Anthem

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“We” Symbol Icon
Individuals in Equality 7-2521’s collectivist society are forbidden from thinking of themselves as individuals. The pronoun “I” is not only forbidden but unknown, and everyone must refer to him- or herself as “we” in order to ensure that all actions and self-conceptions are collective. Not surprisingly, this is Rand’s way of symbolizing the way in which collectivism destroys the individual will, which is, in her opinion, mankind’s most sacred and essential attribute. The Golden One is unable to truly experience love without the pronoun “I”—she is not content to tell Equality 7-2521 that “we love you.” At the book’s conclusion, Rand illustrates Equality 7-2521’s empowerment and self-realization with his acquisition of the pronoun “I.” This knowledge allows Equality 7-2521 to condemn the worship of “we,” which he argues has turned mankind into a weak and regressive race.

“We” Quotes in Anthem

The Anthem quotes below all refer to the symbol of “We”. 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 1 Quotes

It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Anthem begins with the main character, Equality 7-2521, claiming that it's sinful for him to be writing his own story. In Equality's society, individuality of any kind is seen as a hideous crime against humanity; therefore, writing something like a diary--something designed to be written and read by one person and only one person--is truly a sin.

Right away, then, Rand shows us that Equality is living in a dystopian society, one in which the freedom to think, to write, and to be alone are all under constant attack. Notice Equality's careful use of pronouns--even when he's talking about himself (one person) he uses the word "we," suggesting that Equality is so used to thinking in terms of the group that the notion of being an individual is utterly foreign to him.

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We were born with a curse. It has always driven us to thoughts which are forbidden. It has always given us wishes which men may not wish. We know that we are evil, but there is no will in us and no power to resist it. This is our wonder and our secret fear, that we know and do not resist.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rand poses a natural question: in a collectivist society, how does she choose a narrator? In other words, what makes Equality different from the people around him--why is he especially suited to write a book or be a hero of individuality? Rand answers her own question by showing that Equality is a naturally curious and adventurous person. Like so many other literary heroes, he feels a constant stirring to go out and explore the world. The difference between Equality and most other heroes of literature, however, is that Equality lives in a world where his curiosity is forbidden.

And questions give us no rest. We know not why our curse makes us seek we know not what, ever and ever. But we cannot resist it. It whispers to us that there are great things on this earth of ours, and that we can know them if we try, and that we must know them. We ask, why must we know, but it has no answer to give us. We must know that we may know.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality tries to describe the unique feeling of curiosity and individualism within himself. He tries to describe the feeling in many different ways--he compares it to a whispering voice, a curse, etc.

From our perspective, Equality's instinct is perfectly comprehensible--Equality is just a particularly adventurous, curious person. But because Equality lives in a collectivist society, he literally cannot find the words to describe his own state of mind. As in another famous dystopian novel, 1984 (see Background Info), Equality's world has rewritten the very rules of language to make it impossible for people to describe their sense of freedom and individualism. Quite literally, there is no "I," only "We."

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 9 Quotes

We looked into each other's eyes and we knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, and left us groping vainly. And we felt torn, torn for some word we could not find.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker), The Golden One
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Equality and The Golden One confess their love for one another--they say, "We love you," but notice that their words sound wrong. Equality and the Golden One feel that they have yet to become true individuals--they're still thinking in terms of the group, as evidenced by their use of the word "we."

In spite of the fact that Equality and The Golden One aren't yet complete individuals, the passage gives a vivid, almost religious account of the "miracle" of individualism. As Rand sees it, Equality has been blessed with an incredible gift--the gift to think for himself and pursue his own interests. Equality's story is a coming-of-age tale, in which he discovers his gift (the gift of individualism) and then proceeds to develop his gift to the point where he can utter the "sacred word" ("I") and become a true individual.

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“We” Symbol Timeline in Anthem

The timeline below shows where the symbol “We” appears in Anthem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
...an entry in Equality 7-2521’s journal. He always refers to himself using the second-person plural, “we,” and explains that his writing is sinful because it is for himself alone, and thinking... (full context)
Chapter 9
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
The Golden One tells Equality 7-2521, “we love you.” But something sounds wrong about that phrase, and she takes it back. She... (full context)
Chapter 11
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
...the “temple of his spirit,” and this temple should remain undisturbed by others. The word “we” represents a defilement of this temple. It is a monstrous thing to place the collective... (full context)
Chapter 12
Individualism Theme Icon
Collectivism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
“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... (full context)