Collectivism in Futuristic Society in Ayn Rand’s Anthem
The novel Anthem by Ayn Rand is about a man living in a collective society with no individuality, living solely to serve the state. Equality is condemned to the home of the street sweepers, whilst he secretly yearns to learn the science of things. Equality falls in love, learns the concepts of electricity, and eventually runs away to live in his own world of individuality. However, any show of individuality or deviance from what is taught by the state frightens the government, which continually shuts it down using force. The negative concept of collectivism shown in the novel can be related back to three significant events in our history: first, the Residential Schools in Canada, representing the suppression of one’s uniqueness; second, when an Indian activist was sentenced to jail for being gay, which relates back to the forbidden love in the novel; lastly, the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape to a free land, paralleling the escape of Equality to a free land. Collectivism doesn’t allow freedom of individuality; we deserve to be our own person and to personally express ourselves.
In many ways, the concept of a collective society in the novel is very similar to the residential schools in Canada. Residential schools were created to assimilate Indigenous children into the idealistic white child. Just like in the novel, the children were taken from their parents and forced to comply with the collective society against their will. The Indigenous children were forbidden to speak their first language; if they did, they would be punished in a manner that could cause lasting effects on the children’s wellbeing or mental health says the Canadian Encyclopedia. The connections between the novel and this event in history are the forbidden words and the inescapable society the people were forced to live in. Anthem reinforces the concept of a ‘forbidden’ word throughout the novel. The first time it was mentioned was when a man was sentenced to death for speaking the ‘unspeakable word’. When he was burned alive on the stake, he was perceived by Equality to be joyous, even accomplished, as he had finally understood the importance of one’s individuality. In comparison, Residential Schools stripped children of their true nature and prevented individuality through repeated use of physical and mental abuse. Children mysteriously died from diseases and so-called accidents, and were sexually and physically abused. The Home of the Council in Anthem has many laws to prevent anyone from standing out; they require everyone to think and act the same. When the man discovered the ‘unspeakable word’ he felt complete for the first time in his life, even though he was sentenced to death.
“There was only joy in them, and pride, a pride holier than it is fit for human pride to be.” (Rand, 51) The anti-collective word ‘I’ that the man had discovered demonstrates the power of one’s unique identity. The man experienced happiness and demonstrated he had found the true meaning to life. In relation to the novel, the children in Residential Schools were comparably left bare, without reason to live other than to solely exist. They were all deprived of their identity and forced to comply with the White culture they were thrown into.
Similar to the novel, on July 8th, 2001, a man in India was sentenced to jail for being gay and an activist for LGBTQ rights. Arif Jafar was abused, tortured, and deprived of water according to British Broadcasting Corporation news. He spent forty-seven days in jail for his expression of love. Anthem shows us a society where love is forbidden. Loving someone more than another is not allowed, nor is a relationship between a man and a woman or between two men. Equality has been forced to believe that preference is an evil subject when thinking about International 4-8818. “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.” (Rand, 37)
The consequences for both the Indigenous person and the characters in the novel would be similar: the novel would involve the House of Corrections and possibly beating, and the Indigenous activist experienced confinement and torture. ‘Being denied drinking water… being beaten up every day just because of my sexual orientation was a really horrible experience. It took me almost 17 years to even talk about it’ (Arif Jafar). It can be assumed that if Equality had been caught for expressing his friendship for International, he would be tortured or exiled for his thoughts about him. The need for the ability to choose for one’s self is present throughout our reality and Anthem. The Underground Railroad was an escape route for the black slaves during the 1850’s. It was led by Harriet Tubman who was the first Black slave to escape to Canada. She compiled a series of secret routes to help men, women, and children get to freedom, which was called the Underground Railroad. There are parallels between the Underground Railroad led by Harriet Tubman and Equality and Liberty escaping to freedom. At the end of the novel, Equality 7-2521 spoke of his plan to return to his former home and rescue people to bring them to his place of newfound freedom and create a new society where people can grow as individuals. “I shall live here, in my own house. I shall take my food from the earth by the toil of my own hands.” (Rand, 99-100) Equality speaks of the importance of no longer needing to rely on the collective society. He is now able to provide for Liberty and has gained independence while doing so. Individuality does not exist when one’s thoughts are suppressed by another; it is the control you have over your own self that Equality learns when he reaches his new home. “To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. This and nothing else.” (Rand, 101)
The black slaves in America are relatable to the people of the future in the novel. In Anthem the people serve the hierarchy in their dystopian society, which in this case is the government. All aspects of every individual’s life are controlled by the government. Comparably, slavery in American history stripped the slaves of their ability to control their own lives and forced them to serve the people of greater value. Slaves were brought to a free land by a woman named Harriet Tubman. She led the men, women, and children to the lives they deserved, similar to when Equality plans to return to his homeland to retrieve the men serving their society to bring them to freedom as well. Both slavery and Anthem highlight the contrast between serving a collective and being free to choose one’s own path. Being forced to live under suppressive rules peeled the identity from each person. Once brought to freedom, each person realized the true happiness that comes with individuality.
In conclusion, Anthem relates to many issues in society today. Collectivism doesn’t allow for freedom of individuality. Equality, who has a curious mind, goes against everything people in his society are led to understand and thereby discovers the concept of individuality. As seen throughout this essay, the collective society in Anthem can relate back to events in our history: gaining independence by escaping slavery, and horrible events that have suppressed one’s identity in the Residential Schools and in India. Individuality is needed to express your own cultures and uniqueness.
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