What role (literal and figurative) does the forest play in Anthem by Ayn Rand?
The literal role that the forest plays in Anthem is one of an uncharted territory. In chapter two, Equality 7-2521 says of the forest, "Men never enter the Uncharted Forest, for there is no power to explore it and no path to lead among its ancient trees which stand as guards of fearful secrets."
This introduction in chapter two sets up the figurative role that the forest plays in the story. Often in literature, the forest symbolizes a place of darkness where people get lost or succomb to danger, but Rand flips this symbol in Anthem. She turns the forest into the only place the people of this dark future society can run to in order to rediscover their past and create an identity of their own. Of course, because "there is no power to explore it and no path to lead among its ancient trees," it is only the true misfits who long for something more that run to the forest.
In chapter eight, Rand illustrates the power of the forest to help Equality 7-2521 begin his life anew as an individual and a thinker. "It has been a day of wonder, this, our first day in the forest." As Equality 7-2521 continues his trek through the forest, he learns many things from his surroudings such as hunger, providing for himself, hunting, the beauty of his own body, and doubt. All of these things first discovered in the forest will later lead him to his future ponderings of ego and individuality, proving that the forest figuratively is a wellspring of knowledge for the displaced Equality 7-2521.