Equality 7-2521 explains that he first encountered the word “I” in the first book he read in the house he discovered. Upon understanding what this word meant, he dropped the book and burst into tears. He cried both because he felt as though he had achieved salvation, and because he pitied the rest of mankind. The “curse” he had felt while a member of society was in fact his greatest attribute, and all of his transgressions were in fact his noblest features. He now comes to understand that the individualistic spirit of man cannot be defeated even by centuries of oppression.
Rand posits here that collectivism teaches the exact opposite of the impulses people need to healthily assert themselves as individuals. Equality 7-2521 was so brainwashed by collectivism that he thought his greatest strengths were a “curse.”
After reading for days, Equality 7-2521 summons the Golden One and tells her what he has learned. The first words she says to him are “I love you.” He responds by telling her that it is improper to live without names, and that they should pick names for themselves. From his readings, he chooses the name Prometheus, after the figure from Greek mythology who stole fire from the Gods and brought it to mankind. Prometheus suffered for this offense, as all who bear this sort of burden must.
Equality 7-2521’s redefinition of himself as Prometheus is a testament to the gift he has given humankind. Like Prometheus, who in Greek myth brought fire to humans, Equality 7-2521 has brought another sort of empowering illumination—electric lighting—to his people. The hard exile Equality 7-2521 must endure because of the collectivists’ ungratefulness parallels the punishment Prometheus receives for his transgression.
Equality 7-2521 has also read about Gaea, the mythological earth-mother. He gives the Golden One this name, saying that she will be the mother of a new race of gods. She accepts the name.
Again, the Golden One shows herself to be more of a passive character than her mate. By taking on the role of matriarch, she is actually—in a certain, narrow sense—being used as a tool for populating Prometheus’s individualistic society.
Equality 7-2521, now Prometheus, sees his future clearly before him. He is the successor to the Saint of the pyre—the man who was executed for speaking the Unspeakable Word. He will live in this house, earn his food through his own struggles, and earn his knowledge through his own study. Over time, this will allow him to replicate the achievements of the Unmentionable Times in ways that are impossible to his brothers, who remain chained to the weakest members of society.
Prometheus’s living situation represents Rand’s ideal for self-sufficiency and self-motivated accomplishment.
Prometheus has learned that his light bulb relies on something the men from the Unmentionable Times called Electricity. He understands that the house was powered by this technology and will endeavor to repair the wiring and light fixtures. He will use his understanding to protect his house with wires and light, and his mind will be his defense against others.
This realization places Prometheus as a clear successor to other individualistic thinkers. Rand’s implication here is that only individualists will be able to maintain, and improve upon, the advances their individualistic forebears have pioneered. If later generations stray into collectivism, the world will plunge into another dark age.
Gaea is pregnant with a child, and Prometheus says he will teach his son to live as a man and speak “I” proudly. After Prometheus has read the books in the house and established his home, he will return to the City where he was born and seek out his comrades, like International 4-8818. Prometheus will try to convince these people to come to his homestead with him, and together they will “write the first chapter in the new history of man.”
It is difficult to say decisively whether Prometheus’s plan to liberate his peers from collectivist mindlessness in the Cities is an individualistic effort, or an act bolstered by underlying altruism and concern for others.
“Freedom,” to Prometheus, simply requires that man be free from his brothers. At first, men were enslaved by Gods, then by kings, and then by attachments of family or race. Over time, though, this enslavement was broken when mankind realized that each individual had inalienable rights independent of his fellow man. However, when people began to worship the concept of “We,” they lost these achievements and became weak and spineless.
Here, Rand outlines what she sees as a clear, positive progression in human sophistication across history. As individuals become more delineated from groups, and their obligations to others diminish, their powers grow commensurately.
Prometheus ponders how such greatness in human spirit could have faded to such cowardliness, but knows from his time in the City that men can willingly bring horrible misfortunes upon themselves. He imagines that there may have been a courageous group of men who resisted collectivism, and salutes their heroic struggle. He vows to continue this struggle, to prove that the spirit of man can never be broken, despite whatever darkness it is forced to endure. Prometheus’s mountaintop fortress will be the center of a new society that will one day reclaim the world from the collectivist Councils. He will fight for the freedom, dignity, and honor of mankind. There is one word, Prometheus concludes, that will never die. That sacred word, he says, is “ego.”
Prometheus’s final vision is an excellent outline of Ayn Rand’s vision for her own philosophy. By preaching Objectivism and egocentrism, she likely saw herself as liberating her followers and bestowing upon them the freedom, dignity, and honor they lacked while they subscribed to collectivism. It is significant that Rand picked a word with such a negative connotation—“ego”—to serve as Prometheus’s “sacred word.” This choice may be meant to show that people still possess internalized biases against individualism; once “ego” and “egotism” do not sound like pejorative concepts, Rand will be further on her way towards crafting her ideal society.