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Anthem

Ayn Rand

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Symbols

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Light

Light represents truth in Anthem. Thus, Liberty 5-3000 becomes the Golden One, and Equality 7-2521 becomes Prometheus, the bringer of light. Equality 7-2521’s contribution to the world is his invention of the lightbulb, and the house he and the Golden One find in the forest has windows to let in the light. By contrast, the city is dingy and dark, and the only colors are gray, white, and brown. The whole society lives by candlelight, and the society’s leaders fear the light when Equality 7-2521 brings it to them. Light illuminates human dignity and human error for Rand, both of which the society in Anthem tries to sweep under the rug. In the vast gray haze of this society, all things are indistinct. Only when light is brought to bear can those with exceptional qualities be differentiated from the crowd. Thus, Equality 7-2521’s lightbulb makes him a harbinger of tremendous social unrest at the same time that it helps him see himself as the unique individual he really is.

The Forest

For Equality 7-2521, the state of nature affords him the chance to live alone and sustained by the work of his own hands, an opportunity he is denied in society. Unlike society, which constrains what an individual can claim as his own, the forest welcomes Equality 7-2521 and provides him what he needs. The forest is also a connection between the past and the future. In the forest, Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One find a home—one of the only remnants of the Unmentionable Times in the story. This home suits them, and in it they discover their own natural states. The forest thus provides them with a place to effect their own rebirth.

Manuscripts

In the society in Anthem, manuscripts carry history and are sacred vessels for self-expression. The manuscripts that Equality 7-2521 steals from the Home of the Scholars are very important to him because they are his only means of recording his private thoughts. Because he is accustomed to believing that no thought is valid unless it is shared by the entire community, his willingness to record his thoughts, to see them as valuable, represents his first significant break with society. The books he finds in his new forest home are also important to him because they teach him the history of the old world’s destruction and, most important, teach him the word “I.” This discovery concludes Equality 7-2521’s search for individual expression and allows him to think of himself as separate from the rest of his peers. It also teaches him a deeply personal kind of pleasure, both in the form of reading, which is itself a solitary activity in his life, and in writing, which allows him to speak so that only he can hear. Equality 7-2521’s obsession with his manuscripts, then, reflects a deep-seated need to escape the prying eyes of the society around him and to realize his full potential as an individual.

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Anthem (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)