“Anthem” is a novella written by Ayn Rand, first published in 1938. It is a dystopian science fiction story that presents Rand’s individualistic and philosophical ideas through a compelling narrative. The novella takes place in a future society where individuality has been completely suppressed and collectivism reigns supreme.
Plot Summary: The story is set in a future post-apocalyptic world where technology and progress have regressed. The society in which the protagonist lives is characterized by strict collectivist principles and the eradication of personal identity. The story is narrated by Equality 7-2521, a young man who has always felt different and harbors a secret desire for individuality.
In this society, people are referred to only by numbers and are taught to think and act as a collective group, sacrificing their personal desires and ambitions for the greater good of society. The word “I” is forbidden, and all aspects of life are controlled by the ruling Council of Vocations.
Equality 7-2521, however, is a free thinker and is curious about the remnants of the past, including the Unmentionable Times, a period of history when individuality and technological progress were valued. He rediscovers an underground tunnel from that era, where he conducts secret scientific experiments. There, he reclaims the word “I” and refers to himself as “I.”
During his experiments, Equality 7-2521 invents a revolutionary electric light that could potentially improve society. However, when he presents his discovery to the Council of Scholars, they reject it, viewing his individuality and the idea of independent invention as threats to their collectivist society.
Feeling disillusioned and realizing that he cannot find acceptance for his individuality, Equality 7-2521 decides to escape the oppressive society. He takes with him the woman he loves, Liberty 5-3000 (later named “Gaea” by Equality). Together, they seek refuge in the Uncharted Forest, a forbidden place where the remnants of the past still exist.
In the forest, Equality 7-2521 renames himself Prometheus and begins to rediscover the lost knowledge of the past. He realizes the importance of individualism and the value of his own mind. The novella concludes on an optimistic note, with Equality/Prometheus vowing to build a new society based on the principles of individual rights and freedom.
“Anthem” serves as a powerful allegory against totalitarianism and collectivism, championing the idea that individualism and the pursuit of one’s own happiness are essential for human progress and fulfillment. It is a concise but thought-provoking work that reflects Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and her belief in the supremacy of reason, individualism, and rational self-interest.