Imagine a world in which the word “I” has been outlawed for hundreds of years, where people have numbers for names, in which it is a sin to have a friend, and where faceless councils dictate that all humans must spend their days in toiling for the “good of our brothers”—a world in which technological progress erodes and is eventually abandoned.
This is the world of Anthem, a political allegory written by Ayn Rand in 1937. The hero, Equality 7-2521, struggles to fight against an oppressive regime and to recapture the one word that will affirm his individuality. We readers can be forgiven for feeling frustrated on his behalf. In a culture so dominated by our own individual whims, we take the primacy of the individual for granted.
Born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, Ayn Rand (as she renamed herself in the United States) never took individual free will for granted. As a twelve-year-old in February 1917, she watched in jubilation as Russian revolutionaries overthrew Tsar Nicholas II; just eight months later, on October 25, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overran her native St. Petersburg and plunged the country into a bloody civil war. When the communists emerged victorious, Rand watched as her father’s pharmacy business was confiscated. Rand and her family underwent periods of near starvation and witnessed the emerging brutalities of a totalitarian police state.
“It is a sin to write this,” begins Equality 7-2521’s diary, in which he gives us the account of his journey toward self-discovery. In that tantalizing opening line, one can imagine young Ayn Rand curled up in her bed writing of her “sins” against the official Bolshevik party line. Rand burned her own diary when she turned thirteen. It contained her negative views on popular ideas and maxims of the communist party—like “live for the state” or “live for others.” She knew that even for a child, keeping a written record of ideas that clashed with the soon-to-be ruling ideology could put her in mortal peril.
Rand would be the only member of her family to make it out of what became Soviet Russia. Because her job was making propaganda films, she obtained permission in 1926 to study filmmaking in the United States, and after leaving Russia, she never returned. Rand had fixated on Western life, and the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” written into America’s Declaration of Independence particularly appealed to her.
Rand made her way to Hollywood, where famed director Cecil B. DeMille cast her as an extra in one of his epic films. Her connection to DeMille helped her gain entry into the world of screenwriting and editing. She eventually began to write novels, which received an impressive amount of attention but mixed reviews. While she was struggling with the plot of what would become her most famous novel, The Fountainhead, Rand wrote Anthem in just one week. Inspired by a futuristic story in a popular magazine, she thought, “I can do that,” and wrote the book, seeking nothing more than to publish it in The Saturday Evening Post.
Readers often see Anthem as a sketch of The Fountainhead, which features red-haired Howard Roark, the fiercely independent architect whose bold, modernistic designs are rejected by the tradition-bound society. More than a sketch of The Fountainhead, however, Anthem offers an introduction to the ideas Rand would later develop into a complete philosophy called Objectivism, which she described as a “philosophy for living on earth.” She called Anthem “my manifesto, my profession of faith, the essence of my entire philosophy.” She lectured and wrote on her philosophies until her death in 1982.
Always outspoken about her view of life, Ayn Rand is someone about whom people inevitably hold strong opinions. Conservatives love her anti-government, pro-entrepreneurial stance and her moral rationale for capitalism. Liberals hate her for denouncing altruism and espousing selfishness as a virtue. Literary critics bemoan her prose as preachy and her characters as cardboard creations. A 2002 Library Journal review branded Anthem as “a long-forgotten exercise in paranoia.”
How then does one explain that Anthem sells 100,000 copies a year and inspires the more than 8,000 essays submitted to the Ayn Rand Institute contest each year? One explanation is that young people who are just beginning to make their way in the world are always captivated by the struggle between the desires of the individual and the pressing demands of society. The novel’s popularity also can be attributed to its fascinating dystopian vision of the future, its tender love story, its confirmation of the human spirit, and its classic theme of good vs. evil, although in Anthem, what is considered evil is something to cheer. Political and philosophical considerations aside, Anthem continues to engage readers as it takes them into a nightmare world and then delivers them, along with the protagonist, to a mountaintop where humanity is affirmed and hope is reborn.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how Anthem functions as an allegory of the battle between collectivism and individualism.
2. Describe the life cycle of members of the City, birth to death.
3. Describe both the literal and the spiritual journey Equality 7-2521 takes from being a member of collective society to a proud individual.
4. Identify the forces in society that have prevented innovation and scientific progress.
5. Explain how the author illustrates the power of language in shaping society.
6. Explain how the characters Liberty 5-3000, International 4-8818, and the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word contribute to Equality 7-2521’s quest for personal identity.
