Chapter 1 Summary
Writing is now a sin, and thinking or doing something alone is the worst imaginable sin. No one may write without the permission of the Council of Vocations, and there is no other movement in the dark tunnel. It is against the law to be alone anymore, ever, for this is the root of all evil; and he has broken many laws.
He stole the candle from the storeroom of the Home of the Street Sweepers; if he is caught, he will spend ten years in the Palace of Corrective Detention. His name is Equality 7-2521. That is what is written on the iron bracelet that every man wears on his left wrist. He is twenty-one years old and six feet tall, something very few others are. Teachers and Leaders always point him out as having evil in his bones because his body has grown more than any of his brothers. Equality 7-2521 was born with a curse: he always has had forbidden thoughts and wishes that others do not have.
All men must be the same. Above the doors of the Palace of the World Council are ancient words that men often recite: “We are one in all and all in one. There are no men but only the great WE, One indivisible and forever.” The World Council has been the home of all truth since the Great Rebirth. Thinking about the times before the Great Rebirth is punishable by three years in the Palace of Corrective Detention.
The Old Ones living in the Home of the Useless whisper about such things as the evil Unmentionable Times—wagons that moved without horses and lights that burned without flame. Those times have been absorbed into the Great Truth that “all men are one and that there is no will save the will of all men together.”
All other men are good and wise; only Equality 7-2521 is cursed. Born in the Home of Infants, Equality 7-2521 lived there with all the other children of the City until he was five. His greatest crime was fighting with his brothers, and Equality 7-2521 was locked in the cellar for committing this offense. He was sent to the Home of Students (a hundred beds and stark white walls, with all movements regulated by bells), where he had to progress...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Equality 7-2521 has noticed Liberty 5-3000 and thinks of her above all others. He wants to write her name, barely whispering it in the dark emptiness of the tunnel.
The women who live at the Home of the Peasants work the land. The Home for Peasants is located on a road five miles outside of the City, and the Street Sweepers have to keep the road clean up to the first mile-marker. The road is lined with a hedge, and beyond the hedge are the fields where the women wearing white tunics work. When Equality 7-2521 first sees Liberty 5-3000, he feels pain and fear for the first time. He stands perfectly still so that he “might not spill this pain more precious than pleasure.” He hears someone call her name (which is how he learns it) and watches her walk away, white tunic moving in the wind.
The next day, Equality 7-2521 watches her again in the field. This happens for many days, and he thinks Liberty 5-3000 is watching him as well. One day Liberty 5-3000 comes close to the hedge and suddenly turns to him. She stands “still as a stone” and looks at him with a taut, unsmiling face and dark eyes before turning and walking away. The next day, however, Liberty 5-3000 smiles at Equality 7-2521, and he smiles back at her. The glance is short, but he feels as if her hand has caressed him.
Every morning from then on, the couple greets one another with their eyes. It is against the law for people of different Trades to talk to each other except in groups at the Social Meetings, but the couple develops a subtle gesture with which they speak without anyone else noticing. It is a new sin for Equality 7-252, but he is not ashamed. It is his second Transgression of Preference, for he no longer thinks of all his brothers—which is required—but thinks only of one. Thinking of Liberty 5-3000 makes him feel as if “the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live.”
Equality 7-2521 thinks of her as the Golden One, although it is a sin to give anyone a name that might distinguish him from anyone else. He ignores the law that prohibits men from thinking about...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Equality 7-2521 has discovered a “new power of nature.” The Council of Scholars says all men know the things that exist; therefore, the things that are not known by all do not exist. Equality 7-2521 believes that the Council is blind and that the earth’s secrets are not for all to see. Only those who seek them will find them, and he has found a secret no one else knows.
Two years ago, Equality 7-2521 was cutting open the body of a dead frog when he saw its leg jerking. Although it was dead, it moved by some power unknown to men. After many tests, he discovered the cause. The frog had been hanging on some copper wire, and the metal of his knife had caused the briny frog’s leg to move. Equality 7-2521 experimented by putting a piece of copper and a piece of zinc into a jar of brine and then touching a wire to them, and he discovered the power of electricity.
