When tyrannical governments are in charge of societies, they must eradicate possible threats to their power at all costs in order to remain in power. Underlying dangers to the power of such governments can be as common as the relationship between families in the society, which the authoritative power must take extensive measures to remove. In the book Anthem, Ayn Rand shares the story of Equality 7-2521, a man living in a totalitarian society that separates children from their parents at birth, and prevents all formations of relationships considerably close to familial ties. Despite these conditions, Equality forms relationships that defy the ideas of the government and further assert why tyrannical leaders in power would wish to isolate citizens from forming relationships or familial connections. In the book Anthem, Ayn Rand asserts that a dictatorial leader would enforce an isolated living style in order to instill their laws in citizens from a young age to prevent a decline in zeal for the government and to ultimately inhibit the formation of a sole identity.
Initially in the novel, Rand demonstrates how totalitarian societies separate children from their families in order to raise them according to their own principles. More specifically, when Equality 7-2521 was born, he, and all the other children his age, were immediately taken to the Home of Infants and were brought up by Teachers that severely enforced the moralities of the Council. Growing up with the Teachers was difficult for Equality due to his inability to blend with the other children, which resulted in additional punishment for him. He describes, “we were lashed more often than all the other children” (Rand 22). Equality was lashed more frequently than others due to his inability to lesser himself and behave identical to his peers. The Teachers that raised him were easily able to identify that he was an outlier whose behavior would be problematic to the ideals of their society, so they saw it necessary to reprimand him cruelly. Equality’s frequent lashing demonstrate how when one’s behavior is being monitored closely, it is easier to identify faults that need to be corrected to adhere to a certain ideal. Later, Equality elaborates on the principles that were instilled on him since he was born. He says, “’if you are not needed by your brother men, there is no reason for you to burden the earth with your bodies.’ We knew this well, in the years of our childhood”(Rand 22). Equality reflects that he understands and is very familiar with this principle of the Council and Teachers. When he was young, he was consistently reminded that his existence was meaningless if not for the greater good of the society. Through Equality’s thorough understanding of the principles of the Council even at a young age, it demonstrates how when one is raised by an overbearing authority, they receive a solid foundation of the rules and what is expected of them.
Later in the book, Ayn Rand shows how dictatorial leaders choose to isolate people from relationships to prevent a decline in fanaticism for the government. More specifically, the preference of relationship that Equality 7-2521 forms with International 4-8818 and Liberty 5-3000poses a threat to the power of the totalitarian society he lives in. When Equality describes his first friendship with International 4-8818, he depicts it negatively and says, “it is 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” (Rand 30). The formation of a relationship is portrayed undesirably by Liberty because he is ordered to have equal love for all members of society. The friendship he has with International 4-8818 is unlawful because the Council is dependent upon identical affection for the members of a society as a whole rather than unbalancing the affection and favoring it towards one person, lessening the power of the government. Through Equality’s preference towards International 4-8818, it is shown how the formation of relationships is undesirable in despotic cultures because it lessens the passions of the people towards the government. Later on, Equality forms a relationship with Liberty 5-3000, and when he is forced to leave the city, she follows him and says “we shall follow you wherever you go. If danger threatens you, we shall face it also. If it be death, we shall die with you. You are damned, and we wish to share your damnation”(Rand 82). Liberty 5-3000 abandoned the rest of society, and is willing to risk all possible repercussions for her relationship with Equality. The relationship that Equality has formed with Liberty 5-3000 has caused her to prioritize their relationship over the punishments she could receive from the government. When Liberty 5-3000 places greater importance on her relationship with Equality rather than the values of society, it demonstrates how the affections in a relationship can generate the power to overcome imposed ideas and lessen the prominence of a tyrannous government.
