Ayn Rand’s Anthem is a politically satirical novel is set in a future society that is so highly collectivized that the word “I” has been banned. The world is governed by various councils who believe that man’s sole reason for existence is to enforce the Great Truth “that all men are one and that there is no will save the will of all men together” (Rand, 20). Any indication of an individual’s independent spirit is swiftly and brutally put down, with the transgressors being punished with severe prison sentences or even death.
It is this dysfunctional world that Equality 7-2521 is born into. The novel begins with Equality 7-2521 alone in a dark tunnel transcribing his story. He begins with a declaration that “It is a sin to write this… [because] men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so” (Rand, 17). Equality 7-2521 writes that he was born with a curse: He is different than the other men in his society. He laments that “the learning was too easy. This is a great sin, to be born with a head too quick” (Rand, 21). From the youngest age children were taught that ability is a vice, not a virtue. They were to be embarrassed of their superiority because “it is not good to be different from our brothers” (Rand, 21). Equality 7-2521 writes that he tried to stifle this fault but was unable to do so.
When Equality 7-2521 turned fifteen, he writes that he was told that “you shall do that which the Council of Vocations shall prescribe for you” (Rand, 22). He says that although he knew it was sinful, he had a desire to become a scholar and learn the “science of things.” In Equality 7-2521’s world, it was immoral and illegal to prefer one subject or person over another because everything was supposed to be equal. Equality 7-2521 was torn between wanting to fall in step and be like the rest of his comrades and his desire to learn and be unique.
Despite all of Equality 7-2521’s hopes, he was assigned to become a street sweeper. Equality 7-2521 was temporarily gladdened because “of our victory over ourself,” (Rand, 26) but he was actually still unsure about his own feelings on the matter. His independent spirit was still clashing with the tenets of his society. Rand suggests that Equality 7-2521 was sentenced to such a menial occupation because he had shown that he had a desire to learn; he says that he had been very inquisitive as a student, a virtue which his teachers had tried to stifle. A collectivized society thrives on the mindless obedience of its citizens and the dangerous independence exhibited by Equality 7-2521 had to be eliminated.
The lives of the citizens in Equality 7-2521’s world were highly structured so as to head off any opportunity for independent thought. He tells us that he would have accepted this life “had we not committed our crime... And it was our curse which drove us to our crime” (Rand, 29). He says that while he was cleaning the streets with International 4-8818, a person with whom Equality 7-2521 had...