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.