In her 1938 novel, Anthem, Ayn Rand presents a tyrannical world far in the future, where enforced equality among humans reigns and the former technological achievements of humankind have been long forgotten. The word "I" has been disregarded and forbidden, and has been replaced by the collective "We." The modern conveniences that we now take for granted, such as telephones, automobiles, and electricity, are nowhere to be found in the technologically primitive world that Anthem portrays. With this book, Ayn Rand has made a distinct and striking point about mankind: she has shown us that for technology to continue to advance, men and women must have the freedom of thought, freedom to create, and they must be allowed the drive to innovate.

From the opening of the novel, we are told by Equality 7-2521 that no one must think for themselves: "It is a sin to think words no others think....It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone." He states repeatedly that individual thought is simply not allowed. Equality 7-2521 is a young man who has been "cursed" with the ability to think for himself. He is tortured by his own thoughts and he desperately tries to "...be like all our brother men, for all men must be alike." He was "born with a head which is too quick" and since he has been taught that "It is not good to be different from our brothers, but it is evil to be superior to them", he is anguished.

The regime in control strips the sense of self from its citizens in various ways. At birth, children are given impersonal words as names, such as "Collective" or "Similarity," followed by a number. Children are taken from their parents before any child-parent bond can develop. This is supposedly to prevent any "Transgression of Preference," since all denizens of the city must love one another equally. Once they have been separated from their mothers, the children are first taken to the Home of the Infants, and then, at age five, they are transferred to the Home of the Students where they must complete ten years of state-sanctioned study. When the youths reach the age of fifteen, they go before the Council of Vocations, where they are told what occupation is to fill the rest of their lives. Equality 7-2521, whose intelligence reaches beyond that of the other students, loves to learn new things but finds the lessons taught him during his ten years of schooling to be too simple. He thirsts for more knowledge, and wishes to be awarded the position of Scholar by the Council of Vocations, so that he may continue his studies of science. The position given to him by the Council was instead that of a street sweeper. This is clearly a waste of a brilliant mind, and reflects how the state rejects any possible move forward that could threaten its power.

Equality 7-2521 accepts his lowly rank as a street sweeper, but is still filled with the need to learn. He continues his studies of science in secret, and acquires more knowledge than he had ever dared to imagine. When Equality 7-2521 rediscovers the electric light, he feels a great satisfaction in his creation. He proudly offers it to the World Council of Scholars, who have no understanding of what is being given to them. Equality 7-2521 is not honored for his great new achievement, but is reprimanded fiercely by the Scholars: "...we have much to say to a wretch who have broken all the laws and who boast of their infamy! How dared you think that your mind held greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers?..." Equality 7-2521 is horrified as his electric box is declared useless, for the foolish reasons that "what is not done collectively cannot be good," that it would upset the Department of Candles, and finally, that anything which could possibly lighten the work of men was wicked, for according to the World Council, the only purpose of man was "toiling for other men." In a society where the inherently unequal are forced into equality, most men will not continue to innovate. In the society of Anthem, the personal will of man has been stripped away, and people are told that their purpose in life is not to invent or to originate new and exciting things which could advance technology, but to labor for their fellow men. It follows from this view that the government in power will sacrifice seemingly anything to maintain the current order, even if it means active suppression of creative production for the sake of the prevailing power structure and convention.

This is a sharp contrast to other novels which display totalitarian societies of the future, the most well known of these being George Orwell's 1948 novel, 1984. In Orwell's book, as in many other distopian novels set in the future, the technology level has progressed and has reached an amazing level of sophistication. In 1984, technology is used as a tool for controlling and surveying the masses. 1984 presupposes that men, under the slavery of enforced equality, will continue to accomplish what they would have, had they not been trapped in a coercive system. The view that 1984 offers is that enslaving of men is a way to harness the power of their minds. Rand disagrees with this. Anthem clearly demonstrates her belief that to enslave men is to take from them their creative power. Thus, it only makes sense that the level of technology would have nowhere to go but backward.

In Rand's eyes, men are ends in themselves, and possess the power to think and to invent. The connection between men and gods is expressed in the last chapter of Anthem:

"...'Let us choose our names. I have read of a man who lived many thousands of years ago, and of all the names in these books, his is the one I wish to bear. He took the light of the gods and he brought it to men, and he taught men to be gods. And he suffered for his deed as all bearers of light must suffer. His name was Prometheus.'"
Technology is the light that Prometheus brought to men, and men, not gods, are the creators and the light bringers. For that light to flourish, humans must be unimpeded in their pursuit of individual fulfillment. Before Equality 7-2521 could become Prometheus, he first had to reject the deification of the word "We" and begin instead to revere the word "I." Once he was able to identify himself as an individual, he was finally free to pursue his own happiness. By showing the transformation from Equality 7-2521 to Prometheus, Ayn Rand has illustrated her belief that technology can only progress in an environment where individuals are free to think separately and for themselves.

In choral music, an anthem is typically associated with the English anthems. English anthems arose in the Anglican Church as the English counterpart of the Latin motet. Such anthems are typically based on or inspired by a particular scripture. They are non-liturgical, that is, they are not part of the prescribed rites of the church. A "full anthem" is entirely choral, while a "verse anthem" includes parts for solo singers.

Christopher Tye, Thomas Tallis, and William Byrd were some of the early innovators of the English anthem. Early English anthems were often patterned after the Latin motets. Indeed some of them were merely English text set to extant motets. In the latter part of the seventeenth century (i.e., the late 1600s), the Italian opera influence began to be felt, with composers such as Henry Purcell and John Blow writing verse anthems with several movements, as in cantatas. Since the 19th century, extracts from oratorios, masses, passions, etc., are commonly used as anthems, but these pieces are not anthems in the original sense of the term.

