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 through ten wards of learning.
Equality 7-2521 was miserable in the Home of Students because learning was too easy for him; his great sin was to be too different from the others. He tried to forget his lessons but always remembered; he knew each lesson before the Teachers had finished speaking. He tried to be like Union 5-3992, who had...
(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 women except at the Time of Mating. This happens each spring, when men older than twenty and women older than eighteen are sent to the City Palace of Mating for one night. They are each assigned a partner, the babies are born each winter, and the children and parents never know one another. Equality 7-2521 has been sent twice, and it was a shameful...
(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...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
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.
(The entire section is 439 words.)
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 thread of flame.” He examines his fingers in the red glow; the rest of his body is in darkness, and at that moment nothing exists but the tiny glowing wire in the black underground tunnel.
Then Equality 7-2521 begins to ponder the meaning of his discovery. He knows it is now possible for him to light his tunnel, his city, and all cities of the world with nothing but metal and wires. This is a dramatic improvement on the light men now have, cleaner and brighter than anything they have ever known or seen. The power of the heavens can be harnessed and used, and the other secrets and power it holds might grant men anything they choose to ask of it.
Now he knows what he must do with this discovery. Equality 7-2521 can no longer spend his time sweeping streets, and this secret can no longer be kept underground. He must take what he has created to the House of Scholars, where he must be given space to conduct his experiments. He and his brother Scholars must join their wisdom to his and pursue this discovery.
The World Council of Scholars will be meeting in his city in a month; these wisest men meet once a year in different cities all over the earth. Equality 7-2521 intends to go to the Council and set his creation before them as a gift. He will confess everything to them, and they will immediately forgive him because his gift is greater than his transgression.
Once he explains himself, the Council will explain everything to the Council of Vocations, and Equality 7-2521 will be transferred to the House of Scholars. This has never been done before, but neither has there ever been such a gift. Until then, Equality 7-2521 must wait and guard both himself and his secret. He must not...
(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 sees no curiosity, no anger, and no mercy in the faces of these old men. When the oldest member asks where Equality 7-2521 has been, the accused man thinks about the truth and then refuses to tell them. Without any anger, the old man tells the two youngest men to take Equality 7-2521 to the Palace of Corrective Detention to be whipped until he answers the question.
He is taken to the Stone Room under the Palace of Corrective Detention. It is a dark room with nothing in it but an iron post. Two naked men wearing leather aprons and hoods over their faces wait for their instructions; two Judges, old and bent, stand in a corner of the room and give the signal. The men strip Equality 7-2521 and tie his hands to the post before they begin to wield their lashes.
Although the pain is searing at first, soon Equality 7-2521 is numb and feels nothing. He does not cry out, but he sees visions of glowing red in the iron bars in the grill of the door and the squares of stone on the floor.
Finally one of his torturers delivers a brutal blow to Equality 7-2521’s chin, and a Judge asks him where he has been. When he clearly refuses to answer, the “lash whistles again.”
Equality 7-2521 is nearly unconscious and hears the snarling question being asked over and over again: where have you been? His lips move, but all they say is “the light,” over and over again before he loses consciousness.
When he wakes up prone on the stone floor, Equality 7-2521 sees his hands but cannot move his body. Then he smiles because he thinks of the light and knows he has not betrayed it.
The prisoner lies there for many days. Visitors come twice a day, once to bring him bread and...
(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. Perhaps that is due to his torn, blood-stained tunic. After he greets the Council, Collective 0-0009 (the wisest man on the Council) asks Equality 7-2521 who he is, for he does not seem to be a scholar.
Equality 7-2521 introduces himself and says he is a Street Sweeper in this City. The Council is outraged that a mere Street Sweeper has invaded their meeting. It is against all the rules and laws, but Equality 7-2521 knows how to recapture their attention. He asks them to listen, for he has brought them the greatest gift ever offered to men. Finally they listen.
Equality 7-2521 places the glass box on the table in front of them and tells them about the tunnel, the experiments, his escape from the Palace of Corrective Detention, and his discovery. The Scholars remain motionless as he demonstrates the glass box. He touches the wire to the box. Very slowly, a red flame trembles in the wire and then glows.
The Council men are terrified, leaping to their feet and pressing themselves against the walls. They huddle together as if to draw courage from each other. Equality 7-2521 sees them and laughs, assuring them they have nothing to fear. Although there is a great power in the wires, it is controlled power, and he now gives it to them.
Equality 7-2521 explains that he has given them the “power of the sky” and the “key to the earth.” He asks only that he be embraced as one of them, the humblest scholar. He encourages them to work together to harness this power to make life easier for all men. Torches and candles can be eliminated and cities can be flooded with light. Together, they can “bring new light to men.”
Suddenly Equality 7-2521 fears how the Scholars are...
(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 glass box and continues trekking through the forest, and the forest seems to welcome him. When he is hungry, he kills a bird with a stone and cooks it over a fire. He feels great satisfaction at having provided his own food. In fact, Equality 7-2521 is looking forward to getting hungry again so he can feel once again the pride of providing and eating his own meal.
Later he comes to a stream of calm water. As he leans over to drink from the stream, he is stunned by something he has never seen. He sees his image (reflected in the water) for the first time and cannot quit looking at himself.
He realizes his face and body are beautiful. His face is unlike those of his brothers, for he feels no pity when he sees it. His body is straight and thin, hard and strong, unlike those of his brothers. He feels as if he is a man who can be trusted and not feared. Equality 7-2521 walks until sunset. As he prepares his bed for the night, he suddenly remembers he is Damned and he laughs.