It was a haunting discovery, and Equality 7-2521 studied it exclusively for a long time. Each new test revealed more of the mysterious power, and soon he understood that electricity is the greatest power on earth. It moved the needle on the compass he stole from the House of Scholars, although all men are taught that the loadstone points immutably to the north. This power defied this law.
Electricity causes lightening, something no one has ever understood; he has raised a metal pole by the tunnel’s opening during many thunderstorms and has seen lightning repeatedly strike it. Now Equality 7-2521 knows that metal “draws the power of the sky” and can be “made to give it forth.”
Using his discovery, Equality 7-2521 has built many strange things, including the copper wires he uses in his experiments. He has walked the underground tunnel, the portion not blocked by fallen rock, for half a mile and gathered all the items he could find by candlelight. He finds strange boxes with metal bars inside them, including many cords and coils of metal. He discovers wires connected to little glass globes on the tunnel walls. Inside the glass are thin metal filaments.
Although he does not understand everything he learns, Equality 7-2521 is certain that the men of the Unmentionable Times understood and somehow harnessed this energy. He is confident he will learn what they learned, but it frightens him to know he is alone in this endeavor. It has always been taught that no one can possess greater wisdom than the Scholars who represent all men because of their wisdom—yet Equality 7-2521 does.
In his quest for knowledge, he will forget about all men and all laws, everything except for his metal and his wires. There is so much to learn, and he is content to learn it all alone.
Chapter 4 Summary
It is many days before Equality 7-2521 gets to speak to Liberty 5-3000 again. It is a particularly scorching day and the heat is stifling. No wind is moving, and the women in their white tunics are weary as they work, each task taking them longer than usual. They are far from the road when Equality 7-2521 and his fellow Street Sweepers arrive to work, but Liberty 5-3000 is standing near the hedge waiting for him. Although her eyes are hard toward the world, Liberty 5-3000 looks at him with willing obedience.
Equality 7-2521 tells Liberty 5-3000 that he has given her a name in his mind: the Golden One. She tells him that she no longer thinks of him as Equality 7-252. She holds her head high and looks at him directly as she tells him that in her thoughts, she thinks of him as The Unconquered. Both of them are silent for a long time until Equality 7-2521 reminds her that these kinds of thoughts are forbidden. She reminds him that his thoughts, too, are forbidden. Yet he wishes her to think them.
Equality 7-2521 looks into her eyes and cannot lie to her; he calls her his “dearest one” and asks her not to obey his warning. She is moved by the endearment, for men have never before said such things to women. The Golden One stands with her head bowed and her palms at her sides, facing Equality 7-2521 as if in complete submission to him. Finally she raises her head and speaks gently, as she wants him to forget about some anxiety she is experiencing.
She knows he must be hot and weary from working; although he denies it, she offers to bring him some water since he is not allowed to cross the hedge to get some for himself. She kneels at the moat, cups her hands to gather some water, and holds the water to Equality 7-2521’s lips. He is not sure if he drank any water, but he does know he is still standing with his lips to her hands; she knows it and does not move.
Both of them raise their heads and take a step back, for they are not sure what has prompted them to do this unheard-of thing. They are afraid to understand it. The Golden One steps back, looking at her hands in wonder before moving away, even though no one is coming. Then she steps back, as if she is compelled to walk away backwards, her eyes always on Equality 7-2521; her arms are bent before her, as if she cannot lower her hands.
Chapter 5 Summary
Equality 7-2521 creates light “from the night of the ages.” He does it with no help, simply using his mind to make something from nothing. He reels with his discovery as he looks at the light he has created.
Tonight, after innumerable tests and trials, Equality 7-2521 has finished building something from the box of glass remaining from the Unmentionable Times. When he touches his electrically charged wire to the box, it emits a red glow and a circle of light lies on the stone floor below him.
He stands with his head in his hands, marveling at this wondrous creation. Without flint or fire, he has created light from the heart of metal. He blows out the candle, and everything is dark except for the “thin...
