Equality’s Struggle Against Collectivism In The Anthem Theses Example
In Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the protagonist, known as Equality 7-2521, lives in an authoritative society that has outlawed individualism. The setting is a dark and dystopic world, that has regressed into the dark ages. Equality writes his narrative by candlelight, hidden away in a subterranean tunnel. “It is dark here” is not just about his secret tunnel, it represents his entire world, a place where technology, freedom and even light and electricity have been repressed (Rand 2). Everything he is writing and thinking is a “sin” In his world, being different is not acceptable. Everyone has to use plural pronouns, it is always “we”. There is no “I” or sense of individual identity. Throughout the story, Equality commits “transgressions” because he wants to be free. He conducts a relationship with a female, explores underground tunnels, makes a laboratory for scientific experiments, reinvents the light bulb, and eventually must flee the city, and find refuge in the forest, where he can be an individual. The society that discourages him and wants him to conform, are too lazy and ineffectual to even jail him properly. He eventually becomes free because he is smart, energetic, resourceful and curious.
Equality’s struggle to free himself from collectivism starts early, as a child he struggles to fit into a society that demands robotic conformity. Like the rest of the children, he was raised and educated by the state. At his school, he learns that he “is nothing, mankind is all” (Rand 4). Intelligent and precocious, he does not fit in. He is “too tall” and “too smart”, which was seen as negative traits in a society that emphasizes and encourages conformity and collectivism. He yearns to be a scholar, because of his thirst for knowledge. He is naturally curious, but is discouraged from being inquisitive.
Despite excelling in school, he is forced to become a street sweeper. Instead of becoming a scientist, inventor or engineer, he cleans up after society. The government decides a persons occupation, and they seem to want to make sure that individuals with potential are discouraged, persecuted and subjugated.
His struggle for freedom and individuality continues into adulthood. Initially, Equality accepts his fate, because of his “Transgression of Preference”, which was the crime of wanting to be a scientist. At this point in his story, Equality still accepts the morality and norms of his society. He knows he “had been guilty, but now we had a way to atone for it. We would accept out life mandate, and we would work for our brothers” (Rand 6). However, this penance does not last long. His natural curiosity leads him to explore forbidden underground tunnels, where he sets up a makeshift lab to conduct experiments. He is passionate about science, which is problematic in a society that cultivates a dark-ages mentality. He finds metals, and realizes that the tunnel must be from the “Unmentionable Times” The authoritative regime limits technology and prohibits historical knowledge to keep the population ignorant. Equality finds himself drawn to the tunnels, and train tracks, which are symbols of science, technology and the past. The government controls and arranges all aspects of a persons life, including marriages. However, Equality meets a young peasant girl, and there relationship makes them “want to sing” (Rand 14). Singing without permission is another crime in a society that demands conformity. Equality, however, is unable to resist the temptations of individual preference. Like his secret lab and diary, having a relationship is a sin, a crime.
Equality’s desire for individual accomplishment and freedom continuously get him into trouble. Equality lives in dark dictatorship. It is literally the dark ages, there is no electricity. He rediscovers electricity and makes a light bulb out of glass. Naïve, and not understanding the nature of the world he lives in, Equality believes that the government would be excited at his discovery. Electricity, a technology that could take humanity out of the darkness, because it is “the greatest power on Earth. For it defies all laws known to man” (Rand 18). Electricity is good because it breaks laws. At this point, Equality realizes that rules and laws of his society were negative, they were holding humanity back. He realizes that his actions are transgressions, but he believes that electricity is too valuable a resource not to exploit. However, one night he works late on his experiments and misses works, a punishable transgression. He is thrown into jail, but easily escapes. In a collectivist society, where everyone conforms and does exactly what they are told, nobody had every tried to escape. He takes his light box to the World Council of Scholars. They are ignorant and jealous, instantly condemn him, calling him a mere “gutter cleaner” and demand the destruction of his invention. Equality, always a man of action, grabs the light box and escapes to the forbidden forest outside the city. Only by escaping the confines of the city, does Equality find freedom. He is resourceful, reuniting with his girlfriend who follows him and they create a new life for themselves. They live in an old house, and hopefully being a new society, that is not chained by the conformity and backwardness of collectivism.
The story effectively encapsulates Ayn Rand’s general philosophy: Free market capitalism, democracy and rugged individualism are good. Strong talented individuals need freedom to push technology, commerce and society forward. According to Rand, in the introduction of Anthem, “the greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default” (Rand IX). She argued that standing up for freedom was important, and communism, dictatorships and repressive governments only existed because the lazy and weak triumphed over the strong and resourceful, who were accepted collectivism because they thought it was morally acceptable. However, strength, independence, talent and freedom were all things that were destroyed by collectivism. At the beginning of the story, Equality accepted the collective norms of society. However, by the end he had overthrown the shackles of his society, and escaped to a place where he could rebuild society, or at least be free to try.
Rand, Ayn. Anthem. New York: Dutton, 1995. Print.
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