Ayn Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and moved to America when she was 21. She was a philosopher and novelist whose main characters were strong individuals fighting against large, impersonal systems. Her 1938 novel, Anthem, is set in the future, in a world where everyone is forced to think alike and not allowed to develop on an individual level. If you were stuck in this world of slaves, it would be a crime to have your own desires or want privacy, because hard work for the good of the City would be your only purpose in life. Having your own thoughts would be wrong, especially since there are no such words as "I" or "my." Equality, the hero of this book, does not fit into this world because he has two evil characteristics: a strong will and a mind of his own.
Equality 7-2521: The main guy. He’s the brilliant hero.
International 4-8818: Equality's best friend.
Liberty 5-3000: Equality's girlfriend. Equality calls her "The Golden One".
Equality is a smart, strong-willed guy who wishes he could be a Scholar figuring out cool stuff about the world, but instead he has to spend the rest of his life working as a street sweeper. In his City, it is wrong to do things for oneself. So, each night, Equality sneaks off to an underground tunnel to write down his ideas and to perform private scientific experiments.
He meets Liberty, a girl he's really hot for, and wants to date her, but that's illegal. Still, they manage to do a little touching.
In his underground tunnel, Equality invents an electric lamp. Because the City only has candles, Equality thinks his invention will get him a new job as a Scholar. But the other Scholars get really mad and want to punish him. So Equality runs away to the forest with Liberty and they create a new life together. They find an abandoned house from the "unmentionable times" (the past where the word "I" existed). They make the house their own and read old books, where they learn how to say the word "I".
Equality and Liberty give themselves new names. Equality is now Prometheus (the myth of the guy who gave the world fire) and Liberty is now Gaea (the Greek name for Mother Earth). Equality talks about how he is going to build a new civilization that is based upon the individual.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
- Equality sneaks off to a secret underground tunnel, where he commits two serious crimes: being alone and writing down his thoughts.
- The crime Equality is most guilty of is wanting things for himself.
- When he was a kid, he hoped to become a Scholar. Instead, he was made a Street Sweeper for the City.
- He has a forbidden friendship with International.
- Together they find an old underground tunnel near the Uncharted Forest, a place everyone in the City fears. Every night for two years, Equality goes the tunnel alone to perform private scientific experiments and to read stolen books.
- Equality is turned-on by a girl named Liberty, but it is against the law for anyone to date.
- Equality has courage, so one day he talks to her and can tell she's into him too. He calls her "The Golden One."
- Everyone in the City is afraid of getting in trouble.
- In his underground tunnel, Equality feels fearless and happy about life.
- He wonders about the secrets in the Uncharted Forest, the place where old cities from the Unmentionable Time once stood.
- He wonders about the knowledge from the Unmentionable Time, before countless books were burned.
- He wonders what the deal is with the Unspeakable Word, the saying of which can get you killed.
- As a kid, he saw a man burned alive for having said the Unspeakable Word. The man looked like a saint.
- In his tunnel, Equality discovers how to use electricity for light.
- Since the City only has candles, this is a really big deal.
- Equality understands things in new ways and must gather his new knowledge alone.
- Equality and Liberty break the law by talking on the side of the road.
- He tell her how he has renamed her "The Golden One"
- She tells him how she calls him "The Unconquered".
- They want one another so much it hurts.
- She gives him a drink of water with her hands
- Equality has created an electric lamp, and is ambitious to share his discovery with the city, to make everyone's life easier.
- He thinks that if he brings his lamp to the City, the Scholars will reward him.
- Equality comes home late from his underground tunnel.
- He will not say where he was, so he is whipped, but he does not confess.
- He escapes, and decides to bring both his lamp and diary to the Scholars to show them his good intentions.
- Equality shows his electric lamp to the Scholars.
- He confesses everything he has been doing in private and boasts his gift will help everyone.
- First the Scholars are afraid of his invention, and then they insult it and condemn Equality as the worst kind of person.
- He crashes through a window and rushes off to the Uncharted Forest.
- Here he is alone and glad to be finally rid of the City, but he misses his girlfriend, Liberty.
- He is happy in the forest, laughing and free.
- With a stone, he kills a bird and cooks it.
- He feels joy and pride in his natural self.
- For the first time, he sees his face and body, reflected in a stream, and thinks he is good-looking.
- Liberty has followed Equality into the forest.
- They have wild sex under the trees.
- They have fire, a bow and arrow, plus plenty of food, so they are sitting pretty.
- They question everything the City taught them.
- But still, they are hungry for a mysterious word to express themselves more fully.
- The Golden One tries to say "I love you" to Equality but she doesn’t know the word I. So she struggles with "We love you…We are one…alone…and only…and we love you who are one…alone…and only."
- Equality and Liberty move into a cozy mountain home from Unmentionable Times.
- Here they find books and clothes.
- Equality feels some secret knowledge in his heart waiting to be born.
- In his reading of old books, Equality discovers the words "I" and "my," which are not part of the language of the City.
- From these words, he understands that the City is not the center of his experience, but himself alone.
- By nature, he is not a servant, but a self-contained miracle, whose personal freedom is key to his existence. He decides to live according to the truth inside him, not the brainwashing truth of the City.
- Equality renames himself "Prometheus," after the old Greek god who brought fire to mankind.
- He renames Liberty "Gaea" after the Greek earth goddess.
- He has a clear sense of his destiny: to rebuild the world of knowledge and to draw others away from the City (his buddy International) to a new life based on the spirit of freedom that is always inside a man.
- He talks about how he is going to carve the word "EGO" above all his doors because it is the most sacred word in the world.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- Ayn Rand upheld the individual against systems of thought that emphasized the collective, or group.
- Rand wrote Anthem as a warning of the terrible things that could happen under such systems as Communism and Fascism.
- An anthem is a song that praises something. In Anthem, Rand was singing the praises of independent, scientific thinking over the mentality of obeying a mindless group.
- Rand also upheld egoism (doing things for oneself) over altruism (doing things for others). She felt that the ego, or self, was the true basis of experience, and dismissed the worth of group consciousness as a kind of thinking that could only harm the self.
- Anthem 's hero is a man of science because Rand believed that only reason could sustain the individual against the brainwashing forces that try to weaken it.
- Collectivism, or group thinking, is based on fear. Anthem's hero is also fearless, because one must be brave to defy a group and strike out on unknown paths.
- Anthem uses various myths to get its point across. First, it equates the scientist with Christ to show the supreme, redemptive power of individual reasoning. Second, the novel draws upon the Garden of Eden to show that individualism is Man's natural condition. Third, the story refashions its hero as the god Prometheus to illustrate the divine nature of the individual. And fourth, the novel anticipates the hero's fullest development as a kind of Moses, leading others to enjoy their birthright of independence of creative reasoning.