7. Contrast Equality 7-2521’s experience in the Uncharted Forest with his experience in the City.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
- The Lesson Guide is organized for study of the book in sections as indicated by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
- Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
- Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
- Lesson Guide vocabulary lists include words from the book that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the Lesson Guide vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each act that are most appropriate for them.
Essay and Discussion Questions
The essay and discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the book; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select...
(The entire section is 601 words.)
1. What examples of propaganda—misleading information used to promote a cause—can you find in the novel? How is propaganda used to control the members of this society? What propaganda are you exposed to in your daily life, and what effect does it have on you?
2. One of the greatest human sins in Equality 7-2521’s world is the Transgression of Preference—indicating a preference for a person, thing, or activity. What are the ways preference can harm members of our society? What laws or institutions protect against the harmful effects of preference?
3. Play “devil’s advocate” with Ayn Rand. Cite examples of collectivism or collective action that encourage creativity and progress or benefit humanity in other ways.
4. Which aspects of Ayn Rand’s philosophy are present in contemporary American politics? Which political parties would accept or reject her philosophical views as outlined in Anthem? Which of her views create the most controversy? Why?
5. Ayn Rand was drawn to America as a child; she emigrated from Russia and lived in New York City until her death in 1982. What is uniquely American in the story of Equality 7-2521 and the philosophies laid out in Anthem?
6. Explain why the dictum that “men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men” is so important to maintaining the collectivist society in Anthem.
7. Identify countries or societies in the world today that bear some resemblance to the City. How are they similar to the City?
8. Pretend you are a literary critic, and write a review of Anthem that focuses primarily on its literary style. How successful is Ayn Rand at setting the scene, creating a dynamic plot, and making her characters believable? Address these questions in your review, and support your opinions with examples from the novel.
9. Ayn Rand is often credited with offering a “moral defense of capitalism” as opposed to a practical defense (such as the creation of wealth). How do...
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base: shameful, low-minded
brigades: squadrons or units
cesspool: an underground reservoir for temporary storage of sewage
convulsions: sudden violent and involuntary movements of the body
dais: a low platform for a lectern
flints: pieces of quartz that produce a spark when struck by steel
indivisible: unable to be separated
larder: a large room or cupboard for storing food
quest: an act or instance of seeking; a search
ravine: a gorge or canyon
sieve: a device used to sift or filter
transgression: sin or wrongdoing
vials: small, cylindrical glass containers used to hold...
(The entire section is 1400 words.)
avert: to turn away
eugenics: the controversial science of improving population by controlled breeding
furrows: long narrow trenches made by a plough for planting seeds
lassitude: mental weariness
moat: deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle, fort, or town
pyre: a heap of flammable material upon which corpses are burned
spangles: small sparkling pieces of material; sequins
1. Beyond her physical beauty, Liberty 5-3000 displays a certain “hard” quality that attracts Equality 7-2521. How does he describe this quality in her? What might hardness in her character suggest about...
(The entire section is 1059 words.)
brine: a solution of water heavily saturated with salt
loadstone (commonly “lodestone”): a naturally magnetized mineral
zinc: a bluish white metallic element used in battery electrodes, among many other things
1. How does Equality 7-2521’s discovery of a “new power of nature” make him see the Council of Scholars in a different light?
Before discovering a “new power of nature,” he believed the Council of Scholars held the answers to all scientific questions, but now he says this belief is false. The Council of Scholars’ denial of the existence of anything that is unknown or mysterious has been proven wrong by...
(The entire section is 332 words.)
scornful: expressing contempt
submission: the act of yielding to the will or authority of another person or people
1. How do the Golden One and Equality 7-2521 interact, and how do they express their love for each other?
They express their feelings for each other by giving each other new names. Just as Equality 7-2521 has called Liberty 5-3000 “the Golden One,” she gives Equality 7-2521 a name. He speaks endearments to her, and she admits she likes being called “dearest one.” Yet, they also show their affection without words. She shows her love for him by bringing water in her hands for him to...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
abyss: a deep and seemingly bottomless chasm
current (electrical): a flow of electricity from the ordered movement of electrically charged particles
fathom: to understand
1. What is Equality 7-2521 celebrating at the beginning of this chapter?
He is celebrating his ability to create light by harnessing the “power of the sky”; he is also celebrating the “box of glass” he has made, a crude lightbulb.
2. What does Equality 7-2521 plan to do after discovering how to create light? Why?
He plans to share what he has created with the Scholars so that it can be perfected: “We need all...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
corrective: designed to counteract negative actions/influences
detention: the act of holding someone in custody
froth: small bubbles of foam around the mouth (in context)
lunged: made a sudden forward thrust with the body
stole through: sneaked past
togas: short, flowing outer garments (like those worn in ancient Rome)
1. Why is Equality 7-2521 sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention, and what does his admission of his infraction tell us about the society and about him?
