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Equality 7-2521 wakes in the forest and realizes that for the first time in his life, he is waking because he is rested and not because someone is ringing a bell to wake him. He observes the forest in some detail, and it seems magnificent to him. He stretches his body out on the moss, and he laughs and laughs for no reason except that he is free. He realizes that he can stay asleep and lie on the moss as long as he wants. His body, of its own volition, jumps up and whirls around in a circle.
Equality 7-2521 takes his lightbulb and heads into the forest. The forest is dense, and as he works through the leaves, he compares the forest to the sea, thinking of the bushes as waves below him, spraying up into the treetops. When he is hungry, Equality 7-2521 stops and uses a single stone as an arrow to kill a bird. He cooks the bird and eats it. He finds great satisfaction in killing the bird and is surprised to find that he takes pride in eating.
Equality 7-2521 then comes to a stream, where he stops to drink. He sees his reflection for the first time, and it takes his breath away. He is frozen in front of the stream staring at his own image. He discovers he does not look like his brothers, because they are shapeless, formless, and downtrodden while he is thin, strong, and lithe. He is hard and strong and concludes that he can trust himself and has nothing to fear of his own company.
Equality 7-2521 has walked through the forest all day when he suddenly remembers that he is exiled from society, or, in his words, “Damned.” He laughs because he does not care that he is damned. It is the only time he thinks of what he has left behind. Equality 7-2521 tells us that he is writing on the same paper he used in the tunnel. He intends to write a great deal because he concludes he has a great deal to say to himself. At the moment, however, there is too much he does not understand to continue writing.
Equality 7-2521’s return to nature to escape the evils of man reflects Rand’s belief that only other men can limit the freedom of a man and that in the state of nature man is completely free. This theme is common in philosophy, especially in the work of eighteenth-century Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who, in his Confessions, suggests that man was a superior being before society and its constructs weakened his constitution. In Anthem, in the forest, where he has been forbidden by society to go, Equality 7-2521 experiences the joy of his body for the first time when he is not oppressed by work assigned to him by others and the yoke of collectivism. His legs return him to the state of nature instinctively because, for Rand, individualism constitutes a near-instinct, a feeling so ingrained in human make-up that it cannot be completely abolished and will be rediscovered, as Equality 7-2521 has rediscovered it, under even the most dire circumstances.
For Rand, physical beauty and athletic prowess accompany intellectual and moral perfection naturally, and the two combine in Equality 7-2521 to create what she considers an ideal man. Vanity and pride are both positive attributes in Rand’s thinking, which is why she relates the story of Equality 7-2521’s discovery of his own reflection with no irony. The incident closely resembles the story of Narcissus, the Greek mythological character who became so obsessed with his own reflection that he sat at the edge of a pool staring at it until he became a flower. Nevertheless, in Anthem, Equality 7-2521’s self-admiration is a form of self-discovery and liberation from social convention. Additionally, the episode of Equality 7-2521 feeding himself is a manifestation of his perfection. Though as a street sweeper Equality 7-2521 has never been hunting for birds before and has probably never cooked a bird before, he fells a bird with a single throw of a sharp rock, cooks the bird over a fire, and very much enjoys his meal because he is a perfect man, capable of succeeding in everything he tries, even when it is completely new to him. Rand often referred to herself as a Romantic, by which she meant that she was concerned chiefly with the ideal. Omitting details such as Equality 7-2521’s probable first ten tries to kill the bird is an example of her disregard for realistic detail in favor of imbuing her heroes with perfection befitting her ideal.