(The entire section is 544 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
It has been thirty days since Equality 7-2521 has written, since he has been in his tunnel, because he got caught. It happened on the last night he wrote.
On that night, he is distracted by his discovery and does not watch the sand in the hourglass that lets him know when three hours have passed and when he should return to the City Theatre. When he finally remembers to look, the sand has run out.
Although he hurries to the Theatre, the tent is silent and the streets of the City are dark and empty. If he were to go back and hid in his tunnel, he and his light would both be discovered; so he walks to the House of the Street Sweepers.
Equality 7-2521 is questioned by the Council of the Home; he...
(The entire section is 667 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The forest is now Equality 7-2521’s new home, at least until the forest animals come to kill him. He now has no bed but the moss and no future but the beasts. Equality 7-2521 feels old now, but he was young this morning when he carried his glass box through the city to the Home of the Scholars.
No one stops him from entering the great hall where the World Council of Scholars is conducting its solemn meeting. It is an impressive sight. They are gathered around a table below a painting of the “twenty illustrious men who had created the candle.”
Everyone turns to look at Equality 7-2521 when he enters; they are puzzled by his appearance and look at him with great curiosity, as if he were a miracle....
(The entire section is 861 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Equality 7-2521’s first day in the forest is full of wonder. He wakes and feels the sunlight on his face; eventually he realizes he does not have to rise at the sound of a bell as he has done every morning for nearly his entire life. He lies on his back and throws his arms out as he looks at the sky and considers his future.
The leaves above him are silver and in the sunlight and they ripple in the wind. He is free to lie here as long as he wants, and the thought makes him laugh aloud. He is also free to twirl around in the rustling leaves or swing from a tree branch—both of which he does. Finally he rolls over on the moss and laughs as if there is nothing inside him but laughter.
Finally he takes his...
(The entire section is 403 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Equality 7-2521 has not written for many days; he feels no desire to speak, as he does not need words to remember what has happened to him.
On his second day in the forest, Equality 7-2521 hears footsteps behind him. He hides in the bushes and waits as the steps come closer. Soon he sees a white tunic among the trees and runs to the Golden One. The couple stand looking at one another, but neither of them speaks.
The Golden One’s hands fists are clenched at her side and her body sways; Equality 7-2521 does not dare to get too close to her. Finally, in a trembling voice, Equality 7-2521 asks the Golden One how she got here. She only whispers that she has found him; there is great pride in her voice when...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Equality 7-2521 writes on paper that was made thousands of years ago as he looks over at the Golden One, who is lying on an ancient bed. They are in their home, the one they discovered at sunrise today. They had been crossing a chain of mountains; whenever they got on a ridge and could see through the forest, they could see great mountain peaks that the Uncharted Forest hid from the men of the Cities.
They climb these mountains, knowing they will not be followed here. In the distance, they see a glow, a white flame among the trees on a peak in front of them. As they get closer, they see the flame is not fire, not burning, yet it is “blinding as liquid metal.”
Finally they see that it is a house. The...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
As he reflects on his hands, his spirit, his sky, his forest, and his earth, Equality 7-2521 has the answer to the question he longed to answer. “I am. I think. I will.” He stands in the sun on the mountain and knows this is the end of his quest. He wanted to know the meaning of things and he has found it: he is the meaning. He has the permission and the right to live. He has the will to choose and the choice of words to speak. The “guiding star” is within him, and the star and the loadstone point to him.
He does not know if this earth is the center of the universe or merely a speck of dust, and he does not care. He does know what can offer his happiness here, and...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Equality 7-2521 saw the word “I” in the first book he read in his house. As soon as he understood the word, the book fell from his hands and he wept, for the first time in his life, out of pity and the potential for deliverance for all men.
Now he understands that what he thought were his sins and his curse are actually his blessings. Now he knows why he never felt guilt for his transgressions and why centuries of bondage cannot kill the spirit or the truth.
Equality 7-2521 reads for many days before he explains what he has learned to the Golden One. He tells her it is not proper for men not to have names. The name he has chosen for himself is Prometheus, the god who brought the light of the gods to men...
(The entire section is 849 words.)