One night, while working in his tunnel on his electric light, he forgets to watch the sand in the...
(The entire section is 757 words.)
infamy: evil reputation brought about by doing something brutal, shocking, or criminal
1. How does the World Council of Scholars receive Equality 7-2521’s invention?
First, the Council members won’t listen to Equality 7-2521, because he is a lowly Street Sweeper. When he presents his “gift” of the box of light, the men react in terror and then in anger. They condemn Equality 7-2521 for breaking the laws of society and for daring to think he can do the work of a Scholar when his assigned vocation is sweeping the streets. Because he has worked alone to create the box of light, they deem it worthless and declare that it must be...
(The entire section is 796 words.)
1. Ayn Rand defined her philosophy, Objectivism, as a philosophy for “living on earth.” How does this chapter express this philosophy literally?
This chapter shows Equality 7-2521 “living on the earth” in a natural setting. He rises, runs, leaps and falls, stretches and swings on branches, falls on soft moss, and rolls in the dry leaves. He is free from the constraints of society and the imposition of others’ will upon his own.
2. Contrast Rand’s depiction of the Uncharted Forest with her depiction of the City.
The Uncharted Forest is full of defined shapes and colors and textures, as evidenced in this passage: “The leaves had edges...
(The entire section is 371 words.)
corruption: the state of being morally depraved
ecstasy: an overwhelming feeling of great joy; bliss
smolder: to burn slowly with smoke but no flame
1. The escape into the Uncharted Forest could be considered a Great Rebirth for Equality 7-2521 since in the forest he experiences freedom and joy for the first time. How does the sudden appearance of the Golden One develop this idea?
The Golden One has escaped from the City and followed Equality 7-2521 into the Uncharted Forest. When he first sees her, he is overwhelmed by emotion and can barely speak. In the forest, he can love the Golden One and receive her love free of the...
(The entire section is 599 words.)
endeavoring: trying hard
hearth: the floor of a fireplace or the area in front of a fireplace
reverence: deep respect or honor
scripts: written texts
1. How does Ayn Rand show nature as a benevolent force in Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One’s trek through the Uncharted Forest?
A long mountain range allows the two escapees to put distance between themselves and the City. Their discovery of a house happens when sunlight strikes the glass windows, creating the illusion of a flame, which they follow. The forest itself has protected the house from destruction, and in this house they find...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
botched: carried out badly or carelessly
covet: to yearn for
creed: a belief system
dictate: to rule over
edict: a command
lime: any number of calcium compounds added to soil or water
plunder noun: stolen property
serfdom: a system of feudal agricultural labor
summit: the top
vindicate: to clear someone of blame
warrant: (in context) permission
1. Why would critics see this chapter as the climax of Anthem, even though it is not the final chapter?
(The entire section is 500 words.)
ego: a person’s sense of self-importance; self-esteem
flying ships: airplanes
Gaea Greek Mythology: a goddess of the earth
Prometheus Greek Mythology: A demigod, one of the Titans, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to man. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and having an eagle feed on his liver each day. Hercules finally rescued him.
raze: to tear down
yoke: oppressive servitude
1. What had Equality 7-2521 thought of as his “curse”? How is he enlightened about it in the small mountain house? How does he react when he gains this new...
(The entire section is 814 words.)
1. Equality 7-2521 begins writing his story
A. after escaping to the Uncharted Forest.
B. right after he discovered the tunnel from the Unmentionable Times.
C. two years after he discovered the tunnel from the Unmentionable Times.
D. as a way to communicate with the Golden One.
E. after he has been lashed.
2. All of these are viewed as “evil” in the Society EXCEPT
A. preferring one person more than another
B. dreaming of the work you want to be assigned
C. fighting with one’s brother man
D. being born with a handicap...
(The entire section is 1450 words.)
1. International 4-8818, the Golden One, and the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word are crucial in Equality 7-2521’s recovery of his own will. Describe the roles they play in his becoming an individual. Support your essay with details from the novel.
International 4-8818, the Golden One, and the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word directly affect the outcome of Equality 7-2521’s quest for individuality; each of them plays a significant role in his rejecting collectivism and exercising his own will. International 4-8818 shows Equality 7-2521 the value of preference by being his friend. The Golden One awakens within him feelings of romantic love, buffers the hardships of the City, and becomes a mother figure in the...
(The entire section is 3834 words.)