Anthem (book)

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For the musical term, see Anthem (music)

Anthem is a novel by Ayn Rand about a man escaping from a pure collectivist state, in which the pronoun "I" is not used or even known to the protagonist until the very end. In fact, "I" is the forbidden word, knowledge of which results in execution by the state.

Society and Government in Anthem

The world of Anthem is the Dark Ages of the future. A war apparently took place between the men of our current world (presumably capitalists) and a new faction, extreme collectivists, who believe man's only purpose is to work for other men. The times before collectivism are called the Unmentionable Times. The idea of the individual has been wiped out, not only by brainwashing and propaganda, but through the language itself, which has eliminated all singular pronouns; every person refers to himself as "we," and "I" is a criminal word, knowledge of which results in execution. No man is allowed to prefer any other, or any man allowed to be attracted to women, or vice versa. Everyone is completely equal.

Almost all modern technology has been lost, since there absolutely no incentive to work; in fact, doing anything on one's own is a crime. The government is made up various Councils, which collectively decide the place of each person. It is said in the novel that it took 50 years for all the Councils in the world to approve the candle as a suitable tool for light. Before that torches were used. Life expectancy is also roughly cut in half of what it is today, with men being retired from work at about 40 years old.

Major Plot Events

The protagonist is Equality 7-2521. All men are named with slogans and numbers. He wishes to be a scholar, but the Council assigns him to be a street-sweeper instead. Since it is a crime to wish for any one vocation over another, he resigns himself to street sweeping, but his desire to learn is not wiped out. One day street sweeping, he discovers a metal door. He opens it and climbs down into a tunnel; it is a subway tunnel, and while he doesn't know what it is, he knows it is from the Unmentionable Times. He decides not to tell the Council, and during the night when everyone watches propaganda plays about working for others, Equality sneaks out and goes back to his tunnel. For two years he performs scientific research there, and eventually discovers "the power of the sky," electricity.

These are not Equality's only crimes. In the streets he sees a young woman, who is named Liberty 5-3000. He is attracted to her, and makes eye contact with her. He knows that there is a connection between him. Then he talks to her, another crime. They realize that they both retain the character of individuality, which is why they are attracted. They even call each other names other than the state-given names: Liberty is the Golden One, and Equality is the Unconquered.

Meanwhile, Equality harnesses electricity and creates a rudimentary electric light in a box. Knowing that the invention could benefit mankind, but also knowing that everyone will fear his invention and punish him, he decides to show the invention to the upcoming World Council of Scholars.

But a few weeks before the Council convenes, he is discovered missing from the theater and is brought to the Palace of Corrective Detention to be flogged until he tells the government about what he is doing. However, he refuses to tell them and is imprisoned. The prison is dilapidated and there are no guards, so Equality easily escapes and returns to the tunnel the night before the Scholars are to meet. The next day he enters the World Council of Scholars and presents them with the light, but they first fear and then criticize him, for he dared to think that he alone could do more than collective mankind. Declaring that the light must be destroyed, Equality flees the Council cursing its members, and runs into the Unchartered Forest which surrounds the city.

There he discovers freedom. The next day Liberty 5-3000 appears, having followed him. They acknowledge that they love each other, and almost discover the Unspeakable Word.

They eventually find a house left over from the Unmentionable Times. They inhabit it and Equality renames himself and Liberty: he is Prometheus, and she is Gaea. Prometheus vows to relearn the lost knowledge of the Unmentionable Times and create a new city where individuality prevails. The novel closes as he finally discovers the Unspeakable Word: I, or "ego."