Written in 1937, Ayn Rand's novel ''Anthem'' is a critique of collectivism and its effects on society. In this lesson, we summarize the plot and the main characters of the story.
Ayn Rand is one of the most controversial authors and philosophers of the twentieth century. Throughout her novels and lectures, Rand introduces her audience to her philosophy, objectivism. Objectivism encourages people to be selfish and live a better life. To achieve this, you should do whatever you want, but without creating victims. To Rand, selfishness means to work hard, earn self-esteem, pursue your happiness, and grow by treating others with the same value.
Written in 1937, Rand intended to use Anthem as a critique of collectivism, the philosophy that individuals exist only to contribute to the well-being of society. In the novel, individualism has been erased and now the world is crumbling.
The protagonist of the story is Equality 7-2521. He is 21 years old, six feet tall, and intelligent. In fact, he is so intelligent that he surpasses the best Scholars. Unfortunately, in this collectivist society, it is a crime to be different from others. In this case, Equality 7-2521 has been told that ''there is evil in your bones'' because he is taller than most. In regards to his intelligence he is told, ''it is a great sin, to be born with a head that is too quick.'' Because Equality 7-2521's intelligence surpasses that of even Teachers and Scholars, he is punished through being assigned his lifetime occupation of a Street Sweeper. Through the story we watch as he goes from feeling guilty for his sin of being different to someone who embraces his ego.
In the novel, Equality 7-2521 falls in love with Liberty 5-3000. Because the sexes are kept separated at all times and contact between them is strictly prohibited, the fact that Liberty 5-3000 initiated 'contact' with Equality 7-2521, shows that she too, although submissive to the laws of the society, does not necessarily believe in being totally controlled by them.
Collective 0-0009 is the oldest Scholar in society and represents collectivism. When Equality 7-2521 shows the Scholars his new invention, it is Collective 0-0009 that speaks out against him. Collective 0-0009 asks his brother Scholars if they believe in this invention, to which they all respond that they do not. Collective 0-0009 then states, ''What is not thought by all men cannot be true.'' In other words, no one in society is free to think for himself, so Equality 7-2521 has broken one of the main rules of society. Collective 0-0009 is seen as an old thinker who holds back society rather than trying to move it forward.
Equality 7-2521's only friend in the novel is International 4-8818. However, having a friend is a ''Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others.'' Like Equality 7-2521, International 4-8818 has been punished to be a Street Sweeper because of his artistic ability. International 4-8818 does keep Equality 7-2521's secret about the tunnel even though this is forbidden by society.
Equality 7-2521's story begins by setting the background of the society. In Equality 7-2521's world, every part of life is controlled by the City. The City, which is part of the larger society controlled by the World Council, stresses the importance of 'We,' not individuals. At birth, children are taken from their mothers and placed in barracks where they are raised. They are then sent to school where vocations will later be chosen for them. As adults, all part of the day-to-day life are controlled. The world in Anthem is truly a dystopian society, or one that is opposite of ideal.
As Equality 7-2521 tells us, he is currently alone in an underground tunnel and he can get in trouble for what he is doing, writing. In his society, no one is allowed to think on his/her own. He then shares with us some of the past of his city. Following the Great Rebirth, everyone became 'we.' Individuals are now there to serve each other. Everyone is equal and everyone should be the same. To make sure that everyone stays equal, society controls everything. One day, he and International 4-8818 found the underground tunnel that led to a world before the Great Rebirth; this collectivist society calls that time the Unmentionable Times. Equality 7-2521 decided to make this place his own. He uses the tunnel to write, to think, and to work on his science experiments.
As the story continues, Equality 7-2521 falls in love with Liberty 5-3000. As a society rule, Equality 7-2521 should care for everyone equally, but he admits that he cannot stop thinking about Liberty 5-3000 and now cares for her more than others. This new relationship with Liberty 5-3000 has made Equality 7-2521 happy.
In addition to falling in love, Equality 7-2521 breaks another rule; he has discovered electricity. After working more with it, he decides to take his invention before the Scholars. Before he can do so, he is discovered trying to sneak back from the underground tunnel. Equality 7-2521 refuses to tell where he was and what he was doing, so he is taken to prison and whipped for hours. Determined to make the Council meeting, Equality 7-2521 breaks out of prison. Rather than being warmly received, the World Council of Scholars is furious with Equality 7-2521 and wants to sentence him to death. Equality 7-2521 quickly grabs his invention and runs away to the Uncharted Forest.
Liberty 5-3000 follows him and the two of them explore the woods. They discover a house filled with books and gadgets from the Unmentionable Times. Here, Equality 7-2521 learns the word 'love' and tells Liberty 5-3000 that he loves her. The two rename themselves and live in the house.
As the novel ends, Equality 7-2521 reflects that he has learned that his own happiness is important. His ego is important and it makes him happier than working for society. One day, he wants to return to society and free others. He wants to teach them all about ''The sacred word: EGO.''
Anthem & Rand's Philosophy
It is important to remember that Rand developed objectivism as a critique to collectivism. The City in Anthem reflects everything that Rand disliked about collectivism, and she paints a very bleak picture of what could happen if collectivism is used. In Rand's novel, the City is only concerned about the 'we,' not the individual. Individuals are assigned numbers, not names. They are assigned jobs, many as punishment for thinking or acting differently than others. The world has fallen apart and the Council controls the many rules they have made.
When Equality 7-2521 discovers himself as an individual, he discovers objectivism. Equality 7-2521's story is told through his journal, so we can easily follow his journey to discovering himself as an individual. In the early parts of Equality 7-2521's journal, he only speaks in we; no singular pronouns are used. In fact, Equality 7-2521 knows that ''there is some word, one single word which is not in the language of men, but which has been. And this is the Unspeakable Word.'' However, it is only at the very end of the story, when Equality 7-2521 has had a chance to read the books from the Unmentionable Times, that he finally learns this one word, 'I.' Once he starts to do what he wants, to act selfishly and for himself, he finally feels free from We, and he says, ''I am done with the monster of We, the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame, because of this one word, I.''
Ayn Rand is one of the most controversial authors of the twentieth century. Her writings explore her philosophy of objectivism, the belief that the individual should pursue his or her own happiness. A person should not victimize others, but should still be selfish and develop his/her ego.
Her novel Anthem tells the story of a society destroyed by collectivism, the philosophy that individuals exist only to contribute to the well-being of society. In the novel, everyone is forced to be equal and to think the same. There is no more I, just we.
The protagonist of the story, Equality 7-2521, breaks many of the rules created to control individuals. He discovers a tunnel and sneaks away at night to write, think, and develop his experiments. In addition, he falls in love with Liberty 5-3000. When he discovers electricity, Equality 7-2521 decides to take his invention before the Council. Rather than being excited, the Council is furious and sentences him to death. Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 run away together into the Uncharted Forest. Here, they find a house and live together. At the end of the novel, Equality 7-2521 reflects that he is much happier now that he knows the word 'I,' and now that he puts his own happiness first. He now knows how important ego truly is, and he hopes to return to society and free the others.