The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

Start Free Trial

Student Question

How is the man in the poem a model citizen of his time and society?

Expert Answers

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

W. H. Auden's poem is a caustic satire against modern society's methods that categorize and catalogue its citizens. In a parody of the "Unknown Soldier," the unknown citizen, JS/07/M/378, is "found" by the Bureau of Statistics to be a model citizen because there is no record of anything negative on his "report."  He has conformed to every established norm, and in his conformity, "he was a saint," the stereotypical citizen who goes to work every day without causing any problems, he is married with five children and his teachers report "that he never interfered with their education"; he buys a newspaper every day, he is fully insured, he owns "a phonograph, a radio, a car, and a frigidaire [refrigerator]"--all the modern appliances of the time. In other words, the "unknown citizen" is a model citizen because he has conformed in every way and never questioned anything.  In short, he is a model citizen for his anonymity.

Like the Unknown Soldier who is the model martyr for his country since the circumstances of his death are unknown, the Unknown Citizen is an example of the perfect citizen because he has conformed to standards and rules of his society and remained anonymous; he is just a number, just a statistic--nothing more. With his identification, he can easily be categorized and filed away.

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