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.
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