Ayn Rand’s novelette Anthem (1938) tells the story of one man’s rebellion against a totalitarian society. When the novel’s hero, Equality 7-2521, commits the unpardonable crime—independent thought—he sets himself in conflict with the moral strictures of his world—a world in which all expressions of individualism have been suppressed, where the very word “I” has been banished from the language—a world of joyless, selfless men permitted to exist only for the sake of serving the group.
Written in 1937, as “a kind of a rest” from work on her novel The Fountainhead, Anthem anticipates some of that novel’s themes. Anthem’s theme is the meaning and glory of man’s ego. Its style is unique among Ayn Rand’s works in that it is written in the form of a prose poem—an anthem to the ego.
Initially refused publication in America (one publisher rejected it on the grounds that “the author does not understand socialism”), Anthem was first published in England. An American edition appeared in 1946 and the novel remains in print to this day, widely used in classrooms across the United States.
Discussion Questions on Anthem
- In a world that places the good of society above all else, why is a man with a revolutionary invention that would benefit everyone forced to run for his life?
- Why is the hero willing to risk being burned at the stake in order to discover the meaning of the unspeakable word “I”?
- As fires ravaged the cities of the world at the close of the Unmentionable Times, what crucial values did men lose? What was gained or lost at the Dawn of the Great Rebirth of society?
- What does Equality 7-2521 discover in the Uncharted Forest that removes his original dread of the place?
- Compare the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden with the story of Equality 7-2521. For what “sins” were each condemned? In what ways are Equality 7-2521 and Adam similar? How do they differ?
- Anthem is set in a totalitarian future. But unlike the societies depicted in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, Anthem presents a future in which candles and glazed windows are the latest advances. What point about technology was Ayn Rand making by portraying such a primitive future, and how do the events of the story establish that point?
For each of the following quotations, explain its role in the story and its wider significance:
- “It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think.”
- “I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning.”
- “I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them.”
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