Anthem

by: Ayn Rand

Chapters X–XI

Equality 7-2521 realizes that the goal of his existence, no matter what may come of the earth, is his personal happiness. He is not a means to an end, and he is not a servant of his brothers. His miracles are his and his alone, and he will protect them from others at all costs. He says that his treasures are his thoughts, his will, and his freedom, and the greatest of these is freedom. He owes nothing to his brothers. They owe him nothing, and he wants nothing from them. Those of his brothers who earn his honor will have it, but they will not have it just by virtue of being fellow men. He chooses his friends and he chooses when to join with them and when not to. He neither commands nor obeys.

In Equality 7-2521’s newfound view, the word “we” must always be a second thought to men, after the word “I.” When it is allowed to become a primary thought, it is the root of all evil and becomes a great lie. The word “we” enables the weak to steal from the strong and becomes a stone that crushes all those beneath it. Equality 7-2521 vows that he is finished with the old society and collectivism. He has seen the face of god, and he will raise it above the earth so that everyone may worship at its altar. His new god is “I.”

Analysis: Chapters X–XI

Equality 7-2521’s switch from the use of the word “we” to the use of the word “I” to mean himself signals the internal resolution of Anthem. Chapter XI is the culmination of all that Equality 7-2521 has learned about the evils of collectivism is the first time he sees clearly. In the sense that the novella is really about a man’s internal battle with himself to discover individualism, Chapter XI could be considered the resolution of the story’s conflict. Rand herself considered Chapters XI and XII to be the most important in the story. They are the place where she lays out in plain language the meaning of objectivism, egoism, and individualism. These philosophies place the individual above all else, and they savor freedom over the goods of society. Rand suggests that society should be sought out only when a person chooses it, as a second thought to what the individual wants, and that it should be only with those people whom the individual chooses. In Rand’s view, any other kind of life, in which another person is more important than or as important as the self, is a lie that ultimately brings about great evil.

Critics of Rand are repulsed by the blatant selfishness she professes. They argue that humankind comes together into society in order to provide and be provided for, and that in the company of others, humans gain as much from their peers as they give to them. Religious critics and others also argue that the individual has a moral obligation to care for those less fortunate than him- or herself. Rand directly engages these critics by mocking well-known passages of the New Testament. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes that the three things that endure are faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. He says that love endures beyond even the end of the world, when faith and hope are no longer necessary virtues. Rand is deliberately offering a different triptych with her lofty estimation of thought, will, and freedom. She suggests, by implication, that of these, freedom is the cornerstone of all life and that without it nothing else endures. Moreover, Rand often announced that she was writing directly against those who believed that selfishness was a vice. She was offering an entirely new way of living, and she believed that it was the only way to live.

The language and imagery of Anthem, in addition to being laden with religious and philosophic references, is extraordinarily heavy-handed. In his moment of triumph, Equality 7-2521 stands on a mountain top at dawn—quite a melodramatic image. In his lowest moments, he suffers at the hands of men less worthy than he in a dungeon at the Palace of Corrective Detention. In this way, Rand offers a philosophy that is very easy to navigate. When she wants to mark a character as good, she makes him or her beautiful and strong. When she wants to mark a character as evil, on the other hand, she makes him or her ugly and weak. The most obvious example of this dichotomy comes in the form of the Golden One, whose physical beauty is unsurpassed, and who is, as her name suggests, blonde. By contrast, the council members are shapeless and frightened. This same kind of opposition appears in the explanation of Rand’s philosophy: collectivism is like stone, crushing those beneath it, while freedom is a treasure, and the sense of self is a god to be exalted and worshipped. Rand wants us to read Anthem seriously, in a straightforward manner. The imagery is meant to guide us directly to the right answer, the right philosophy, with a minimum of guessing and side-tracking.