Lastly in the novel, Rand shows how individuals are isolated from the formation of relationships and familial ties to inhibit the creation of an identity. In the case of Equality 7-2521, once he has begun to start a family with Liberty 5-3000, he proclaims that he will raise his child will have full awareness of the idea of the self. After Equality learns the concept of having an ego, he promises that he announces the ideals that his future family with Liberty will be built upon. Equality elaborates that his “son will be raised as a man. He will be taught to say ‘I’ and to bear the pride of it. He will be taught to walk straight and on his own feet. He will be taught reverence for his own spirit”(Rand 100). Equality asserts that his future offspring will have a full understanding of their own ego and will be taught to bear their individuality with pride. Previously, Equality had grown in a society void of families and use of the personal pronoun “I”, but now that he has developed both, he refuses to let future generations advance without a full appreciation of their own identity. Through Equality’s determination to raise his children to their fullest potential self, it shows how the relationship of a family is capable of setting a standard defying the government and children are able to identify with.
Autocratic leaders are likely to implement living styles where people are separated from their families and relationships in order to implant their philosophies in citizens from a young age so that the fanaticism for their rule will last, and to eradicate the possibility of people forming their own identity. When people are taken from their families at a young age they are easily manipulated by people running the government. The government must act with coercion and isolationism to prevent relationships and familial ties from threatening their power. When oppressive totalitarian governments head societies, the citizens may be oppressed and threatened but they hold significant power in their bonds with one another, and are ultimately able to challenge tyrannical authority with relationships.
Ayn Rand in Context
Ayn Rand, an influential American novelist and philosopher, endeavored to offer her readers a new perspective on life’s meaning. Growing up as a Jew in a communist country, Rand struggled to find her place in society and, therefore, matured as an anti-communist citizen in her move to the United States (Murray). In her works, she signifies self-importance, highlighting the wrongs of communism for overlooking citizens, and for acknowledging them as a collective rather than as individuals. Rand often caricatures communism as a means of preventing individuals from achieving their hopes and dreams. By conveying this message to her audience, the author encourages a society based on self-work, one that is capitalistic. Through this theme of self-work, Rand’s pieces incorporate her views on the importance of the struggle between the individual and society, calling attention to the enlightenment of self-learning.
Rand expresses her animosity towards communism in a variety of ways throughout her works. In Atlas Shrugged, the protagonists, the capitalists, escape communism to build a society revolving around their own economic views (Mallon). Here, Rand directly promotes individualism by presenting the happiness and success of these individuals in a society of self-growth, a characteristic that was not present in a communistic state. Equality 7-2521’s banishment as a result of learning and innovating in Anthem also shows the author’s powerful anti-communistic mind-set, as Rand supports individualism as a form of self-satisfaction and success (Cox). The main character’s despair in his society, much like the despair that appears in Atlas Shrugged, demonstrates the incapability of communism to permit individuals to reach their full potential and achieve a state of genuine contentment. Illuminating this thought, Rand’s characters rebel against society, finding in capitalism an escape from the seemingly evil world that is communism. Atlas Shrugged uses a relatively direct approach to promote capitalism, as the characters seek happiness through building a capitalistic economy while on strike against the world, creating their own utopian heaven (Clardy). This approach strikingly opposes communism, as Rand blatantly argues that capitalism is superior, providing the protagonists with a sense of joy that was not previously achieved. In Anthem, a more indirect approach for promoting capitalism is used as Rand displays Equality 7-2521’s happiness in a home where he can learn what he wants to learn, separating himself from society to flourish as a unique individual. Rand noticeably supports the notion that success, not only for society as a whole but for each individual as well, is achieved when each man works for himself. Her works illustrate that this goal can only be reached in a society where individuals are encouraged to work for themselves, one that is clearly not communistic.
