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Anthem | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Anthem | Chapter 1 | Summary



Equality 7-2521 lives in a future where man is not allowed to be alone. He writes a forbidden journal in his hiding place, which is a subway tunnel from the Unmentionable Times. It is dark except for the light of a candle. He goes to this hiding spot to work on his experiments. Equality 7-2521 feels he is different from his fellow men. He knows the laws. "There are no men but only the great WE," is carved into the Palace of the World Council and dates back to the Great Rebirth. No one speaks of the "evil" times before that, lest they be punished.

Equality 7-2521 writes of his past: his five years in the Home of Infants, his ten years in the Home of the Students, and how he was sent to the Home of the Street Sweepers by the Council of Vocations. Equality 7-2521 admits he had the Transgression of Preference because he wanted to be a Scholar. He is resigned to being a Street Sweeper until he is 40, at which time he will be sent to the Home of the Useless until he dies. However, everything changed when Equality 7-2521 and his friend International 4-8818 found the abandoned tunnel two springs before. International 4-8818 will not explore it with him, but he agrees not to report him.

Since finding the hidden spot, Equality 7-2521 comes every day for three hours during the time when he is supposed to be at the theater watching plays. He steals items and manuscripts from different buildings so he can do his experiments. But even though he is breaking many rules, Equality 7-2521 claims "there is no shame in us and no regret." In fact, for the first time in his life, he feels peace.


Equality 7-2521 belongs to a dystopian society in which the needs of the collective supersede the needs of the individual. Because Anthem is Rand's ideological dismantling of Soviet-era totalitarianism, Rand portrays Equality 7-2521 as a hero who inherently understands the importance of the individual. Equality 7-2521 realizes from early on that he was born different. Even in the Home of the Infants, he was singled out for fighting and spent the most time "locked in the cellar" as punishment. At the Home of the Students, teachers frowned at him because he was "born with a head which is too quick." When it was time to be given a work assignment, he wished so much to be sent to the Home of the Scholars that his "hands trembled under the blankets in the night," even though he had been told it was "evil" to have such wishes. Equality 7-2521 loves the Science of Things, and he is full of questions that others seem not to have. This intellectual curiosity sets him apart from others and, in Rand's view, makes him superior to everyone else in society who either blindly follows what they are told or makes bad decisions to stay in power. To keep their status quo, the council had to assign Equality 7-2521 to a menial job. They recognize him as a potential threat, and to give him the assignment of Scholar, which in reality suits him best, would be too risky.

To underscore her theme of individualism versus collectivism, Rand's fictional society has outlawed the word "I." This means every person refers to himself or herself as we. With this modification Rand shows how language can be a powerful tool in shaping behavior. Equality 7-2521 is not yet aware of the word "I," but he senses there is something beyond the collective, and his character journey in the novella is to discover the word and reclaim his sense of self. Within this journey Rand explores the theme of free will. In a society where every choice is made for him, Equality 7-2521 has begun to test the boundaries of his free will by making his own choices. And though he has been told his whole life that exercising his free will is "evil," Equality 7-2521 realizes that the forbidden choices he has made have given him the first peace in his heart in 20 years.

In keeping with Rand's theme of the ineptitude of evil, the rulers of this dystopian society reject innovation and knowledge. They have outlawed all mention of the times before the Great Rebirth, including inventions of the past. Equality 7-2521 hears the Old Ones from the Home of the Useless whispering about "wagons which moved without horses" and "lights which burned without flame." The "newest" invention in this impotent society is the ability to make candles "from wax and string," and nothing more has emerged from these scholars in over 100 years. The willful ineptitude of the evil rulers has ushered in a second dark age of ignorance and fear.

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