The Unknown Citizen By W.H. Auden Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English


The poem tells us about the existence of an average citizen who is unknown to the community. It explores the “unknown citizen” through the viewpoint of various federal authorities and how he was never seen or heard. 

About The Poet 

W. H. Auden was born on February 21, 1907, in York, England. He was a brilliant writer, playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. The “Age of Anxiety” garnered Auden the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. He died of heart failure at the age of 66 in Vienna, Austria.

Lines 1 – 13

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he 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.

The speaker claims there were no “official complaints” against the unknown citizen, and he was considered a “saint”. Except when he went to war, he was also profoundly dedicated to serving the “Greater Community.” No one in the administration or his workplace had any problems with him. He was cherished by his peers, and he was outgoing. 

Lines 14 – 21

The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
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.
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.

The speaker adds that the citizen was always punctual in buying a newspaper every day. He had a health insurance and was hospitalised once, however he was cured. The speaker also states that the man was equipped with all the technologies, needed by a “Modern Man” including a gramophone (phonograph), a radio, a car and a refrigerator.

Lines 22-29

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.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

As per the speaker, the man had “proper opinions” for the time of year. He believed whatever the government compelled him to think. The man had a typical wife and five children, which was normal “for a parent of his generation”. Lastly, the speaker raises questions, “Was he free? Was he happy? He answers there was nothing wrong, else “we should certainly have heard,” taking a strike at the administration.