In portraying her revulsion from communism, Rand argues that success and happiness sprout from self-learning. As stated in Atlas Shrugged, “Everything he needs or desires has to be learned, discovered and produced by him–by his choice, by his own effort, by his own mind (LaBlanc and Milne).” The author encourages individuals to pursue their dreams, but to do so alone. The quote clearly emphasizes “him,” but no one else. Growing up in a society based off of working for one’s brother, essentially sharing all the wealth, Rand rebelled against this seemingly absurd concept. Her characters do the same, questioning why they are not fulfilling their hopes and dreams. This thought was clearly at the root of her growing objectivist philosophy, which maintains that the sole purpose of life is to work towards one’s own self-happiness (Thomas). In Anthem, genius Equality 7-2521 is forced to learn in secret, as he is prohibited from doing so in the city’s House of Scholars. Yet, in his new home, he teaches himself to read and absorbs the meaning of the word “I”. Rand deepens her theme of self-learning in this novella by showing the self-satisfaction achieved by the protagonist upon learning to think for himself. After the time and dedication he puts into learning everything in his new library, he literally discovers himself as an individual, finally referring to himself as “I” rather than “we” (Cox). This mode of reference ties into Rand’s objectivist philosophy once again as she illuminates individual rights under a new light, promoting opportunities for everyone to learn, succeed, and attain full potential. By doing so, she further argues that laissez-faire capitalism is the only way these rights can be embodied, rendering the government uninvolved in the personal affairs of the people.
The struggle of individual versus society further conveys the author’s anti-communistic beliefs. This conflict escalates in Atlas Shrugged when protagonist John Galt rebels against the system of corruption that has taken over the world: communism. Through her anti-communistic sentiment intertwined with her objectivist philosophy, Rand intensifies Galt’s struggle, his condition of being the only outcast in society for favoring capitalist policies. Many other characters, who eventually end up siding with the willful protagonist, also feel as though they face society without support (LaBlanc and Milne). Although all these characters end up joining forces, Rand stresses that individuals face their own struggles alone, even if their neighbors go through the same processes. In the journey to individualism, Rand considers this personal battle an important step, one that teaches people how to help themselves rather than to rely on others. Equality 7-2521 faces a similar struggle in Anthem. Although other characters despise the extreme communist life-style they face, as is evident through the screams in their sleep, Equality 7-2521 is the only one to rebel. He runs away from civilization, reads books to educate himself, and discovers his own reflection in a mirror (Cox). Through this process, the protagonist educates himself not only about the world around him, but also about himself. Equality 7-2521’s seclusion grants him an opportunity to reflect on life, pondering who he truly is as a person, rather than his role as a member of a collective society. Rand makes it evident through both pieces of literature that the first step on the path to individualism is isolation. As they escape their respective communities, John Galt and Equality 7-2521 learn to appreciate their distinct transformations, introducing themselves to a society largely premised on working to fulfill the individual’s aspirations.
Ayn Rand’s powerful anti-communistic sentiment strongly impacts her writings, as she uses it as a form of obstruction in her character’s daily lives. Her common themes of individual versus society and the importance of self-work further highlight her promotion of capitalism as a means of achieving success and happiness. Her protagonists face their own individual struggles in which they are forced to learn how to work and fight for themselves, not their brothers. Rand’s rough childhood in a communistic society was a guiding factor in her objectivist philosophy, leading her to promote the pursuit of one’s own happiness. By shedding light on this inspiring viewpoint, Rand influences her readers to live life in just this manner and encourages them to build societies as different as possible from the communist system that she experienced.
The Merit of Ipseity
José Martí once asserted that “The first duty of a man is to think for himself.” When society favors mindless obedience over independent thinking, ego, forward progress, and knowledge all but disappear. Indubitably, objectivism is vital for humankind to persist and prosper. In her novella, Anthem, Rand advocates her philosophy of objectivism through Equality’s aspiration, value in realism, and the triumph of the individual.
