Introduction – Overall summary
Anthem is a story about a youth protagonist and narrator named, Equality 7-2521 who fought for freedom and struggled against conformity. He was the epitome of individuality that went against the laws to pursue knowledge and the woman that he loves. Ironically, he was born to defy the rules of society and even his name. He later renamed himself as Prometheus, who once was a hero that defied the conventions of his time. Everything started during the Great Rebirth where humankind was considered as one “great WE”, without any knowledge about the concept of “I”. Man’s priority is to serve his fellow brothers, and to be equal or the same as everyone else. Equality has stood out, particularly his pursuit in learning. But instead of becoming a scholar, he became a street sweeper. He discovered a subway leading to the Unmentionable Times before the Great Rebirth, and later on became his illegal hideout. It was his first crime. The second crime he committed was to fall in love with a girl named Liberty 5-3000. Despite of being caught and finally had the chance to present his invention (electricity) to the Council of Vocations, he was rejected and sentenced to death. Together with Liberty, they fled to the forest and stumbled upon a house from the Unmentionable Times. They discovered the word “I”, the Unspeakable Word in his times.
Equality was renamed Prometheus and Liberty the Golden One, and later became Gaea. He discovered that the reason for living is personal happiness, and ego is the most sacred thing in the universe. Having freedom is the best gift one can possess as a human being.
Summary – Key themes and Ideas
The story implies a strong critique against collectivism, a philosophy that Ayn Rand experienced and scarred her for life during her stay in Russia. She used the character of Equality to encourage humans to avoid the consequence of a totalitarian civilization by taking lead of their own lives. By renaming Equality as Prometheus, Rand has considered a man who defies the norms of society as a hero. As for Gaea, she is a submissive character to Equality but relatively static compared to him. She seeks to express her love to Equality rather than pursue self-actualization. The Anthem is more of a fictional manifesto of the dangers of diving towards a collectivist society, rather than a novel. The story failed to describe the characters in detail, much less of having no defined climax.
But the key themes in the story compelled readers to self-actualize. Individualism is the explicit theme of her book. By having an epiphany at the end, Rand delivers her message that pursing own happiness will produce people who are capable of propelling progress in society. She also implies that one cannot be totally dominated by another. Humans naturally seek freedom and will continue to seek its purpose. Alongside with individualism, Rand may have suggested the theme of suffering or martyrdom as a major tenet of being a hero. Equality has endured a lot of physical, mental and emotional tortures from his times. He suffered a lot but still finds joy in finally having a hold of his ideals.
The third theme is the striking parallelism with the biblical characters of Adam and Eve. The setting portrayed a god which resembles closely as the society that has the capability rule and overpower its citizens. Just like Adam and Eve, the two protagonists sinned against the society because of their desire for learning and freedom. By submitting to their desires, the characters were banished from society and during their exile, they finally found the knowledge they earnestly sought. The two settings have both characters with pride, thinking that they should be something better than they were.
The fourth theme paints a picture of a collective government, an inefficient society as a consequence of collectivism. A collective government forbids individual thinking so there was no consensus ever made. The World Council of Scholars is an example of a collective government. Even a simple innovation such as the candle took a longer period of time just to gain approval. A collective government fears change and never approved the light bulb.
Personal Critique and Views
Individualism is indeed dominant in most progressive Western countries. It does not imply that progress rests entirely on individualism, but Rand may have predicted a society where thinkers and innovators propel progress. In the modern period, this is actually the reality. Innovative institutions have grown in numbers to provide solutions to many challenges that our generation is facing. Unlike in the Anthem, the government of today has devised a mechanism where great minds can implement their ideas through technical and financial support. Things may have slightly deviated from what Rand has foreseen in this era. Between the two protagonists, Equality was the dominant character. Liberty was submissive which might draw attention to some feminist criticisms, to some extent.
Over-all, the title was somehow derived from a biblical point of view. It might be the reason why Rand drew some parallelism between the protagonists and Adam and Eve. But the moral of the novel does tell a lot about how humans will overcome boundaries just to fight for equality and liberty. Society may provide fake sources of happiness, but if self-actualization is achieved, there is a true and personal happiness that is always worth fighting for.