Different Themes in the Unknown Citizen by Auden

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Events of That Time

“The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden was written in 1939 and reflects many of the events which went on during this time. The poem also gives insight of what happens now and gives the reader a chance to make a connection from what has been written to something relating to what arises in present day or in a person’s life. During the 1939 the great depression was ending, World War II was just beginning, the United States declared neutrality, Albert Einstein wrote to FDR, and to offset the war news two classical movies were released. The war is mentioned in the poem in the way of describing the man known to us as the unknown citizen, “…Except for the War till the day he retired/He worked in a factory and never got fired,” (Abcarian et al. 6-7). Meaning the man worked hard never stepping out of line but he also fought in the war when he was called to fight. Then with the war only starting Einstein wrote to FDR, “…In the course of the last four months it has been made probable … that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium- like elements would generated” (Einstein, 1939).

Personal Life

Auden’s’ personal life also is alluded to in the end of his poem, “… Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:/ Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard” (Aubcarian et al. 28-29). Although “In 1935, Auden married Erika Mann…It was a marriage of convenience to enable her to gain British citizenship and escape Nazi Germany- Auden was himself homosexual” (BBC). When he came to America in 1939 he, “met Chester Kallman who became his companion for the rest of his life” (BBC). So, the ending of the poem could be referring to not many knowing of him keeping a secret but also referring to jhow many people never truly know what another is going through. The outside world knows only certain amounts even those who are closest only get glimpses unless they have gone through it themselves or with the one concerned. No one truly knows what others unless told are going through.


In conclusion, Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” can be looked at from many perspectives whether it be deconstruction, new historical, or a reader response. By analyzing the poem from different perspectives or giving some background information this allows the reader to better understand the poem or piece of literature. Auden’s poem is one of many examples of a poem which can be analyzed from multiple perspectives. It also fits well with the time period of which it was written.

Work Cited

  • Abcarian, Richard, et al. Literature: the Human Experience. Bedford/St. Martins, 2016.
  • Einstein, Albert. ‘Einstein’s Letter of 1939.’ Einstein’s Letter of 1939, 8/1/2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=21212411&site=ehost-live.
  • “History – WH Auden.” BBC, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/auden_wh.shtml.
  • Rosenberg, Jennifer. ‘The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s.’ ThoughtCo, Aug. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/1930s-timeline-1779950.
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