With rational self-interest being a key principle of objectivism, aspiration supplies the individual with an objective to pursue in life. Contrastingly, unconditional allocentricity and submissiveness resonate a sense of meaningless and the inability to live one’s life to the fullest. In Anthem, the egregious collectivism subjugates the population to relinquish all desires in favor of laboring for the prosperity of society; “There is no life for men, save in useful toil for the good of their brothers. But we lived not, when we toiled for our brothers, we were only weary. There is no job for men, save the job shared with all their brothers” (Rand 86). Consequently, the notion of pursuing one’s own interests is an utterly foreign concept. However, through valuing objectivism and thusly the pursuit of happiness, Equality endows himself with the will to defy the decrees of the society and to fulfill his yearning of knowledge. When Equality questions the unstoppable curse and evil that drives him to “thoughts which are forbidden”, he fails to realize that it in fact represents his intention to put nothing above his inquisitiveness. This passion instills in Equality the power of martyrdom; the strength of his will to bestow upon mankind the gift of electricity is enough to conquer the pain of punishment. No number of lashes and scars can drive this lust out of him, for it is immortal. Furthermore, it is his ambition that prompts him and gives him the energy to free society from the grasps of subjectivism; “I … shall build our new land and our fort. And it will become as the heart of the earth … I shall break all the chains of the earth, and raze the cities of the enslaved … and each man will be free to exist for his own sake” (Rand 104). It is the will to achieve that prompts Equality to hold Prometheus as a figurehead; holding the individual as paramount, he resolves to bring the light of truth to society. Without ambition, there is no direction, no hope, and no life.
As is conventional with dystopias, deception is naturally prevalent in Equality’s society, which highlights the indispensablity of objectivism. As the paramount concern of the World Council is to eradicate everything that evidences the sole enemy, independent judgment and choice, a subjective society has been established to suppress the truth. Hence, reality has become a principle built upon collective perception, which is regarded as infallible, instead of reason or logic; “We learned that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it, which causes the day and the night … We learned how to bleed men to cure them of ailments” (Rand 23). The populace accepts this deception to the extent that they believe the rising of the sun and existence itself are wholly dependent on the of the World Council. Furthermore, as a result of the subjective emphasis, forward progress is impossible; because reality and knowledge are internal and influenced in the mind, comprehensive education and free access to information are regarded as unnecessary and thus nonexistent. Ergo, nobody, not even the Scholars, has the ability to achieve anything consequential. Correspondingly, all past knowledge has been purposely forgotten, branded as incorrect in relation to the accepted contemporary understanding of reality; not only has society not ameliorated, but it has regressed into a technologically backward dark age; one devoid of electricity, a resource almost as fundamental as water. Hence, objectivity is especially crucial as it permits one to distinguish between false and true based solely on the facts of reality, which is impossible to alter. Equality defies the established understanding that existence is purely in the mind and instead seeks to extract knowledge from the world around him; his vocation, science, eminently demonstrates his reality-orientation. He seeks to understand himself, his society, and human nature, by not only identifying what he perceives, but by continually expanding on this understanding; “We have learned things which are not in the scripts … of which the Scholars have no knowledge … we wish … to feel as if with each day our sight were growing sharper than the hawk’s and clearer than the rock crystal” (Rand 36). In carefully recording his observations and piecing facts together into a conceptual whole, Equality utilises both concept formation and inductive logic to obtain knowledge. Indeed, objectivism is the education that allows him to rid incorrect convention and reestablish reality, piece by piece.
Individualism is the essence of mankind, permitting personal independence, exploration, and development. However, under the misguided governance of collective morality, Equality’s society regards the concept of ego as anathema. Driven by the illusion of a greater good, not only does it restrict thought, speech, and will, but it castigates nonconformity. As is evident through the inscription over the portals of the World Council and the absence of the word “I”, the subjects in Anthem are cautioned not that independence is evil, but that it is impossible; “The word ‘We’ is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it … It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages” (Rand 97). In essence, when society values collectivism, it defrauds mankind of the ability to feel joy, accomplishment, or any other moral feeling that accompanies being. Auspiciously, it is the individual that ultimately prevails. Objectivism secures the liberty and rights of the individual and frees him to act as he likes, under the pretension of pursuing happiness and productive achievement as his absolute. Accordingly, the triumph of the individual frees Equality from the chains of collectivism. He need no longer endeavor for the sake of toiling for society, but only for his own happiness and achievement. He need no longer restrain his natural desire to express affection or happiness, for they are key to living a rich, fulfilling and independent life. Moreover, he, who is proactive and diligent, need no longer obey and share his fruition with the frail and shiftless that is society. Each person is a single entity with a unique value who is not governed by any force but himself; “It is my eyes which see … it is my eyes which hear … it is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will that chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict that I must respect” (Rand 94). Consequently, each is equal in the sense that no man lives for anyone but himself. Yet, above all, individualism brings with it progress; when the individual is free to experiment with himself and his environment, what he can achieve is limitless. The stark contrast between the modernist architecture, abundance of literature, and sophisticated technologies of the Unmentionable Times and the present evidences only a fragment of the scope of achievement possible. Just as wisdom perished when man established collectivism, Equality sets himself to recover it with the guidance of individualism. Withal, through objectivism, the individual is unconditionally liberated.
