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Anthem

Ayn Rand

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Study Questions

1.

What is the significance of nature in Anthem? Why does Equality 7-2521 flee to the forest when he is exiled from society?

Nature represents the original and uncorrupted state of man in Anthem. Equality 7-2521 runs to the Uncharted Forest when he is exiled from society because there he is able to establish his freedom and start his life over as a new man. In society, Equality 7-2521 is unable to realize his potential because he is drawn down by the weaker members of society, who fear his strength and try to turn it against him. In nature, by contrast, he lives by the effort of his own hands and mind. The forest gives him what is rightly his, which includes all nature has to offer since man is the master and center of the universe.

In addition to representing a chance to start over, the forest represents a gateway into the past that society has lost but that Equality 7-2521 seeks. In the forest, he finds remnants of the world that disintegrated under the force of collectivism and has now all but disappeared. When he finds his home, he finds a key to that past, which the forest has preserved for him against the neglect of his collectivist society. The library provides him with information about the world that was, and, in fact, teaches him the word “I,” which proves to be the trigger of his epiphanic self-realization. Thus, the forest offers Equality 7-2521 a way to go both forward by starting over on his own and back by connecting with the ideal society that existed before.

2.

What is the significance of the story of the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word? What is the role of martyrdom in Anthem?

The Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word and Equality 7-2521 both suffer for what they believe in. In the case of the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word, he burns at the stake for professing the word “I,” the word it is not permitted in his society to say. In the case of Equality 7-2521, he is flogged for refusing to reveal his secret tunnel and, later, he is exiled for seeking solitude and pursuing scientific studies. The two are connected in two ways. First, the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word seeks out Equality 7-2521 while he is being burned alive and smiles at him while he dies. Equality 7-2521 believes this event signifies a bond between the two men. Second, though society tortures both men physically, neither one suffers emotionally during the torture because they are glad to suffer for their ideal. For Rand, suffering of the body means nothing when it is endured in the name of an ideal.

Consistent with Anthem’s status as a political manifesto, Rand also makes reference to those she considers martyrs in the real-life battle against the evils of collectivist society. During his final exposition of his new philosophy, Equality 7-2521 addresses all the martyrs of the transition period, those who died for individualism while the world was just being converted to collectivism. These people are stand-ins for Rand’s contemporaries, and the whole novella is meant as a way of reaching out to them and telling them that even though they suffer, they do so for an ideal that is worth suffering for and that will never die.

3.

What is the setting of Anthem? Why does Rand not specify the story’s time or location?

Strictly speaking, the setting of Anthem is unclear. Rand reveals that it has been many years since the fall of the novella’s society to collectivist ideals, but we do not know how many years. Moreover, it has been few enough years that the clothes in the closet at Equality 7-2521’s new home in the forest are still intact. Similarly, the city in which the first part of the action occurs is unnamed, and the location of the Uncharted Forest is likewise unspecified. Rand employs this vagueness to make Anthem universal. She wants the novella to be a warning to all people everywhere that collectivism is an evil perpetrated on the human race, and that wherever it is implemented, it will bring about the demise of men. By not naming the city or the time, she leaves open the questions of where and how and when the collapse she foresees will happen.

In addition to the setting’s vagueness making Anthem a sort of every-place warning, it also distances Rand from Soviet Russia in meaningful ways. Though details of the story unquestionably refer to the conditions in Russia under Lenin and Stalin, Rand is careful not to make Anthem explicitly about Russia because she wants to be clear that the evil of collectivism is not related only to the corruption of particular leaders and their henchmen. In this way, she answers the criticism of those who believe that Communism failed in Russia only because of specific historical conditions such as the cruelty of Stalin. Thus, the vagueness of the setting results in a deeper criticism of socialism than Rand could have achieved by making the story a concrete critique of a specific example of communism.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. What is the significance of Rand’s use of contrasted pairs in her imagery and her characters? For Rand, which is preferable, the dark and hard or the light and soft?

2. What is the role of the Golden One and International 4-8818 in the novella? How do they contribute to our understanding of Equality 7-2521 and the society around him?

3. How does the story of the life of Christ inform the story of Equality 7-2521? What role does religion play generally in objectivism?

4. What is Rand’s view of women? Does the Golden One fit Rand’s view of the individual who knows his or her self-worth?

5. What is the effect of the use of the word “we,” and why is it important that the last chapter is the only place where the word “I” exists in the novella?

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