All of this he writes on the paper he had hidden in his tunic along with the written pages he had intended to give to the World Council of Scholars but never gave them. Equality 7-2521 has much to thinks about and hopes he will find the proper words to write it all in the days ahead. He cannot speak of it now, for he still does not understand.
(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 she tells him she followed him.
The entire City knows Equality 7-2521 went to the Uncharted Forest; on the day she heard of it, the Golden One ran away from the House of Peasants. She discovered his path through the forest by following the branches broken by his body. Her tunic is torn and her arms have been cut by branches, but she does not notice her weariness or her fear.
The Golden One vows to follow Equality 7-2521 wherever he goes. If he faces danger, she will face it with him—even if the end is death. Equality 7-2521 is damned, and the Golden One wants to share his damnation.
Her voice is low, full of both bitterness and triumph. She tells Equality 7-2521 that his eyes are like flames; the other men’s eyes have neither hope nor fire. He is determined, but they are soft and weak; he holds his head high with pride but they cower in fear. Equality 7-2521 walks while his brothers crawl, and she wishes to be damned with him rather than blessed with all the others. Equality 7-2521 may do as he wishes, but she kneels before him and asks him not to send her away.
When Equality 7-2521 reaches for her, he is struck with a kind of madness and he kisses her. Her arms close around him and they stand thus for a long time. Equality 7-2521 is frightened that he has lived twenty-one years without ever knowing such joy is possible.
He tells the Golden One that there is no danger in solitude. They have no need for others, and they must forget all they once knew and rejoice only in being together with this bond of joy between them. The world ahead of them is strange and unknown, but it is their own. They walk through the forest together. That night Equality 7-2521...
(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 white fire comes from the sun gleaming on the windows. Its walls are hard and smooth, made of stone unlike the stone in Equality 7-2521’s tunnel. The house is two stories high with a strangely flat roof, and the walls are mostly windows. Without saying it, both Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One know that this house has survived the Unmentionable Times, protected by the forest. Neither of them is afraid, so they walk together to the ancient house.
It will take the couple years to learn and understand everything in this house. Today they simply take it all in with their eyes. They pull back the curtains from the windows and are surprised to find many small rooms in which twelve men could have lived. There are mirrors everywhere, and each room has glass globes with wires inside them. The sleeping hall is small, containing only two beds. They are amazed to realize that these are the only two beds in the house, which means only two people lived here.
The Golden One gasps when she discovers clothing in all colors; some of them disintegrate at her touch, but others feel soft and new. One room has shelves full of manuscripts bound with hard cloth; the writing is amazingly small. Equality 7-2521 discovers that the books are written in his language, but there are still many words he does not understand. He will begin reading them tomorrow.
Once they have seen everything, the couple decides that this is their home and they will never leave it. They are at the end of their journey. Equality 7-2521 gathers wood for the hearth and brings water from the nearby stream. He kills a mountain goat and brings it to the wonderful cooking room. The Golden One stayed in the house, for Equality 7-2521 could not...
(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 happiness is its own goal and purpose. Neither is Equality 7-2521 a means or a tool to be used for others’ purposes. He is not a servant or a sacrifice on the altar for others. Equality 7-2521 is a man, and he need not kneel to any man but himself. He will keep and guard his treasures, which are his thought, his will, and his freedom. The greatest of all is his freedom.
Equality 7-2521 owes nothing to his brothers and has no right to collect a debt from them. His soul is his own, and he is neither friend nor foe to his brothers. One must do more than just be born to merit love; it is an honor and it must be earned.
He will choose friends who are neither slaves nor masters; he can choose to be weak alone or to join hands with another. No longer must he speak the word “we.” This idea must not be preeminent in a man’s soul or it will become a “monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and an unspeakable lie.”
“We” causes men to harden and crushes everything beneath it. Black and white are lost in gray, and “the depraved steal the virtue of the good. . . the weak steal the might of the strong. . . and the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.” Joy is nothing if everyone else can manipulate it, and wisdom is foolish if fools can control it. Freedom is not freedom if everyone is his master, and life has no value if it requires unbending obedience.
Equality 7-2521 is finished with “we,” with this “creed of corruption.” It is the word of subjugation and misery, and now he has seen the truth. This truth is for the entire earth, and it will give everyone joy, peace, and pride. The truth is one word: “I.”
(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 and taught them to be gods. He suffered for this act, as all bearers of the light must suffer. Prometheus names the Golden One for the mother of the earth and all gods: he names her Gaea.
Prometheus will live here and toil to earn his living from the earth. He will learn secrets from reading his books and rebuild the achievements of the past. Although his brothers cannot do this because their minds are “shackled to the weakest and dullest ones among them,” he can.
He learns that his power from the sky is called electricity, and it powered man’s greatest creations; he has found the source of power for this house and will make it work again. Then Prometheus will use wires to build an electrical barrier around his house and erect a wall of granite that none of his brothers will be able to cross. He will make a fortress.
Gaea is pregnant, and their son will be raised as a man who will learn to say “I” proudly, to walk straight and tall, and to revere his own spirit. After Prometheus reads all the books and prepares his home, he will steal into the cursed City where he was born and call to the few who were his friends and to those whose spirits have not been crushed. They will follow him to his fortress and together they will “write the first chapter in the new history of man.”
The books reveal the long history of the spirit of man and his freedom. To be free, one must be free of his brothers. That, nothing else, is freedom. Man was first enslaved by the gods and then by kings, but he eventually broke those chains. Man was enslaved by birth, by family, and by race, but he broke free of those chains as well. Man proclaimed the rights that no other man can take from...
(The entire section is 849 words.)