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Equality is different from the rest of those in the society of Anthem because, to put it simply, he tries to be different. This simple fact is what sets him apart. Rand's novel is based on a society in which unity, anonymity, and conformity are praised, while individuality and creativity are condemnable by punishment or death. From the start of the novel, readers can tell that Equality is different, even if he may not want to be.
Even from a young age, he knew he was different. In chapter one, he recounts his teachers saying to him, "'There is evil in your bones, Equality 7-2521, for your body has grown beyond the bodies of others." Equality is different physically, and this signifies to readers that he will be different in other ways as well.
Though the society praises sameness, Equality knows there is something more. His desire to seek individuality is the most prominent quality in him which sets him apart from all others. Throughout the novel, Equality does and feels things that he knows is wrong by society's standards. After he is assigned to the Home of the Street Sweepers, he and his friend, International 4-8818, find a tunnel which they know had to have been built during the "Unmentionable Times," or the time before the society was established which the people are forbidden to know or talk about. In chapter one, paragraph 49, Equality says,
We knew suddenly that this place was left from the Unmentionable Times. So it was true, and those Times had been, and all the wonders of those Times. Hundreds upon hundreds of years ago men knew secrets which we have lost. And we thought: "This is a foul place. They are damned who touch the things of the Unmentionable Times." But our hand which followed the track, as we crawled, clung to the iron as if it would not leave it, as if the skin of our hand were thirsty and begging of the metal some secret fluid beating in its coldness.
Equality knows he is not supposed to have anything to do with the Unmentionable Times, yet he cannot make his hand stop touching it. Some desire deep inside him keeps him curious. This curiosity is, ultimately, what sets him apart from the rest of the society and what leads him to his discoveries in the end.
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