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The Unknown Citizen Summary & Analysis
by W. H. Auden

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"The Unknown Citizen" was written by the British poet W.H. Auden, not long after he moved to America in 1939. The poem is a kind of satirical elegy written in praise of a man who has recently died and who lived what the government has deemed an exemplary life. This life, really, seems to have been perfectly ho-hum—exemplary only insofar as this man never did anything to question or deviate from society's expectations. On the one hand, the poem implicitly critiques the standardization of modern life, suggesting that people risks losing sight of what it means to be an individual when they focus exclusively on the same status symbols and markers of achievement (like having the right job, the right number of kids, the right car, and so forth). The poem also builds a frightening picture of a world ruled by total conformity and state oppression, in which a bureaucratic government dictates and spies on its citizens' daily lives.

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