Introduction: Anthem by Ayn Rand
“While getting a taste of American life via the American films she watched in university, Ayn Rand knew that she would someday live there. While living in Chicago for six months with her relatives, she changed her name from Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum to Ayn Rand…”
Can you imagine living in a world where there is uniformity, everyone is the same, they are told what to think, where to work, where to live, what time to go to bed, and when to arise, and you are not allowed to form friendships?
You get punished if you deviate from the norm. You have entered into Ayn Rand’s world of Anthem, a dystopian novella set in an unspecified place.
Have you read?
What is Anthem by Ayn Rand About?
Equality 7-2521 is a 21 year old male who is six-feet tall. He is very different, and is punished constantly for being different. He is a lot smarter than the others, and at 15, when vocations are chosen for them. He is placed in the House of Sweepers as punishment. After work, all the people walk in a single file to City Hall where the City Council reads the speeches that had been made that day in City Council. The people have to sing hymns – Hymn of Brotherhood, Hymn of Equality, and Hymn of Collective Sprit. After the City Council, the people go to the City Theater to have their three hours of Social Recreation.
Equality 7-2521 accidentally discovers an underground tunnel while he is with International 4-8818. He enters the passage to explore, and begs International 4-8818 to swear to secrecy, which is against the law because everything should be reported to those-in-charge. At nights during the three hours of social recreation, he sneaks out as soon as the lights dim, and go into the tunnel. While underground, with the candles he has stolen from the House of Sweepers, along with glass vials, powder and acids taken from the House of Scholars, a manuscript, as well as stolen flints, knives and flints, he enters a new world filled with discovery. Equality 7-2521 operates on dead animals that he finds at the City Cesspool. And in two years, Equality 7-2521 learns more than he did in the 10 years at the Home of Students. His knowledge surpasses that of those at the House of Scholars.
In that world, men and women are not allowed to look at each other. One day, Equality 7-2521 espies Liberty 5-3000, a beautiful, blond-haired woman, and every day he passes by the same way hoping to spot her, which he does. And they learn to communicate to each other with their eyes.
Equality 7-2521 names the woman The Golden One and she names him Unconquered. They ignore the rule that men should ignore women except at the Time of Mating. During the spring, men who are older than 20 and women who are older than 18, are sent to the City Palace of Mating. And when the children are born, they are taken away and parents never see their children and children never see their parents.
One day, Equality 7-2521 commits yet another sin, he talks to The Golden One, “You are beautiful, Liberty 5-3000,” and the woman respond, “What is your name?” And the forbidden conversation begins. With joy in his heart, during dinnertime, Equality 7-2521 burst out into song, and is reprimanded because singing is against the rules. He explains that he is singing because he is happy, and that is an acceptable response because all the people are supposed to be happy.
The more knowledge Equality 7-2521 gains in the three stolen hours each evening, the wiser he becomes, and realizes that all the people are actually fearful, they are not happy. Going underground each day gives him the strength he needs to get through each day. He learns many things, some of which he does not understand. He continues the experiments until he discovers light and is beyond himself. He decides the discovery is too big and wishes to let others know about it when the World Council of Scholars is held where they live.
For one month, he cannot go to the tunnel because one night he was not watching the hour glass to see when three hours had elapsed. When he returns to the Home of the Street Sweepers, and is questioned by the Council of the Home as to where he was, he refuses to answer, and is sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention with orders for Equality 7-2521 to be lashed until he discloses where he was. He is beaten mercilessly by his “judges” yet he refuses to speak, and is beaten until he passes out. He wakes up in a cell and is left alone for a few days. He is visited by other judges from the lesser to the more esteemed, and yet he refuses to answer.
Equality 7-2521 realizes that he has to break out of his cell because the day when the World Council of Scholars is supposed to meet is the next day. It is easy for him to escape because no one has ever disobeyed the Council before, so there is no security. He breaks out of the cell quite easily and the next day takes his discovery to the meeting. He is not welcomed into the fold, but vilified. How dear he, a mere street sweeper, think that he can go against the grain? The select few do not care about the greater good. Electricity will ruin the Department of Candles. The Council members decide to destroy the invention since it will lighten the work of others.
Equality 7-2521 grabs his invention, breaks the window pane and leaps through holding on tightly to his invention so it is not damaged. He runs and ends up in the Uncharted Forest, a forbidden place. No one will follow him into the Uncharted Forest out of fear. Now he is one of the Damned, his only regret is not being able to ever see The Golden One again. He thinks he is going to die in the Uncharted Forest, because he has been led to believe that, and he believes that he only has days to live.
After a good night’s sleep in the forest, he decides to explore it. When he is hungry, he kills a bird, cooks and eats it, and never had food that tasted so good. He finds a stream, and bends down to have a drink, and for the first time in his life he is able to see his face. He does not look like all the other brothers. He looks strong and healthy.
He has paper hidden in his tunic along with the written pages he had taken to the meeting of the World Council of Scholars, so he writes down his thoughts. The second day in the forest he hears footsteps so he hides, and discovers it is the Golden One. The whole City is talking about Equality 7-2521 going into the forest, so at night the Golden One leaves the Home of the Peasants and goes into the forest and follows the path where the branches are broken. They hug each other and for the first time experience real joy.
Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 hold hands as they explore the Forest together. They have a new home. They find fruit, water and more birds. And there is no end to the Uncharted Forest. At nights, they find a clearing, and build a circle of fires so wild animals cannot attack them. He sleeps with the arms of the Golden One around him.
They travel further into the forest and cross mountains that they did not know existed. During their travels they discover a house, the likes of which they have never seen before. They realize that the house is from the Unmentionable Times. The house has many windows, so the sun shines in and there are many mirrors on the wall so they can see themselves. They find a bedroom with only two beds and realize that only two people had lived there. They see many things that baffle them. They find beautiful clothes, not the plain tunics they are accustomed to. And of course that’s something for the Golden One to be excited about. They find many manuscripts and he decides to start reading the next day.
Equality 7-2521 has found what he has been searching for all his life,
“My hands…My spirits…My sky…My forest…. This earth of mine…. What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer. I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction…. The miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use…”
He is free at last.
Through reading, Equality 7-2521 learns what “I” means and takes the Greek name Prometheus – he brought light to the world. The Golden One is named Gaea. The story ends very hopeful as he plans to rescue all his brothers he left behind and bring them to a new place where they aren’t oppressed.
Final Thoughts: Anthem by Ayn Rand
In the first part of Anthem by Ayn Rand, I was feeling dread because it reminded me so much of George Orwell’s 1984. But this story is very hopeful, and Equality 7-2521’s resistance is successful. He doesn’t settle for the status quo. People like Equality 7-2521 or Prometheus, as he names himself, makes the world a better place for others. I recommend Anthem by Ayn Rand.
Describe a time when you resisted a policy or a rule.
AnthemAtlas ShruggedThe FountainheadWe the Living (75th-Anniversary Edition)Capitalism: The Unknown IdealObjectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (Ayn Rand Library)The Virtue of Selfishness: Fiftieth Anniversary EditionThe Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (Ayn Rand Library)The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial RevolutionAyn Rand and the World She MadeIntroduction to Objectivist Epistemology: Expanded Second Edition