In Ayn Rand's Anthem, what is the worst transgression and its significance?



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In the middle of chapter 2, Rand's main character Equality discusses the only crime that is punishable by death in his society. That one crime is when someone speaks the Unspeakable Word, or learns to say and understand the word "I." Equality was ten years old when he saw a man burned alive for having spoken this word. Before he was burned, though, the man's tongue was cut out and Equality could see blood streaming down his mouth. It was a traumatic experience, but also one that impressed upon Equality's mind that everyone around him was furious but the man being burned was at peace with himself. Hence, Equality always wondered about the word. The word "I" was stricken from men's knowledge and language in order to keep them focused on living for society and not for themselves. So, to that society, if anyone were to understand that word and to speak it, that would mean that the person understood that s/he was an individual and separate or different from others in the city. That type of thinking was banned because they thought that it would destroy the communal society they had set up.


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