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, and has been replaced by the collective "We."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
, 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 individual
s are free
to think separately and for themselves.