Anthem

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Light and the Light Bulb Symbol Analysis

Light and the Light Bulb Symbol Icon
Light is used throughout the book to symbolize Equality 7-2521’s individualistic spark. While his society as a whole is dismally conformist and restricted to candlelight, Equality 7-2521’s extraordinary motivation allows him to invent a groundbreaking form of light: the electric light bulb. The World Council of Scholars rejects Equality 7-2521’s invention because the Scholars’ collectivist sensibilities cannot accommodate this vital individualistic spark. This weakness condemns the collectivists to living in darkness, while Equality 7-2521’s strength and ingenuity permits him to live in the light. In one final bit of imagery, the house that will serve as Equality 7-2521’s bastion of egocentrism appears in the mountains with “white fire [coming] from the sun on[to] the glass of its windows.”

Light and the Light Bulb Quotes in Anthem

The Anthem quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light and the Light Bulb. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Individualism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Anthem published in 2014.
Chapter 3 Quotes

We, Equality 7-2521, have discovered a new power of nature. And we have discovered it alone, and we are alone to know it.

Related Symbols: Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Equality makes a monumental discovery--he discovers how to use electricity. Even though Equality lives in a society that forbids pride of any kind (since pride is an individualistic emotion), Equality cannot help but feel pride in his accomplishment--we can sense his self-satisfaction in the way he keeps repeating the word "alone."

It's significant that Rand's account of Equality's discovery of individualism places special emphasis on his scientific discoveries; i.e., his unique ideas. The cornerstone of Rand's defense of individualism is the principle that human beings own their selves and their ideas (of course, she also assumes that the average individual is exceptionally strong, intelligent, healthy, etc.). Equality's society disagrees, arguing that human beings "share" each other and each other's ideas. But as the passage makes clear, this society's beliefs are nonsensical: Equality discovered the power of electricity, and thus "owns" the moment and reality his discovery.

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No single one can possess greater wisdom than the many Scholars who are elected by all men for their wisdom. Yet we can. We do. We have fought against saying it, but now it is said. We do not care. We forget all men, all laws and all things save our metals and our wires. So much is still to be learned! So long a road lies before us, and what care we if we must travel it alone!

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars
Related Symbols: Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In Equality's society, all knowledge is controlled by a group of Scholars--a supposedly wise body of elders who control the sum of humanity's knowledge and wisdom. As Equality makes very clear, his own intelligence and wisdom now seems to outstrip that of the Scholars: where the Scholars believe that candles are the best light source, Equality has discovered that there's a much better one, the light bulb.

The passage draws a distinction between the philosophy of the Scholars--to accept the current state of knowledge and refuse to discover anything new--and that of Equality--to be curious and constantly discover new information. The irony of the "Scholars" is that their society is almost totally lacking in information--after the collapse of individualistic society, most of the human race's wisdom was lost forever. The Scholars should be seeking out new information in the hopes of improving their society, but instead, they discourage scientific experimentation or research of any kind (especially the kind practiced by Equality).

Chapter 5 Quotes

We made it. We created it. We brought it forth from the night of the ages. We alone. Our hands. Our mind. Ours alone and only.

Related Symbols: “We”, Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality completes work on his newest invention, the light bulb, and he feels a palpable sense of pride at having created such an important device.

As before, Rand uses the passage to define individualism as ownership of one's accomplishments. Despite the fact that Equality lives in a society in which everyone is understood to own everything equally, Equality--and he alone--created the light bulb. Moreover, Equality's sense of pride is a critical part of why he strove to create the light bulb. Rand's message is clear: it's impossible to have an innovative society without individual achievement, anchored in a sense of competition and pride. In Rand's view, collectivist societies like the Soviet Union tried to make important scientific discoveries, but ultimately failed because they didn't glorify individual achievement.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Tomorrow, in the full light of day, we shall take our box, and leave our tunnel open, and walk through the streets to the Home of the Scholars. We shall put before them the greatest gift ever offered to men. We shall tell them the truth. We shall hand to them, as our confession, these pages we have written. We shall join our hands to theirs, and we shall work together, with the power of the sky, for the glory of mankind.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”, Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Equality--armed with the knowledge of how to build a light bulb--prepares to go before the Home of the Scholars and present his findings. Equality is confident that the Scholars will recognize the obvious superiority of his light bulb over the humble candle.

Notice that Equality frames his expectations for the meeting with the Scholars in terms of "the glory of mankind." Even though Equality is in the process of discovering his own individuality, he's still acting out of a sincere desire to help other people. Rand uses this passage is disprove the notion that individualism is incompatible with generosity. Evidently, it's possible to be an individual and to help other people.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"What is not thought by all men cannot be true."

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

At the World Council of Scholars, Equality presents his discovery of the light bulb, only to be angrily criticized. The Scholars dislike Equality for daring to pursue scientific research on his own. Equality's behavior illustrates his individualism--and therefore it infuriates the Council.

The Scholars ignore the fact that Equality has discovered something that's useful to all people--instead, they focus on the fact that Equality has discovered his invention on his own. In this passage, the Scholars sum up their opposition to Equality's behavior: Equality has dared to think something new, and therefore, he must be lying.

The passage proves that Equality's society is against all human progress. The only way that a society can move forward is if individual people use their intelligence to discover new things. By denying people like Equality the right to do so, the Council is condemning society to an eternity of ignorance.

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Light and the Light Bulb Symbol Timeline in Anthem

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light and the Light Bulb appears in Anthem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Individualism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
...the materials he finds in his tunnel, including “globes of glass” (which are almost certainly light bulbs ), he concludes that men from the Unmentionable Times were familiar with this sort of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
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...device that he describes as a glass box housing a glowing wire—in other words, a light bulb . He begins to comprehend the scope of his discovery: men will be able to... (full context)
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
...the World Council of Scholars will meet in his City, and he will present his light bulb to them. He hopes that the Council will understand that his invention was worth the... (full context)
Chapter 6
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
...days have passed since Equality 7-2521’s last journal entry. On the night he created his light bulb , he forgot to watch his hourglass to make sure he returned to the City... (full context)
Chapter 7
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
...that he holds “the future of mankind” in his hands, and proceeds to demonstrate his light bulb . Once the device begins to work, the Scholars react in fear and cower against... (full context)
Chapter 9
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
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...he and the Golden One set up camp in a clearing and surround themselves with fires to prevent the wild animals from attacking them while they sleep. He resolves to one... (full context)
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
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...most profound joys have come from the solitary experiences he has had while creating his light bulb , and in his relationship with the Golden One. The delight he finds in solitude... (full context)
Chapter 10
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
...Cities. The house appeared to the two wanderers at sunrise, and the reflection of the sunlight in its windows made it appear to be aflame. The house is largely made up... (full context)
Chapter 12
Individualism Theme Icon
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Prometheus has learned that his light bulb relies on something the men from the Unmentionable Times called Electricity. He understands that the... (full context)