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Individualism Theme Analysis

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Without a doubt, individualism is the core theme of Anthem. The entire text is essentially a parable designed to illustrate the paramount importance of Ayn Rand's idea of individual will. The plot chronicles Equality 7-2521’s evolution from a brainwashed, faceless drone in a dismal authoritarian state; to a self-sufficient, creative, and powerful man living outside of the system that oppressed him. The key catalyst of Equality 7-2521’s liberation is his self-reliance. Even though his society discourages it, Equality 7-2521 gradually begins to act more and more in his own self-interest, instead of bowing to the arbitrary demands imposed upon him. At first, pursuing his passion for scientific discovery registers to Equality 7-2521 as an “evil” act, but he learns to feel unashamed of his strength, intelligence, and creativity and slowly begins to develop as an individual.

Throughout the novel, Equality 7-2521 refers to himself using the first-person plural, we,” highlighting the way that his collectivist society has eliminated the deep-rooted concept of selfhood. As Equality 7-2521 and his individualistic lover, the Golden One, progress through the awakenings of their individual egos, they begin to grasp the concept of the “I,” and feel “torn, torn for some word we could not find.” Finally, Equality 7-2521’s triumph over collectivist oppression is his realization and embrace of the word “I.” The last chapter of the book is dedicated to praising individualism, delivered in the first person. In this chapter, Equality 7-2521 states Rand’s central message: “My happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.” While Equality 7-2521’s anti-individualist society had unhealthily and unnaturally quashed his impulses to assert himself, he has finally found true empowerment in the strength of his own ego. “Ego,” to both Rand and her protagonist, represents “the word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory.” Equality 7-2521’s empowering evolution into an individualist illustrates that no matter what oppressive, depersonalizing conditions are imposed on mankind, the strength of the individual ego will always prevail one way or another.

Individualism ThemeTracker

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Individualism Quotes in Anthem

Below you will find the important quotes in Anthem related to the theme of Individualism.
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."

International 4-8818 and we are friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends. So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know. We know, when we look into each other's eyes. And when we look thus without words, we both know other things also, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frighten us.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker), International 4-8818
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

As a young man, Equality befriends a man named International 4-8818. In Equality's society, friendship of any kind is a sin, because it violates the principles of collectivism: to be friends with somebody is to prefer them to other people, and therefore to disrespect the basic rules of collectivism.

In general, the passage paints a picture of the contrast between individualism and collectivism. In spite of the fact that Equality's society strives to wipe out all traces of individuality by rewriting the rules of language itself, Equality continues to feel individualistic inclinations. Even if there's no word for the bond between himself and International, both he and International feel the bond. Society may try to wipe out individual thought and love, but in the end, Equality's individualism wins out.

And yet there is no shame in us and no regret. We say to ourselves that we are a wretch and a traitor. But we feel no burden upon our spirit and no fear in our heart. And it seems to us that our spirit is clear as a lake troubled by no eyes save those of the sun. And in our heart -- strange are the ways of evil! -- in our heart there is the first peace we have known in twenty years.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Together, Equality and International discover a secret tunnel. They agree to keep all information about the tunnel to themselves, despite the fact that keeping secrets of any kind is a sin--a violation of collectivism. Henceforth, Equality sneaks into the tunnel and spends time alone. Although Equality feels that he is disobeying the rules of society, he's exhilarated nonetheless.

In one sense, it's clear that Equality's shame at keeping a secret from his society is absurd; Equality has been conditioned to believe in a botched morality, in which individualism of any kind is condemned. In a more general sense, the passage shows Rand's belief that personal morality is the only true morality. Equality has been brought up to believe in a certain set of rules of right and wrong--rules that are simply not true, he finds. Rand celebrates Equality for ignoring society's rules and listening to his own instincts, no matter what.

Chapter 2 Quotes

We do not wonder at this new sin of ours. It is our second Transgression of Preference, for we do not think of all our brothers, as we must, but only of one, and their name is Liberty 5-3000. We do not know why we think of them. We do not know why, when we think of them, we feel of a sudden that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live.

Related Characters: The Golden One
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Almost right away, Equality becomes interested in a woman named Liberty 5-3000. Although Equality lacks the proper terminology to describe his own emotions, we can tell that he's falling in love with Liberty.

The passage defines Rand's most basic critique of the collectivist society. A society that celebrates unity and group identity violates mankind's most basic emotion--love--by substituted a bland, vanilla "love for one's fellow man" for genuine interpersonal love. In spite of society's prohibitions on love, Equality continues to feel attracted to Liberty, suggesting that ultimately, the human spirit and basic instincts are stronger than society's clumsy attempts to censor freedom and individual identity.

And as we look upon the Uncharted Forest far in the night, we think of the secrets of the Unmentionable Times. And we wonder how it came to pass that these secrets were lost to the world. We have heard the legends of the great fighting, in which many men fought on one side and only a few on the other. These few were the Evil Ones and they were conquered. Then great fires raged over the land. And in these fires the Evil Ones were burned. And the fire which is called the Dawn of the Great Rebirth, was the Script Fire where all the scripts of the Evil Ones were burned, and with them all the words of the Evil Ones. Great mountains of flame stood in the squares of the Cities for three months. Then came the Great Rebirth.

Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Equality explains some of the basic elements of his society's history. Some time in the distant past, Equality knows, society was wicked and individualistic. Society's individualism led it to perish--there was some kind of great war, which resulted in "fire" (seemingly of burning books) and destruction. From the ashes of the old, sinful world, a new world was born, one in which individualism of any kind was strictly forbidden.

The passage is important because it illustrates the limitations of Equality's society. Instead of learning from the wisdom of the past, Equality's society chooses to ignore the past almost completely; to reject all the "secrets" of individualistic society (science, technology, medicine, art, etc.). The passage is also interesting in that it describes history in an almost religious way, suggesting Rand's critique of religion itself. (Notice that the "Great Rebirth" comes after 3 months of burning, perhaps an allusion to Christ's resurrection after three days.) Perhaps all religions, Rand suggests, are designed to control people by filling them with fear and inspiring a naive confidence in the status quo.

But it seemed to us that the eyes of the Transgressor had chosen us from the crowd and were looking straight upon us. There was no pain in their eyes and no knowledge of the agony of their body. There was only joy in them, and pride, a pride holier than it is fit for human pride to be.

Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality here describes his memory of a man who was executed for daring to speak the "forbidden word," a word so hateful that it undermines everything that Equality's society stands for. Strangely, Equality's memory of the man's execution is inspiring, not frightening. The man--whom Equality calls "the Transgressor"--was not afraid of his death; instead, he approached death with a courageous sense of calm.

Equality's description of the Transgressor makes him sound like a saint--a martyr for freedom and individualism. Moreover, the very fact that speaking a single word is a capital offense in Equality's society illustrates how fragile and incompetent this society really is: the rulers of Equality's world are so frightened of any trace of individuality that they have no choice but to execute people like the Transgressor and hope that other citizens don't follow his example.

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.

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.

We stretch out our arms. For the first time do we know how strong our arms are. And a strange thought comes to us: we wonder, for the first time in our life, what we look like. Men never see their own faces and never ask their brothers about it, for it is evil to have concern for their own faces or bodies. But tonight, for a reason we cannot fathom, we wish it were possible to us to know the likeness of our own person.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality feels a strong desire to know what he looks like. In spite of the fact that he lives in a society where individualism of any kind is despised, Equality is becoming increasingly aware of his self; i.e., he's becoming conscious that he is a unique person, distinct from the society in which he lives.

It's crucial to note that Equality first becomes curious about what he looks like after he invents the light bulb. Equality feels a sense of pride in his scientific accomplishments, and even more importantly, he becomes aware that someone created the lightbulb--Equality himself. In short, Rand defines individualism in terms of intellectual action. A true individual is someone like Equality, who uses his mind to create something new. As Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." Equality creates the lightbulb; therefore he is an individual.

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

"A Street Sweeper! A Street Sweeper walking in upon the World Council of Scholars! It is not to be believed! It is against all the rules and all the laws!"

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars (speaker), Equality 7-2521
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality presents his light bulb before the Home of the Scholars, but to his amazement, the Scholars don't celebrate Equality's invention; on the contrary, they consider it dangerous and pointless. Here, the Scholars condemn Equality for daring to appear before the Scholars--Equality is just a humble Street Sweeper, who should know his place.

Up to this point, it was possible to believe that Equality's society was sincerely committed to the principles of equality and cooperation. Here, however, it becomes clear that the opposite is true. Whatever lip-service Equality's society pays to equality, it's obvious that the Scholars look down on certain people in society for being inferior. Equality's society is hypocritical: it claims to treat all people equally, and yet clearly doesn't.

The irony of the scene is that Equality is "more Catholic than the Pope"--in other words, he's more committed to helping other people than the Scholars themselves. Equality wants to use his lightbulb for the betterment of mankind--something the Scholars angrily forbid. Ultimately, Rand uses this passage to illustrate the contradictions of a collectivist society: the only society that can truly use its power to help its own people is a society that celebrates individual achievement.

Chapter 8 Quotes

We sat still and we held our breath. For our face and our body were beautiful. Our face was not like the faces of our brothers, for we felt no pity when looking upon it. Our body was not like the bodies of our brothers, for our limbs were straight and thin and hard and strong. And we thought that we could trust this being who looked upon us from the stream, and that we had nothing to fear with this being.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality--newly escaped from his society--walks through the forest and stumbles upon a stream. In the stream, Equality sees his own reflection--it's the first time he's ever seen what he looks like. To Equality's delight, he is strong and handsome.

While Equality's behavior might seem vain (indeed, it's the very definition of "narcissism," as it echoes the Greek myth of Narcissus falling in love with his reflection), Rand is trying to make a different point. Equality has been living in a collectivist society for so long that any love for his own body, his own intelligence, and his own talent was forbidden. Therefore, it's crucial for Equality to recognize his own worth: as the passage makes very clear, he's no longer playing by his society's rules.

