When born into the world, you are sheltered and nourished. When the appropriate age is reached you begin your schooling. Once your education is complete you are employed and work with complete security in your trade. At forty years of age you retire and spend the rest of your days with your peers, with everything requested provided for you.
That is as long as you learn at the same pace as everyone else. If you”re too bright you will be punished. And as long as you don”t ask too many questions, the overly inquisitive are beaten. As long as you don”t care who you are told to sleep with, because we know who your genes are most compatible with. And as long as you don”t believe you are any different or any better than anyone else is, because that will cost you your life. You aren”t granted a name or an identity or a soul. There are no individuals; there is only the collective. This is the world of Anthem.
Ayn Rand composes Anthem in an almost lyrical fashion and the majority of the text embraces poetry more faithfully than it does prose. This does little to affect the storytelling, but it encourages the reader to view the novella as an extended poem which detracts from the seriousness of the piece. Rand presents her tale of a man who dares to make individual choices, to seek knowledge in a dark age, to love the woman of his choice. In a society in which people have no names, no independence, and no values, he is hunted for the unpardonable crime: having the courage to stand above the crowd.
Rand”s own beliefs and her philosophy are most obviously seen through the protagonist, Equality”s, struggles. By having us bear witness to this oppression, her opinion on the detrimental effects of collectivism is projected to us. The world described in Anthem is a primitive one, although it is set in the future. All technological development has been lost, because What is not done collectively cannot be good, and, What is not thought by all men cannot be true. p.81 In this collectivist society, the individual has been lost to assimilation, and all creativity is suppressed. In spite of all of this, Equality has always been different; in the world in which he lives, this is a terrible sin. He is continually reprimanded for his free thinking, and for a variety of circumstances which are beyond his control. Among these are his height, and his ability to learn. This illustrates what Rand believes will happen should the state become too powerful. Her philosophy desires a limited government, where no one has the right to control an individual in ways such as these.
Those who break the terms of the oppression placed upon them in Anthem, are known as transgressors. Rand”s philosophy claims that all are entitled to as much as they are able to attain; therefore, to achieve freedom in Anthem, one must be willing to go beyond these enforced limitations. This is a key statement from the book, in that to transcend mediocrity one must more often than not disregard set limitations. This initial transgression leads to his progression away from the state, and helps him to discover the power within himself. At this point, Equality is still not yet free. Complete freedom comes to him in the Uncharted Forest. It is here that he first begins to question authority, as Rand firmly believed that we should.
Although he had been disobedient for some time, he had never considered his society as a flawed one. Equality says, We have broken the law, but we have never doubted it. p.97 According to Rand, accepting without questioning will lead to the downfall of society. Anthem is meant to be an inspiration, as the saint of the pyre in the story inspired Equality to search for the unspeakable word.
This aforementioned word is I. Throughout the story, characters struggle with their language, unable to find a way to express themselves individually. Without any singular pronouns, the words of one are made to be the words of all. Throughout the story, Equality has two main accomplishments. One of these, is the discovery of the word I. The other is the rediscovery of electricity, the power of the sky. p.56 This power is referred to as the light. This light is the central symbol in the story. It represents enlightenment, as well as the individual”s spirit and power. The allusion to Prometheus is obvious in this segment of the story. This is the message Rand wished to express in Anthem.
While Rand is often criticised for her work, and how her philosophy excuses man”s inhumanity to man, Ayn Rand has an incredible vision to offer – in many respects a radiantly rational one. I am convinced that there are errors in that vision and elements that need to be changed, eliminated, modified, or added and amplified, but I am also convinced that there is a great deal in her vision that will stand the test of time. Objectivism was interesting in high school and there are elements of it that form the basis of my thought process, but it is something that you outgrow. In part I believe from Rand”s own statements. Individuals wish to think like her for a period of time and then wish to think like themselves. This is perhaps the only real good that comes from Rand”s work. Unfortunately there are many who cling to objectivism as the manual for life.
While I would not advocate her philosophy, she is an exceptional writer and I would recommend Anthem. Just don”t get carried away.