Why is it difficult to see this as a novel of the "future"?
It’s difficult to imagine a society in the future so backward that they don’t have electricity and still believe the world is flat, but this is what the society in Anthem is like. At one point in the history of this world, a great war is fought. The leaders and people of this society decide that in order to keep this from happening again, they will destroy all knowledge of the past by burning books. Over time, the lack of books and knowledge causes society to sink into a period of primitive existence. They also feel that everyone must become equal with no one being better than anyone else. This is why the collective “we” is so important in this society; to keep order, the individuality of people is denied. Because he is strong and intelligent, Equality is given the job of a street sweeper to ensure he is no better than anyone else. When Equality finds electricity in the ancient subway system below the city and takes his discovery to the Elders in the House of Scholars, they arrest Equality for his treasonous act. Equality escapes the oppressive society and learns about the letter, “I” in books he finds in a home in the Uncharted Forest.
Because we think of the future as a time of advanced technology, robots, and flying cars similar to the world of “The Jetsons”, it seems impossible that we could convert back to the dark times of Equality’s society. Ayn Rand’s message is to never give up your rights to a tyrannical government who believes the group is more important than the individual.