In the form of passion, judgment, and ego, objectivism supplies Equality with the spirit to liberate himself and his companions from the deceit and immorality of subjectivism. Objectivism frees man to think, feel, and will for himself, and to distinguish himself from others. Those who choose to conform and subserve are mere faceless wastes intimidated and silenced by the collective. Truly, a man who is unable to think for himself is not a man at all.
The Evolution of Equality: A Self-Liberated Character
Anthem by Ayn Rand encourages readers to delve into the possibilities of a society devoid of human characteristics. The story is based in a society that worships collectivism, causing everyone to be the same, and raised as if they were livestock. There are no choices, no preferences and no emotions, the citizens only need to work for the good of their brothers. However, the main character, Equality, is different. Equality feels emotions and has preferences and wants to make choices for himself. When he first discovered that he was different, he was scared and he wished to be the same as the rest of his brothers. As the book progresses, Equality learns to accept his differences and goes through many changes of thinking. Equality changes throughout Anthem by; learning to love, embracing his curiosity, accepting himself, and finding his passion.
First of all, throughout the novel Equality learns how to and what it means to love. Equality meets a girl named Liberty while out doing his job as a street sweeper. Equality was immediately captivated by her, “And the following day… we kept our eyes upon Liberty 5-3000 in the field. And each day thereafter” (39). This shows that each time Equality saw Liberty, he was drawn to her. He had been taught his whole life not to take notice of women. Yet, he still took time away from his job, time that could have been spent contributing to his society, to stare and unintentionally fall in love with Liberty. Later in the novel, Equality’s love for Liberty becomes more evident, “We seized their body and we pressed our lips to theirs… had never known what joy is possible to men” (83). This shows that Equality changed because at this point in the book is is made plainly obvious that he loves Liberty and that he is learning what love is. Also, there is no previous knowledge of Equality being taught what kissing was or means or even how to express love for an individual. This leads readers to believe that Equality was acting on instinct and embracing the emotions he feels for Liberty.
Another way that Equality changes throughout the novel is that he embraces his curiosity. Equality has always been curious and questioned the things around him. This is considered a crime in Equality’s society, unless a person is chosen for the job of Scholar. Equality wishes to be free to ask questions and explore the secrets of his world so he holds on to the hope that maybe he will become a Scholar. Equality expounds, “We wished to be a Scholar” (25). However, when Equality does not get chosen to be a Scholar, he does not let it get him down. Instead, he discovers a secret tunnel where he is free to perform experiments and embrace any and all questions that he has. What Equality does in his tunnel is considered a crime and he knows it. Equality knows that what he is doing is wrong and yet he explicates, “ there is no shame in us and no regret… We have built strange things with this discovery of ours” (37, 53). This shows that Equality goes against the law to embrace those questions in his head. Equality knows and understands that if he were to be caught in his tunnel, his actions would come with a high price. Still, Equality does not conform, he finds a loophole and with it, a way to satisfy his desire to question the world, all the while embracing his curiosity.
