizen." The poem consists of several different kinds of people and organizations weighing in on the character of our dear "Citizen."

First, the not-so-friendly-sounding "Bureau of Statistics" says that "no official complaint" was ever made against him. More than that, the guy was a veritable saint, whose good deeds included serving in the army and not getting fired. He belonged to a union and paid his dues, and he liked to have a drink from time to time.

His list of stirring accomplishments goes on: he bought a newspaper and had normal reactions to advertisements. He went to the hospital once – we don’t know what for – and bought a few expensive appliances. He would go with the flow and held the same opinions as everyone else regarding peace and war. He had five kids, and we’re sure they were just lovely. In fact, the only thing the government doesn’t know about the guy is whether he was "free" and "happy," two utterly insignificant, trivial little details. He couldn’t have been unhappy, though, because otherwise the government would have heard.