Is a man better off conforming with evil or escaping from chains that hold him from being an individual? In the novel, Anthem, written by Ayn Rand, the narrator lives in a dystopian population where people must refer to themselves in first person as the great “WE”, because individuality is the prominent sin. The story is written as journal entries that ultimately showed the narrator’s change of emotion, changing his ordinary course of being collective. The narrator starts out the story by saying, “It is a sin to write this” (17). Throughout the story, Anthem, the protagonist, Equality 7-2521, changes his thoughts about his society, and the distinction of his morals. Equality 7-2521 discovers things from the “Unmentionable Times”, (times of the past before everything was forcefully collective in the story’s setting) that allow him to realize why his thoughts about happiness were indeed true. Equality 7-2521’s eventual assessment of his sin is correct because he achieves the realization that individuality is essential to the continuation of mankind, and cannot simply be removed from a person’s life.
In the beginning, Equality 7-2521 describes his actions, how they differed tremendously from the people in his society, and how they encouraged him to believe that he was cursed. He explains that he had always been a sinner, and had always defied the rules of the Council of Vocations, the party who distinguished laws. Equality, having such a strong desire to learn more than what was informed by the Council, was a threat to collectivism. The society’s laws allowed Equality to believe that his thoughts and morals, that were ultimately correct, were depraved and against everything that his population stood for. They also encouraged him to assume that collectivism is the way life should be and he is sinning by thinking against these ideals. “We knew we had been guilty, but now we had a way to atone for it” (24). This reveals that he wanted to be punished for his actions, so he would not feel the temptation to do them any longer, but he did not stop. Equality struggled to act on the laws of the council, hence he begins to ponder on the idea of true morals.
Towards the middle of the book, Equality starts to reveal that he does not agree with the rules of the council, finding good reasons to be happy as an individual. His first reason that gives him an idea as to what true happiness is, was falling in love with a woman, The Golden One. He states, “It is not good to feel too much joy nor to be glad that our body lives…But we Equality 7-2521 are glad to be living” (46). This quote reveals that the narrator defies the law, and doesn’t want to stop because he’s gradually starting to believe that his thoughts are morally correct, regardless of the Council’s convictions. The significant turning point in the story was when Equality conquered something as an individual : electricity. His judgements completely shift. He then goes on to say, “We made it. We created it. We alone… Now let us be lashed for it if we must” (59). Equality 7-2521 is gaining more independence, being careless because of his positive feelings, and fleeing from the society’s discernments of self-creativity.
After recreating the power of electricity, with the astounding invention from the “Unmentionable Times”, Equality 7-2521 concludes that the invention is not a sin, but the foundation for a prosperous mankind. Considered defiant, he risks his life for individuality, no longer emphasizing over the Council’s idea of a transgression. He goes on to show the Council, who strongly reject his gift. Equality comes to the conclusion that the council is erroneous in their judgements, and calls them, “thricedamned fools”, for not accepting his power. The Council’s rejection of the light bulb and their desire to destroy it, caused Equality to flee from the society, and, more importantly, the idea of collectivism. He departs from his brothers because of how important the light bulb is to him, and how it is a symbol of something that he is not aware of yet. Equality 7-2521 has now taken a huge leap while proving to have individual characteristics, and hatred towards their ideals in his thought process, and actions, not feeling any guilt in the matter.
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While living in the forest post his retreat, Equality comes across the most remarkable discovery of his time, causing him to finally realize how his beliefs about the society were ultimately correct. A certain moment in the forest when he laughs while laying on the grass, thinking about how he is damned, and how the wrong living conditions of the society are more of a dystopian hell than the biblical definition of hell, is a moment where he proves that he will no longer stress over being like the people in that society. While walking through a forbidden forest, Equality 7-2521 finds out that the Golden One is following him. Making the decision that he desires to be with her reveals that he always wanted to be separate from a collectivistic background, and make choices for himself. After finding a house towards the end of the book, Equality states “Now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into this being, this god who will grant them joy, and peace, and pride. This god, this one word : I” (97). Equality is now permanently aware that his assessments of himself, and collectivism were entirely correct all through childhood, and adulthood, and that horrible guilt of his past, and his so-called curse is gone.
Equality 7-2521 finally realizes that his beginning feelings of conviction of his sins were wrong, and his permanent thoughts regarding his past actions were correct. “We have broken the law, but we had never doubted it. Yet now…we are learning to doubt” (86). In Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Equality 7-2521 started out with the belief that he was cursed, but had the determination to discover what had been deep inside of him all along : individuality. He no longer wanted to share the same beliefs as the “Great WE”, post meeting a woman who he had fallen in love with, and after re-creating electricity. “Through all the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth…Man not men” (100). This shows that Equality’s eventual assessment of his sin is correct, because individualism cannot be removed from someone’s life, or ego and is essential to the prosperity of mankind. “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are, and what you desire.” – Jim Morrison.
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