In addition to learning to love and embracing his curiosity, Equality also learns to accept himself throughout the novel. At the beginning of Anthem, Equality is terrified of the idea of being different and tries to suppress himself. Equality implores, “We strive to be like all our brother men, for all must be alike” (19). This shows that there is an immense pressure on Equality to fit in. Equality even feels that it is just when he is not chosen to be a Scholar, “ We knew we had been guilty, but now we had a way to atone for it” (26). This shows that Equality believes that not being a Scholar is a fit punishment for being different from his brothers. It also demonstrates how much Equality’s society demands that its citizens give up including their own happiness. Equality’s society believes that working for the good of the society and for a person’s “brothers” should be enough to make a person happy when in reality there is more to happiness. There is happiness that is brought on from personal growth, development, relationships and participating in what makes an individual happy. Equality realizes this and this realization is what leads him to embrace himself and his differences. This is shown when Equality announces, “ International 4-8818 and we are friends” (30). Equality knows that this is considered a Transgression. And yet, Equality does not care because he knows that it is true in his heart and so he continues to think and believe it no matter if it makes him different from his other brothers or not.
A final change that Equality goes through is, that he finds his passion in life. Equality was assigned a Street Sweeper job at the beginning of the book. This is not the job that Equality wanted, but he could not change it since it had been assigned to him. Equality’s life as a Street Sweeper is dull until he discovers his tunnel and begins experimenting, it is here that Equality first begins to discover his passion. As he tinkers, Equality expresses, “ We do not know, but we shall learn. We cannot stop now, even though it frightens us… 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” (54). This proves that Equality is finding his passion in life because when he is experimenting and learning, nothing else matters. Equality would be content to spend his whole life inside the tunnel. The only thing that scares Equality is discovering wonderful things and then never sharing them, never having them be known to be true.
Eventually, Equality runs away from society. However, it is outside his society that he discovers the word “I”. Equality had been groping for this one word for the entire book and when he finally found it he illustrates, “I saw the word ‘I.’ And when I understood the word… I wept” (98). Equality realized how important the discovery of this word is, to him, and also how important the word could be to so many other individuals if they understood it and lived by its meaning. The very meaning of the word, ‘I’ summarizes Equality’s beliefs. Equality believes in taking care of oneself and one’s needs. He believes in having preferences and building relationships, in being free to question oneself and others, and in expressing oneself in any and every way that a person sees fit without questioning oneself or having to conform to rules and standards. The word ‘I’ encompasses this all and for that reason Equality makes this word and the spreading of this word his life’s mission, “For the coming of that day I shall fight, I and my sons and my chosen friends. For the freedom of Man. For his rights. For his life. For his honor… The word which can never die on this Earth, for it is at the heart of it and the meaning of glory” (104-105). This shows that Equality will spend his life preserving this sacred word, and he will pass on the meaning and significance of this word to his children and his children’s children. Equality found his passion in life and he wants to make sure that it holds meaning and significance to people forever. Equality’s society tried to create the perfect world in which there was no conflict and people worked together for the greater good. They got rid of anything that might cause disagreement including choices, preferences, relationships, and emotions. However, in the process of trying to create the perfect society, they got rid of the key elements in a society that make people different.
Equality’s society transformed the beautiful, diverse, and ever changing creatures that humans are into an empty shell. However, as it is in nature creatures adapt to their surrounding in order to survive. This is exactly what Equality did. Equality went through an evolution from the first, to the last page of this book. Through these changes, Equality was able to revive and preserve the idea of individualism and what it means to be human.
A Curious Aspect of Progress: Inquiry vs. Oppression in ‘Anthem’
“We wished to know. We wished to know about all the things which make the earth around us” (23). Herein Ayn Rand’s hero expresses a universal truth: Homo sapiens are a curious and ever-changing species. For tens of thousands of years, our curiosity has been a driving force behind our intellectual and social development. Scientific thought thrives under the conditions that curiosity brings forth. Equality 7-2521 poses this curiosity in a time where it is forbidden, and contrary to everyone else, he sees development morally and intellectually. Ayn Rand portrayed such a future because she believed that the removal of curiosity through communism would lead to the downfall of humanity and its progress. Without this important aspect of both science and human nature, technological and scientific advancement is impossible. The totalitarian government of Anthem eliminated curiosity and therefore halted technological progress.
