Equality 7-2521 begins the novella as a benighted, if exceptional, youth, who has only barely realized that he might be different from those around him. He regrets his differences and tries to bring himself into conformity. His relationship with International 4-8818, his only friend, exemplifies the halfhearted attempts he makes to eliminate all his preferences for individual people, to care for each brother equally, and to be identical to his brothers. After the discovery of the tunnel, however, he realizes that solitude pleases him, and it becomes harder for him to deny his own individuality.
When Equality 7-2521 meets the Golden One, he no longer wants to deny that he prefers some of his peers to others. Because he wants to think about her all the time, and because the urge is so overwhelming, he gives himself to his sin. In so doing, he takes his first major step down the road toward breaking with society. Moreover, the Golden One represents Equality 7-2521’s first meaningful encounter with another human being. His relationship with her baffles him. He knows that he wants to possess her, but he does not know why. He admires her haughtiness and her strength, and he knows she admires the same things in him, but he does not understand why his preference for her is so overpowering.
The discovery of the lightbulb pushes Equality 7-2521 into complete rebellion. He now has a cause for which he would give his life. Until the moment when the World Council threatens to destroy the lightbulb, Equality 7-2521 thinks of his brothers and their welfare. Because he will not abide seeing the lightbulb destroyed, even though he might tolerate his own destruction, he is forced into exile from his society. Equality 7-2521 realizes that he actually created the lightbulb for its own sake and that he does want to live because his body is strong and youthful and beautiful—a realization that severs his last connections to society and makes him a free man.
Once he has broken from society, Equality 7-2521 adopts a vanity and pride unknown in the society in which he was raised and, in so doing, he realizes his manhood. For the first time, Equality 7-2521 feels pride at killing his own food and pleasure in eating, and when he meets up again with the Golden One, he enjoys sex for the first time. The ecstasy he discovers in his body mirrors the ecstasy of his mind. By breaking from the confines of society, Equality 7-2521 becomes his own man in both his mind and his body.
The abandoned house in the forest represents Equality 7-2521’s ability to provide for himself on a permanent basis. He is very proprietary about the house and its contents, and it provides the key to his epiphany. Upon discovering the “I” while he is reading in the library in the house, Equality 7-2521 suddenly becomes aware that he is the center of his own universe, and the curse he has been fighting is actually a blessing to be embraced. He realizes that he is an end in himself and that his happiness is reason enough to live. With this epiphany, his transformation is complete. He is unafraid and singular, self-important and proud. He has discovered himself and become his own man.
Rand intends Equality 7-2521’s name to be ironic, since we know that Equality 7-2521 is far superior to his peers and does not believe in the doctrine of equality. His decision to discard his given name shows his frustration with his society, his unwillingness to be held back among the masses. In renaming himself Prometheus, Equality 7-2521 shows that he identifies himself with the bringer of light, fire, and progress in Greek mythology. He considers himself a hero who, like Prometheus, must defy the conventions of his time.
Though the Golden One undergoes several name changes, she herself is fairly static throughout the novella. From the beginning, she is haughty and proud, rejecting all society except Equality 7-2521, whom she adores from the outset because he is stronger and sharper than the rest of her brothers. She becomes subservient to him almost immediately, seeking to care for him as early as the third time they meet, when she provides him with water to cool himself. By the time she follows him into the forest, she has become totally his possession, and she remains that way until the end.
Although she is a static character, the Golden One does exhibit extraordinary curiosity when it comes to finding the “I” and her uncommon beauty. Though the only reason the Golden One seeks to say “I” is to tell Equality 7-2521 that she loves him, a far less noble goal than his effort at self-actualization, she is nevertheless superior to those around her because she at least suspects that there is more to the world than the collective equality enforced in her society. Additionally, she stands out from the faceless, nameless masses because she is incredibly beautiful, a sign from Rand, who views physical beauty as the natural counterpart to intellectual and personal integrity, that she is a good character in the novella. Despite the poor development of her character, then, we know quite a bit about the Golden One’s attitude toward her culture and society, and her rejection of both is enough to exalt her in the novella to special status.
The Golden One is a problematic character, however, because her originality is at odds with her subservience to Equality 7-2521. On the one hand, she is the female counterpart to Equality 7-2521 in that she is curious and seeks solitude. For this reason, we might expect to read a considerable amount about her thoughts and reactions or conversation with Equality 7-2521. But the Golden One has almost no lines in the novella, and she fades into the background when Equality 7-2521 finally realizes his own self-importance. On the other hand, though she is Equality 7-2521’s counterpart she totally abdicates control to him and is remarkably underdeveloped, especially considering that she is the only other consistently present character in the novella. Though her name is originally Liberty 5-3000, she allows Equality 7-2521 to rename her the Golden One and, later, Gaea. Her willingness to accept the new names that Equality 7-2521 gives her is a symptom of her broader willingness to accept the identity that he conceives for her. Her subservience and underdevelopment are troubling because in her character Rand presents the novella’s only other example of goodness in a collective society. But because the Golden One has no personal characteristics of her own, she ultimately serves as a flat mirror to Equality 7-2521, revealing little about Rand’s philosophy that we do not already glean from Equality 7-2521.