Indeed, Rand celebrates Equality's egotism and arrogance, and suggests that if we want to criticize him as vain then we are thinking collectively. As Rand was fond of saying, the modern world discourages people from taking pride in their own abilities--a slippery slope that, she claimed, will end in a totally collectivist society, of the kind on view in Anthem. (This doesn't speak to those who aren't naturally beautiful, strong, brilliant, and curious, however.)

Chapter 9 Quotes

We have broken the law, but we have never doubted it. Yet now, as we walk through the forest, we are learning to doubt.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality, now escaped from collectivist society for good, begins to think critically about the rules he's grown up with. Since he was a baby, Equality has been taught to think in terms of the group--to distrust any kind of selfishness or self-interest. Although we've seen Equality disobey the laws of his society, Equality has still always thought of these laws as being correct. Now that he's abandoned society altogether, Equality begins to realize that his former society's laws were never right--individuality and curiosity aren't sins at all.

The passage establishes doubt as one of the most important weapons for individualism. Nobody in Equality's society questioned society's rules, precisely because everyone believed in these rules. Rand advocates the practice of systematic doubt--the constant questioning of the ideas people are supposed to take for granted. As Equality begins to question the philosophy of collectivism and groupthink, he sees it for what it is: a pack of lies.

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.

Chapter 10 Quotes

And now we look upon the earth and sky. This spread of naked rock and peaks and moonlight is like a world ready to be born, a world that waits. It seems to us it asks a sign from us, a spark, a first commandment. We cannot know what word we are to give, nor what great deed this earth expects to witness. We know it waits. It seems to say it has great gifts to lay before us, but it wishes a greater gift from us. We are to speak. We are to give its goal, its highest meaning to all this glowing space of rock and sky.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality and his companion, The Golden One, look out into the wilderness and feel a sense of deep excitement. As Equality sees it, the natural world (the rocks, the moonlight, etc.) belongs to him and The Golden One--it's crying out to be "dominated" by human beings. Rand even suggests that the very "meaning" of the world is to be run by the human race.

Throughout the novel, Rand has argued that human beings own themselves and their ideas. Here, Rand offers an interesting corollary to her own theory of individualism: human beings own the world as well as themselves. Humans have been blessed with the gifts of self-consciousness and intellectual freedom--they must use their unique gifts to explore the natural world and place it under their control.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: "I will it!"

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 78-79
Explanation and Analysis:

In this dramatic passage, Equality claims that the only sacred words are "I will it." Equality's claim is interesting for a number of reasons.

1) The passage represents one of the first times in the novel that Equality uses the word "I." Up until now, Equality has thought in terms of the group. Here, though, he's beginning to stretc" his individualist muscles, thinking of himself as a unique, independent being--and he has finally learned the forbidden word and begun to apply it to himself.

2) The passage also reinforces the importance of freedom ("will"). It is not enough for human beings to be individuals; they must use their individuality to achieve specific actions, exercising their own unique freedom in the process. All human beings (even the human beings in Equality's society) have the capacity to be free individuals, but only those who choose to exercise their free will can truly be called individual. (This is also an echo of the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, in which the "will to power" is the most important part of achieving fulfillment in life.)

3) By the same token, the passage reminds us that individualism is an act, not just a state of mind. Over the course of the novel, Equality gets in touch with his individuality by discovering the light bulb, fleeing from the Council, etc.--in other words, by thinking his own thoughts and acting as he sees fit. As Rand believed, there are many people who know that they're individuals but lack the courage to exercise their free will by being truly original.

My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Equality comes to see that human happiness is its own purpose--an idea that's more complicated than it might seem at first. Equality's discovery rebuts a long philosophical tradition that argues that happiness must itself be a means to some other, higher goal.

Here, Rand uses Equality as a mouthpiece to articulate her own philosophical system Objectivism. As Rand argued in her other writings, all religions and ideologies make the same basic mistake: they trivialize human happiness and deify some other value, be it God, wealth, cooperation, wisdom, etc. The problem with religions and ideologies, then, is that they can be used to reduce individual happiness in favor of another value. (For example, Rand argued that Christianity tries to make human happiness appear less important than loyalty to God.)  For Rand, the cornerstone of any system of philosophy must be the idea that individual happiness is the highest good--indeed, protecting the principle of human happiness is the only way to respect individualism.

Chapter 12 Quotes

And here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, should we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory. The sacred word: EGO

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 88-89
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Equality finally discovers the "sacred word" that defines all human greatness--ego. Ego, which is Latin for "I," is the cornerstone of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. By the same token, it's also the cornerstone of Equality's way of life--his most important duty is protecting his own happiness and his own freedom. Each human has been given ownership of his own mind and body, and, according to Rand, humans must never sacrifice such gifts for the sake of the group (as in Equality's former society).

It's important to note that Equality's tone here borders on the messianic (notice that the final sentences of the novel echo the Lord's Prayer, "for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory ..." Where Christianity worships God, Equality (and Rand) worships ego--the miraculous, almost divine gift with which all human beings are blessed.