In contrast to countless dystopian future novels, the story of Anthem shows a society that has reverted to the dark ages in the sense that scientific and social progress is at a standstill; the government’s total rejection of individuality is completely stopping personal curiosity. The society of Anthem is stagnant both socially and technologically without curiosity. This is clear when Equality displays intelligence and asks questions as a child, but rather than be rewarded, he is punished and given a job that allows no chance to ask such questions. They are actively stopping all forms of curiosity. When his society frowns upon intellect, saying “this is a great sin, to be born with a head that is too quick” (21), it is understandable that they haven’t seen change for generations. Curiosity has been eradicated to the extent that even the Council of Scholars is afraid of challenging their own beliefs, and they become frightened at the thought that they might be wrong. They forbid new discoveries, having not made one for one hundred years, and when shown the new technology that Equality offers, they “leapt to their feet, they ran from the table, and they stood pressed against the wall, huddled together” (70). This mindset makes it impossible for any change to happen and it closes the doors to progress.
Equality stands as the direct contrast to the closed-minded world that Ayn Rand created. While the government lacks curiosity and individuality and hasn’t unchanged for generations, Equality has both of these traits and has seen massive intellectual development during his life. This fact alone suggests that curiosity is necessary for any form of technological advancement for it is the major difference between Equality and his society. Despite the fact that his society forbids education outside of school, Equality’s passionate curiosity pushed him to spend every night in the tunnel and by doing so, he gained more knowledge about the natural world than the combined brainpower of his society. Without his curiosity he would have never challenged the fact that “Council of Scholars has said that there are no mysteries, and the Council of Scholars knows all things” (23). His curiosity led to him viewing himself as an individual rather than a part of his entire society and without this, his journey to independence would be halted.
Not only is Anthem an interesting and thought-provoking novel, it is also heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s experience with communist Russia and her political beliefs that came from it. The world she created was one that let communism take hold and allow society to “become enslaved by the word ‘we’” (102). She believed that communism was an evil and unjust ideology and that it would lead to the downfall of humanity by eliminating individuality and all things that come with it. With all humans being an extension of the state she viewed it impossible for people to have original thoughts and this would inevitably lead to stagnation for all aspects of society.
Although it can be argued that having the government control the educational system would lead to a more strict education that requires all students to learn, it doesn’t allow room for curiosity with its strict educational requirements and it hinders progress by restricting those that learn a different way. These same issues are present when Equality goes through the Home of the Students. With this form of education it is frowned upon to ask too many questions and “the learning was too easy” (21) for him. If a society lacks an educated civilian population, technological progress will be halted by a general lack of information. Both of the educational problems that are present in Anthem have basis in reality and it is reasonable for Ayn Rand to be wary.
The two opposing forces in Anthem are the society itself and Equality 7-2521. While the latter represents close mindedness and lacks any form of advancement, Equality shows the importance and necessity of curiosity for technological improvement. Science and technology is rooted in curiosity and is impossible without it. This conclusion is undeniable when he learned, invented, and discovered using nothing other than wit and curiosity. The society in which he grew up feared the unknown and pushed away anything that challenged their traditional beliefs and has been unchanging for generations. No type of progress can occur under these conditions; curiosity is vital to all forms of technological advancement.
When it comes to dystopian stories, the conclusion is expected to be tragic due to the pessimistic nature of a dystopia. However, in Anthem by Ayn Rand and Welcome to the Monkeyhouse by Kurt Vonnegut, the authors go a different route because they have a promise of freedom and a bright future ahead. They are stories of liberation and hope despite being dystopian stories because both protagonists refuse to conform to corruption, become confident in their opinions, and acknowledge the potential for a better society.
