How does the epitaph help to introduce the theme of "The Unknown Citizen"?

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The epitaph of W.H. Auden's "The Unknown Citizen" reads

(To JS/07/M/378 This Marble Monument is Erected by the State)

First of all, we know that this line is part of the poem because it rhymes ("8" rhymes with "State").  It, therefore, serves as an important introduction to the ideas in the poem itself.  The poem is a satirical eulogy of a citizen who is praised because of his mediocrity and his compliance.  In his life, he had done what was expected of him; he made no waves, ruffled no feathers, rocked no boats.  Because he received "no official complaint," "worked in a factory," "satisified his employers," paid his union dues," held "the proper opinions," he is considered a saint.

The epitaph begins with a number, not a name.  In his compliance, the "Unknown Citizen" has no identity.  He is merely a statistic.   We also learn in the epitaph that the monument was "erected by the State."  His family, friends, and even his employers are not involved in this commemoration. This anonymous beauracrat is what the State considers a hero, deserving a monument.  Perhaps Auden is showing us that those who seem to draw the most respect in a beauracratic society are those who do nothing to stand out from the rest.

 

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