What symbolism is in Ayn Rand's Anthem?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many symbols in Anthem that one could turn to any page and find one-- it's that amazing! The whole society that Rand created in the story is symbolic of some ideology that can drive any heated political or social discussion. First, the element of light is both ideologically and temporally discussed. The society uses candles, the most simplistic forms of light, yet Equality discovers electricity. In this example, the types of light also represent the level of knowledge that a person accepts in the story. The Scholars could not accept electricity like Equality did; therefore, they could only accept the lower form of knowledge according to the rules of their society (which also limits their intellectual progression). The following is a list of other symbols and their meanings from the novel.

Uncharted Forest = freedom or uncharted life of choices and free will

Social Meetings = brainwashing forums for acceptance of the society

People's Names = Collective Nouns (singular nouns with plural meanings--just like the society.)

The Cave= this is a Yonic symbol (maternal) where most people spend time being nurtured and learn about the world.

Body language= the state of a man. Most men are hunched over, sad, and won't look into each other's eyes due to fear. But Equality walks uprightly showing his strength of mind.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Equality 7-2521 begins his narrative, he refers to both the light of a single candle and how alone he is in his tunnel.  "We are alone here under the earth," he says.  Further, "it is strange" to him to see only his two legs in front of him and the shadow of his one head on the wall.  Thus, the single candle becomes associated, symbolically, with his solitude and singular thoughtfulness.  In fact, he has stolen the candle from the building where he lives so that he can do his "secret . . . evil . . . precious work" by its light—connecting it to the work he does all alone.  Moreover, his box of light, with which he has rediscovered electricity, symbolizes his awakening and its personal, individual nature.  

The narrator also mentions the "iron bracelet which all men wear on their left wrists with their names upon it."  The metal is iron, a material we might recall as being quite strong and often the metal used to shackle slaves or prisoners. This seems to symbolize Equality's status as a virtual slave to his society.  He has little freedom to make choices, and he has been given a state-sanctioned name with which he has been labeled.  This iron label might make us recall both the treatment enslaved peoples have borne as well as the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust when they were labeled and marked by numbers.

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The symbolism in Ayn Rand's Anthem revolves primarily around language and literature. The narrator only uses plural pronouns, such as "we," and "us," indicating that the singular personal pronouns of "me" and "I " are unknown to this population. This limited vocabulary symbolically reflects the limited political and social freedoms individuals in this society experience. In addition, there is a lot of physical symbolism in the story. The narrator writes from within a dark tunnel, reflecting the political and cultural darkness of his society. Rand is echoing Plato's allegory of the cave: the man who resides mostly in the tunnel assumes that his own ignorance is universal. The narrator's ignorance is cured when he finds and reads numerous old books and documents, including the U.S. declaration of Independence and several Greek myths. After this, he leaves the tunnel. This departure represents his exit from a life of ignorance and oppression.