Summary: Chapter V

Equality 7-2521 discovers how to make a lightbulb work. He believes he alone has made light. He has found the materials for making the lightbulb in the tunnel where he is hiding, and he has used wires to make electricity flow through the lightbulb and produce light. He is amazed that the light has come from the heart of the metal, without flint or fire. He compares the glowing flint to the crack in the walls of a prison. Equality 7-2521 realizes the meaning of the lightbulb—that he can provide clean and bright light for all the cities in the world—and he determines that his discovery is too important not to be shared with the world. He concludes that electricity is the key to harnessing nature’s power and that he must bring it to the world.

Equality 7-2521 also concludes that he must be allowed into the Home of the Scholars, where there are rooms to experiment and where he can ask the help of the other scholars, in whom he has great faith. He concludes that there is enough work ahead that all the scholars of the world should work together to make progress with his new invention.

A month later, the World Council of Scholars, a group of the wisest scholars from all over the world, is to convene for its annual meeting, and this year, the meeting is in Equality 7-2521’s city. He resolves to go to the World Council and show them his invention. He will tell the council members the whole story of its discovery, and he believes they will be so impressed that they will forgive him for all his sins and transgressions. He decides that the World Council will speak to the Council of Vocations and have him reassigned from street sweeper to scholar so that he may continue his research.

Equality 7-2521 resolves to guard his tunnel with his life because no one but the World Council of Scholars will understand the significance of the light, and the light is the most important thing. In mid-thought, he suddenly realizes that he cares about his body. He believes the lightbulb is a part of his physical being and he wants to see the body that helped bring the bulb into existence. Until this point, he has never seen his body, but now he stretches out his arms and legs and realizes his own strength. Despite knowing that it is wrong to want it, he wants to see his own reflection.

Summary: Chapter VI

Equality 7-2521 writes that he was so excited about his discovery of the lightbulb that he forgot to pay attention to the time, and he was late in returning to the Home of the Street Sweepers. The Council of the Home asked him where he was, and he would not answer. Without emotion, the Council ordered Equality 7-2521 to be held in the Palace of Corrective Detention until he told the Council where he had been.

Equality 7-2521 writes that at the Palace of Correction, he was stripped and tied to a post where he was whipped and beaten while being asked where he had been. He lost consciousness and woke in a cell, happy that he had not betrayed the tunnel and the light. He stayed in the cell in the Palace of Corrective Detention until he realized that it was the day before the meeting of the World Council of Scholars. He then broke out of the Palace, which was easy because no precautions had been taken to prevent escape since no one had ever tried to do so before. He snuck back to his tunnel, where he writes this entry, reveling in the idea that the next day will bring atonement and reunification with his brothers.

Analysis: Chapters V–VI

Equality 7-2521’s belief that the lightbulb is too significant not to be shared, a belief that comes to have disastrous consequences for him, represents exactly the kind of thinking against which Rand is writing. He thinks that the lightbulb, a technological innovation, can be the crack in the wall of his prison, a way to reach all the members of his society and share with them what he has discovered in his tunnel. Rand shows, through Equality 7-2521, how such thinking leads to painful results. She believes that invention and progress are worthy not because they help the masses but rather in and of themselves, because they are the result of the individual mind working and expressing itself.

This section is the most hopeful part of the novella, and it is in this section that we most identify with Equality 7-2521. Here, he still wants to make the world a better place for himself and for his brothers, and he believes he has a way to do so. Moreover, the harsh punishment visited on Equality 7-2521 when he returns late from the tunnel and will not tell the Council where he has been foreshadows the violence that we fear will be brought to bear against him at the World Council. Though Rand claims not to have imbued Anthem with a traditional structure, this section, in which we sympathize with Equality 7-2521, builds the story’s tension and gives us the expectation of a climax in the coming confrontation with the World Council of Scholars.

Equality 7-2521’s sense of self-worth is entirely caught up in the significance of the lightbulb, as is the proper result, in Rand’s view, of allowing for individual benefit from individual discovery. Equality 7-2521’s increasing vanity and his desire to know his own strength are related to his belief that he has discovered something important and that his body is worth knowing. Thus, even after he has been beaten, he revels in his own strength at not succumbing to the beating and revealing his tunnel and the lightbulb. He harnesses his own strength at the same time he harnesses the strength of electricity, and he takes equal pride in both. His willingness to suffer for the lightbulb stems from his belief that the invention is an extension of his own physical being and is more important than his own body, which he has only recently begun to value.

The scene in the Palace of Corrective Detention in which Equality 7-2521 is flogged while bound naked to a post directly correlates to the Christian story about the scourging of Christ at the pillar. In the Christian story, Christ is dragged before the Roman authorities, stripped of his clothes, and beaten mercilessly at a pillar while being mocked by Roman soldiers shortly before being crucified. Rand uses the scene here to heighten our sense that Equality 7-2521 is a new prophet who must suffer great abuses, at the hands of tormenters, in the interest of his beliefs. By comparing Equality 7-2521 to Christ, Rand may offend some readers who believe that Christ is the son of God and that such comparisons are irreverent, and she may well have intended to give offense. She often said she was trying to reclaim religious language from religion, in order to prove that it was possible to worship an ideal without believing in the supernatural. The blatant comparison that this scene at the post invites is an attempt to reclaim religious imagery as well, just as is the heavy-handed image of Equality 7-2521 as the bringer of light to the world.

This section, like others in the novella, contains countless contrasting pairs, which emphasize, often blatantly, the battle between shapeless, nameless evil and vain, proud good. Specifically, Equality 7-2521’s high emotion and proud intentions contrast directly with the Council’s boredom while sentencing him to the Palace of Corrective Detention. The violence of the Council also contrasts with Equality 7-2521’s passive resistance. Similarly, the light of the bulb, weak though it is, significantly outshines the darkness of a society lit only by candles. Furthermore, Equality 7-2521’s care in protecting his tunnel stands in opposition to the carelessness of those in charge of guarding the Palace of Corrective Detention. These pairings further highlight Rand’s belief that everything about Equality 7-2521 makes different from those around him. Society wallows in apathetic, dim insecurity, while Equality 7-2521 covetously guards his precious light. In these pairings, society always comprises the weaker half, with much less invested, while Equality 7-2521, fighting bitterly and to the death for his ideals, always comprises the stronger half.