The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden poem summary line by line

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden poem summary line by line

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden poem summary line by line-The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden, written in 1939, delves into the theme of societal conformity. Through bureaucratic evaluations and reports, the poem portrays an anonymous individual who strictly adheres to societal norms. 

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden poem summary line by line

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden poem summary line by line-Despite being depicted as an exemplary citizen, the poem raises questions about the loss of individuality and the dehumanizing impact of bureaucratic structures. Auden prompts readers to reflect on the essence of identity, freedom, and fulfillment within the modern societal framework. 

The Unknown Citizen poem summary

"He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be One against whom there was no official complaint," - The Bureau of Statistics determined that there were no official complaints against him.

"And all the reports on his conduct agree That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint," - Various reports on his behavior unanimously characterize him as virtuous, akin to a saint in contemporary terms.

"For in everything he did he served the Greater Community." - He consistently prioritized serving the broader community in all his actions.

"Except for the War till the day he retired He worked in a factory and never got fired," - With the exception of his service in the war until retirement, he worked in a factory without ever being dismissed from his job.

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"But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc." - He fulfilled the expectations of his employers at Fudge Motors Inc.

"Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views, For his Union reports that he paid his dues," - He was not a strikebreaker, nor did he hold unconventional beliefs. His union confirms that he regularly paid his dues.

"(Our report on his Union shows it was sound) And our Social Psychology workers found That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink." - Reports indicate that his union was reputable. Social psychology assessments reveal that he was well-liked by his peers and enjoyed socializing with them over drinks.

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"The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way." - Media outlets believe he purchased a newspaper daily and responded typically to advertisements.

"Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured, And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured." - Records show he maintained comprehensive insurance coverage, and his health card indicates he was hospitalized but recovered and was discharged.

"Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan And had everything necessary to the Modern Man, A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire." - Market research agencies affirm that he understood the benefits of installment payment plans and possessed all the essential items for a modern lifestyle, including a phonograph, a radio, a car, and a refrigerator.

"Our researchers into Public Opinion are content That he held the proper opinions for the time of year; When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went." - Public opinion researchers are satisfied that he consistently held opinions appropriate for the prevailing circumstances. During times of peace, he advocated for peace, and during times of war, he supported participation.

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"He was married and added five children to the population, Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation." - He was married and had five children, a number deemed appropriate by eugenicists for parents of his era.

"And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education." - Teachers confirm that he did not interfere with his children's education.

"Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard." - Whether he was free or happy is considered a ridiculous question because if anything were amiss in his life, it would have undoubtedly come to light.

The Unknown Citizen poem Themes

Conformity: It delves into how the individual conforms closely to societal norms in various aspects of life, from work to family and beyond.

Social Expectations: The emphasis is on how the individual's actions align with society's expectations, including their job, family size, consumer habits, and political views.

Passivity vs. Agency: There's a contrast between the individual's lack of agency in shaping their life and their passive acceptance of societal norms.

Societal Surveillance and Control: The poem suggests a pervasive surveillance and control mechanism within society, where various entities monitor and evaluate the individual's behavior.

Appearance vs. Reality: It raises questions about whether the individual's outward conformity reflects true happiness or fulfillment.

Normalization of Behavior: The poem highlights how certain behaviors are normalized within society, such as consumerism, adherence to social norms, and compliance with authority.

Critique of Modernity: It subtly critiques modern life, suggesting that conformity and consumerism may lead to a lack of deeper meaning or fulfillment.

Irony: Irony is employed to underscore the absurdity of unquestioningly accepting societal norms and the superficiality of appearances, hinting at potential underlying dissatisfaction or emptiness despite outward perfection.



"The Unknown Citizen" by W. H. Auden serves as a poignant critique of societal conformity and the dehumanizing effects of bureaucratic systems. Through the portrayal of an anonymous individual who perfectly fits societal expectations, Auden challenges readers to reconsider the true meaning of identity, freedom, and fulfillment in the modern age. The poem prompts reflection on the dangers of losing individuality in the pursuit of societal approval and raises important questions about the nature of personal autonomy and happiness.


1. What is the main theme of "The Unknown Citizen"?

The main theme of the poem is societal conformity and its implications on individual identity and freedom.

2. Who wrote "The Unknown Citizen" and when was it published?

"The Unknown Citizen" was written by W. H. Auden and was first published in 1939.

3. What is the significance of the title "The Unknown Citizen"?

The title suggests that despite the individual's apparent conformity to societal norms, they remain unknown and unrecognized as a unique person, reduced to merely a statistic or a cog in the bureaucratic machine.

4. What does the poem critique?

The poem critiques the loss of individuality in the face of societal expectations, the dehumanizing influence of bureaucratic systems, and the superficiality of measuring human worth based on external factors.



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