The word ego is given such a negative connotation in today's society that we hardly recognize its importance any more. It is an insulting word, a word that we use to describe someone who is so wrapped up in himself that he can't stop to acknowledge others. The 1928 novel Anthem by Ayn Rand explores the importance of this word on such a deep level that it makes the reader pause and re-evaluate his understanding of his worth in society.

Anthem takes place in a fictitous future of our world where there is no identity and the modern luxuries of today have been forgotten. Since the Great Rebirth, technology and individuality hawe been abandoned, and nobody has any sort of personal identity. The main character has been assigned the name Equality 7-2521, and he is raised believing that he should work for the good of his brothers. Equality has always felt that he is different, however. From an early age, his teachers had told him that there is evil in his bones. He aspires to work with the scholars and invent things, but he wishes this with a guilty conscience, for he is told that it is a sin to wish something for himself other than his Life Mandate.

Equality is told that "men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men"1 when he betrays his community. He finds a hole in the ground that still remains from the times before the Great Rebirth. In his hiding place, he experiments and invents. He soon makes a small box that makes its own light from the power of the skies. When he sees what he's accomplished, he's overcome with a great joy and declares with pride that he is giving a great blessing to his brothers.

Now, to the others in his society, he has done something that will give them less work, thus making their existence invalid. This, of course, raises an important question: Does essence precede existence? According to Sartre's Existentialist philosophy, this is incorrect; we define our existence by who we are. But in Rand's world, you exist because you have a purpose. That message is taken so far that those who are too old to perform their civil duties are placed in the Home of the Useless.

In our world, there are lots of people living in a free-thinking, individualist society. People can go to college and study to become whatever they like, or they can attend a technical school and become a skilled craftsman. Jobs are available in the artistic and entertainment communities as well. For those fortunate enough to live in upper-middle-class America, as well as any other nation with cable TV, an infinite number of job opportunities is available.

Unfortunately, in poverty-stricken countries that don't get The Weather Channel, especially those under a Communist system, people need to work to live. They all have a role they're expected to play in their community and they aren't given a choice as to what they can do. Often, people are born into farming families or are sent off to labor in factories. If they choose to do something else, they may not survive. Fortunately, not everyone is forced into careers or forced into thinking a certain way.

Nevertheless, Equality lives in one of these places where people exist to fill a specific niche. Soon after he is told by his society that his creation is evil, he sees what is wrong, but he blames it on himself. When he says that "the glass box in our arms is like a living heart that gives us strength. We have lied to ourselves. We have not built this box for the good of our brothers,"2 he is stating that he made it for himself. He had previously told himself that it was made for his community, but he has come to find the truth.

However, one of the more interesting things about this specific quotation is Equality's comparison of the box to a heart. In this passage, we learn that Equality's personal triumph, the creation of the box, is what motivates him. He feels more alive after he independently created something for himself. In putting this point into the story, Rand tells the reader that personal accomplishment is the livelihood of man, and what truly makes a person live is what he does for himself.

Equality's sense of individuality perhaps comes across best when he says that "the only things which taught us joy were the power we created in our wires, and the Golden One."3 While he still hasn't discovered the word "I" when he writes this sentence, he has come to terms with the fact that he is an individual, and that his joy is in his creation. Much like the previous quotation, this conveys the idea that a person's life is what he makes for himself. However, it adds another thing that the other did not.

Equality says that he found joy in the Golden One, the woman he desires. Unlike the first quote, which says that a man should work for himself, this quote reminds us that a person shouldn't think only for himself. A person's individuality is also defined by the way he treats others, and the people he loves. How someone acts in society is part of one's individuality, just as much as what he does for himself is.

In the novel Anthem, Rand explores the human mind. She shows the reader that people, without their individuality, are nothing. Anthem is a book about the importance of being yourself, a book about why we don't like to be told what to do, and a book that tells every follower that they have a leader inside of them, but most importantly, it is an inspirational novel that challenges the audience to explore their own ego and wonder if it's worse to have too large of an ego, or not enough of one.

All quotes taken from Ayn Rand's Anthem (1937).
1 - Chapter 7 - Quote Two
2 - Chapter 9 - Quote One
3 - Chapter 7 - Quote Three


Homework noded. I entered this into an essay contest.

A city of a madman’s dreams,
And deafened to the silent screams
Of willful captives to the fears
Reconsecrating our frontiers.

We do not dread the looming night
But guide ourselves by inner light.
Yet, manifesting in that glow,
Our own combustion we would know.

The most calamitous of wars
Are waged to settle heaven’s scores,
But are as nothing to the peace
Of perfect silence, when release

Sets free the evil in the heart
Of him who would tear truth apart.
His false realities provide
His tortured soul a place to hide,

But, hidden, can’t escape the shame;
Our children’s children know his name,
And though their tortured minds grow mad
Their retribution they’ll have had.

The city now is bleak and bare,
A penitence all had to share.
Our death is humankind’s disgrace:
We were its most enlightened race.

An"them (#), n. [OE. antym, antefne, AS. antefen, fr. LL. antiphona, fr. Gr. , neut. pl. of antiphon, or anthem, n. neut., from sounding contrary, returning a sound; over against + sound, voice: the anthem being sung by the choristers alternately, one half-choir answering the other: cf. OF. anthaine, anteine, antieune, F. antienne. See Antiphon.]

1.

Formerly, a hymn sung in alternate parts, in present usage, a selection from the Psalms, or other parts of the Scriptures or the liturgy, set to sacred music.

2.

A song or hymn of praise.

Milton.

 

© Webster 1913.


An"them, v. t.

To celebrate with anthems.

[Poet.]

Sweet birds antheming the morn. Keats.

 

© Webster 1913.

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