Both protagonists stay true to their morals by refusing to conform to their society’s crooked values, inspiring a spirit of resistance in a corrupt world. In Anthem, Equality claims to have many questions about the world, as he is just taught by the government that things simply are the way they are, without giving him the freedom to explore for himself or question anything. However, he says that he “must know that [he] may know,” the answers to his many questions, which is what propels him to start learning (Rand, 24). This burning curiosity that Equality was born with is what sets him apart from everyone else and what drives him to rebel against society when they try to suppress his thirst for knowledge. His inquisitiveness tells him that there are answers out there and that he must get them in order to stop being in the dark. This is what leads to him opposing his society because he knows that he can’t be ignorant like his brothers, and that society is in the wrong. The mere fact that Equality wants to go on a quest for knowledge defies society automatically, thus making him challenge society’s values and stand out, even if society says he shouldn’t. Furthermore, Billy the Poet in Welcome to the Monkeyhouse is essentially notorious for invoking fear upon the town and being a nothinghead, “a person who refused to take his ethical birth-control pills three times a day,” (Vonnegut, 30). Billy refused to take his birth-control pills despite society trying to sell them as a good thing because he questioned the expectations, something that was not normally seen in their society. He did not accept the fact that everyone just had to mindlessly swallow down some pills to suppress a natural thing. By sticking to his instinct and questioning the government, Billy is a leader, and he is living proof that one can have the option to be doubtful of things and not have to conform to what is the norm.
Additionally, by becoming confident in their opinions, the main characters acknowledge that their point of view is the morally correct one, and continue to fight for what they think is right. After having suffered from a collectivist society and how the government cast him out for trying to be his own person, Equality has an epiphany and comes to the root of the problem that each individual person needs attention, and being a collective does not benefit anyone. He comes to an agreement with himself and says,
“the word ‘We’ must never be spoken, save by one’s choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within a man’s soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth….But I am done with this creed of corruption….And now I see the face of god….This god, this one word: ‘I’,” (Rand, 96).
With all his pre-existing opinions of collectivism, Equality first experiences the joys and freedom of individuality and this freedom drives him to demolish all traces of collectivism so that every man will experience being divine as an individual. Similarly, Billy the Poet explains his whole philosophy for wreaking havoc and says humans have an inherent sexuality embedded in them but are apprehensive when it comes to something so natural. He claims that people who have committed far greater crimes ¨have been absolutely disgusted and terrified by the natural sexuality of common men and women,” (Vonnegut, 49). By calling this innate behavior “natural,” he becomes something of a god for deciding what is natural or unnatural in his eyes. He sets himself above everyone else in a way that he takes matters into his own hands and spreads the message he knows is morally correct to him; while some might call this a God complex, to Billy, it is simply trying to fight for what he believes in because he is so confident in his own personal standing.
Finally, the protagonists see the full potential of their society and have a positive outlook of the future, which is what fuels their drive for betterment and staying hopeful. After discovering the forbidden word “I,” Equality legitimizes his rebellion towards his society by no longer caring about rules and finally referring to himself as one man. He utters the words, “I am. I think. I will,” and exudes confidence with the discovery of this newfound expression that sums up everything he has been feeling, (Rand, 94). He has hope for the future because he has enforced his belief that he is the only one that can will things into existence, and that the most important thing he has is himself, and no one can take that from him. Likewise, Billy thinks that the world should be indulgent and participate in activities that bring them pleasure because he does not see why society stigmatizes sex so much. He explains that his entire goal was to try to ¨restore a certain amount of innocent pleasure to the world, which is poorer in pleasure than it needs to be,¨ (Vonnegut, 49). His entire philosophy is to try to bring a new message to the world and change one person at a time. He thinks that society is not living up to their full potential by denying themselves the pleasures of life, so his determination to change the world is clear and evokes a message of hope despite all odds being against him.
In conclusion, both stories have a way of leaving the future open to interpretation so that it seems hopeful. Had they explicitly concluded the stories with a happy ending. the significance of a dystopia would be ruined as it serves to expose the faults of society. Ayn Rand was not happy with collectivism in Russia, Kurt Vonnegut wanted a society in which people were not censored, so their stories have social commentary about these important issues; yet their stories have protagonists that advocate for living freely, even when the world is against them.