Essay on Faceless: The Unknown Citizen

Essay on Faceless: The Unknown Citizen

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W.H. Auden’s allegorical poem, “The Unknown Citizen,” chronicles the life of an anonymous, average man who is ironically declared a saint by the government of his nation. Throughout the poem the main character of the poem is praised for acts of normalcy by various agencies and groups, most likely created by the State, that has thoroughly investigated into his life. The unknown citizen’s conformity and active participation in following the will of the State are glorified, and eventually, he passes away without a complaint. While the poem is rather simple on the surface, the theme that is conveyed through the text reveals that it is anything but. During the onset of the Second World War, unlike most of the writers of his time period who set off to fight in the war, Auden left England for the United States, where he crafted his masterpiece in 1939. This act of defiance in a sea of conformity is prominent in his poem. Also, at this time, the United States was dominated by consumerism and materialism, which Auden emphasizes and almost ridicules with sarcasm. Overall, influenced by the context of his settings and actions, Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen” declares that conformity eliminates identity and individuality, leaving only a faceless pawn that is easily controlled by the State.
Just before the poem begins, an epigraph stating “To JS/07 M 378 This Marble Monument is Erected by the State” is clearly written, thus setting the stage for the entire situation surrounding the unknown citizen. The first portion of the epigraph, mentions a series of letters of numbers, which identifies the unknown citizen by reducing him down to a number. While it is unclear whether or not the numbers and letters actually reveal a part of the citizen’s lif...

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...o, a car and a frigidaire” (Auden 23-24). In these lines, however, not once are the essentials for survival mentioned; he has all the latest technology, but not one mention of food, clothing, and shelter. Thus, the unknown citizen’s life is dominated by what the State has decided to be necessary and believable, leaving little room for individual expression or thought.
Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen” reveals the unfortunate reality about conformity and its consequences. The prophecy proclaimed in the poem, that individuals in society shall eventually succumb to the pressures of conformity, is exceedingly real as, in the modern world, government and government rule combine together as a machine to rid society of its outliers. All in all, this masterpiece captures the future of society and the individual’s eventual fate.

Works Cited

Auden, W.H. "The Unknown Citizen."

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