In Anthem, why does the Council of Vocations assign Equality 7-2521 the job of street sweeper? Is it due to error, incompetence or a more sinister motivation? Please explain.

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Anthem by Ayn Rand, there can be no concept of self and names do not exist, only numbers coupled with socialist concepts such as equality and liberty. Equality 7-2521, the protagonist, already disadvantaged because of his height as it distinguishes him from his "brothers" (which is not allowed and which is described as "the evil in your bones") has, like everyone, to live with the concept of "the great WE." No one is allowed to make decisions and every citizen's occupation is determined by the Council of Vocations. The collective "good" is allowed but there can be nothing that sets one apart from another, such as being alone, having an opinion, individual thought or even dreaming. There is one main purpose to their existence and that is to serve Collective 0-0009. 

This is part of the problem for Equality 7-2521 because he (although he may only refer to himself in the plural, as "we") does not wish, and so is unable, to stifle the individual thought which occupies his mind and for which he will be punished. As a child, he gets into trouble with his teachers not only for his height, but even for his thoughts, and any attempts to pretend to be like others are viewed with suspicion and often earn him a lashing. At fifteen he is unable to hide his desire to be assigned to the Home of the Scholars. This is an act of defiance as he is not permitted to make such a choice and to atone for his sins, his "Transgression of Preference," he gladly accepts his assigned "life Mandate" as a street sweeper. This, however, will not be enough to prevent Equality 7-2521 from his "curse," his "wish to know," and this will lead him to commit a crime considered far more heinous than any of his previous thoughts as Equality and International 4 -8818 prepare to implement a plan and to be "evil with you than good with all our brothers."

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Equality 7-2521, a plural personality as individualism is extinct, is assigned the position of Street Sweeper as a result of having caused too much conflict from lack of complaisance. Equality has committed what is called the "Transgression of Preference."

As the narrator explains, he asked questions and was interested in the science of things. But, because the society now is much like in the Dark Ages, believing, for instance, that the world is flat and they have just learned how to make candles and glass, men are not supposed to wish anything for themselves. And he has wished to be sent to the Home of the Scholars. Therefore, when the Council of Mandates meets, he is punished. The Council announces Equality will have the job of Street Sweeper.

But, Equality narrates that "we" knew they had been guilty and now they have a way to atone for their transgression. Further, "we will work for our brothers and erase our sin against them." Ironically, however, there has been a discovery made by Equality which will make them guilty of a greater transgression.

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