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Anthem | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Anthem | Themes


Ineptitude of Evil

In Anthem Rand attacks the basic tenets of collectivism, calling them out for being both evil and inept. Equality 7-2521, a person born with a curious mind and a "sense of truth within him," is able to easily escape from and plot against his evil collectivist society. He can do this because in a collective society, "minds are shackled to the weakest and dullest among them." Rand illustrates the resulting inaction in a number of ways throughout the novella.

First, in over 100 years this society's grandest achievement is the putting together of wax and string to make candles. The "twenty illustrious men" who invented the candle are portrayed in all their glory on a painting in the Home of the Scholars. The candle is considered a "great boon to mankind, as approved by all men." The Council of World Scholars rejects Equality 7-2521's invention of electricity for a host of illogical reasons, but the most absurd is probably that it poses a threat to the candle.

Equality 7-2521 is portrayed as progressive and intelligent, a curious inventor and a deep thinker. Rand extolls the virtue of his independent spirit and his desire for a free society for all men. The evil men at the helm of his society are as threatened by Equality 7-2521 as the candle is by his invention of electricity. Because they desire to keep all men in the dark ages, they do not want Equality 7-2521 to shine a light on their society and reveal its flaws. They would rather destroy him and his invention. But just as Equality 7-2521 easily walked out of his prison in Chapter 6, he easily jumps out the window in the Home of the Scholars, saving himself and his invention. The evil collective does not pursue him into the Uncharted Forest to retrieve him, even though in Chapter 9 Liberty 5-3000 proves how easy it is to follow "the path where the branches were broken by [his] body." The reader can only assume either that the collective cannot come to a consensus quickly enough regarding what to do about Equality 7-2521, that they are too afraid of the "beasts" of the Uncharted Forest, or that they simply do not fathom the severity of the threat he poses as a crusading outsider with the mission to overthrow them one day.

Collective versus the Individual

Anthem presents a dystopian future world where the collective is all-powerful at the expense of the individual. In Rand's fictional society the word "I" no longer exists because the ruling elite eradicated it. Instead, a person must necessarily refer to himself or herself as "we." This small modification in language has a powerful effect on identity. Instead of relying on his or her own ego, each person is forced to look to the collective for his or her sense of belonging. This allows the society to create all rules based on "the common good" rather than on individual desires. Equality 7-2521's society touts the belief that "what is not done collectively cannot be good." It is a sin to be alone. It is a sin to profess a favorite person or activity or profession or object. It is a sin to have selfish desires that put one's self above others or to be superior to anyone in any way.

Equality 7-2521 is aware that under the forced "happiness" of the brotherhood, each individual is unhappy and dares not speak out about it. Only in sleep do they call "Help us!" in bone-chilling voices. But it is only when he discovers electricity that Equality 7-2521 begins to openly question the idea that the collective is superior to the individual. He has been told "no single one can possess greater wisdom than the many Scholars who are elected by all men for their wisdom." And yet, Equality 7-2521 now believes he does, in fact, possess greater wisdom. As an individual, he is superior to the collective whose greatest achievement in over 100 years is inventing the candle. When the World Council of Scholars rejects his invention and seeks to destroy both him and electricity, Equality 7-2521's suspicions are confirmed: He lives in a collective society of fools.

Having escaped into the Uncharted Forest, Equality 7-2521 revels in his new freedom to do whatever he pleases. The further he journeys away from the collective, the happier he becomes. His inner and outer journey culminates in finding a house full of knowledge. Here he discovers the word "I" and fully claims his individual identity. In addition, he gives himself an actual name instead of a number. He then declares his intention to overthrow the evil collective and create a new world of individuals.

Free Will

Equality 7-2521's collectivist society does not allow for individual free will. This is made most obvious by their deletion of the word "I" from the vernacular. Rand asserts that every person is born with "the spirit of truth" within them—the "truth" being that they are individuals first and foremost—and Equality 7-2521's internal journey is to reclaim his sense of self. Despite living in a society where every choice is made for him, Equality 7-2521 begins to exercise his free will by making his own choices in secret. And though he has been programmed to believe free will is "evil," as early as Chapter 1, Equality 7-2521 realizes the forbidden choices he makes are the only ones giving him any peace or happiness.

When Equality 7-2521 is caught breaking society's rules, he refuses to bend to society's will. Liberty 5-3000 is attracted to this quality in him and calls him "the Unconquered." To protect his secret work, Equality 7-2521 withstands a month of torture. To take advantage of the opportunity to present his breakthrough to the World Council of Scholars, he uses his free will to walk out of his prison. The prison has no guards because the society had never accounted for someone like Equality 7-2521, someone with a strong enough sense of free will to flout its rules. His free will is also what prompts him to escape from this evil collective and strike out on his own. All his freely made choices finally lead him to discovering his heart's desire—the Unmentionable Word that the Saint of the Pyre tried all those years ago to pass on to him. He learns the words "I" and "ego" and pledges to spread the superior creed of individualism and free will to all the oppressed world.

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