The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

Start Free Trial

What is the meaning of the last two lines of Auden's "The Unknown Citizen?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the modern setting, government bureaucracy is more dominant than anything else.  Even in the most liberalized nations that are predicated upon a theoretical notion of individual freedom and rights, the apparatus of government in all of its forms is quite present.  In the poem, this notion is brought out and developed.  In the closing lines in trying to explore this relationship between modern government and its citizens, the implication of whether or not the political body actually "knows" its citizens is brought about with a sardonic tone.  In its attempt to ensure that it is efficient and deliberate with what it does, the closing lines bring to light the idea that if someone was deemed as "bad," the government would "definitely" know.  If individuals are not free and happy, the government certainly would know that.  As it seeks to reduce all individuals to an identification number and a census figure, it is almost laughable that such a wide ranging external body could actually "know"  whether its people are free or happy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In my opinion, the last two lines of the poem serve to point out quite explicitly the theme of the poem.

I believe that this is a poem about how the modern world has served to dehumanize people.  The man in the poem has no name, only numbers and letters.  He lives only in the reports of government agencies and businesses' files about him.  He has no humanity of his own.

The last two lines point out that this is what happened.  The speaker says that the man's freedom and happiness and other feelings are not important.  He is saying that these things do not exist unless some bureaucratic agency says that they do.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial