Anthem Summary and Analysis
by Ayn Rand
Beginning with "I am. I think. I will" and a naming of things which belong to him, such as his hands and his spirit, Equality 7-2521 explains that he has found his answer. He stands on the mountain's peak and spreads his arms, knowing that his existence is the answer. He needs no reason to exist because he is his own reason.
He names his eyes and ears as the organs which give significance and beauty to the world. His mind and his judgment are the only things that can find truth, and his will is the only thing that can make his choices. Some words are wise and others are false, but only the words "I will it" are holy.
He knows now that he is the end of his journey, and he does not care of the overall significance of the earth because he knows about happiness. The fulfillment of happiness, in his view, is its own purpose. Furthermore, he refuses to be a tool for anyone else's accomplishments or happiness.
Declaring himself to be a man and his own miracle, he decides that he cannot share or give away his treasures of thought, will, and especially freedom. He cannot help "the poor of spirit" by giving up his own spirit. He owes nothing to his brothers, but neither does he require anything of them.
In particular, he states that he is not by default a friend or an enemy to other men because love and honor must be earned. However, he will seek friends that he respects rather than slaves or master in an unequal power relationship. They are individuals and do not need to be together except if they wish.
Continuing to speak in the first person singular, Equality 7-2521 rejects the use of the word "We" as the default word. The collectivism implicit in the word "We" does nothing but cause stagnation and the sapping away of the strength of the good, the wise, and the strong. Life is nothing if every man is subject to all others.
He declares himself as "done with this creed of corruption." He is finished with the slavery conveyed by the word "We." In its place, he substitutes the word "I," which is the god that will give men control over the earth and over their own lives.
Chapter Eleven begins powerfully with the simple statement "I am. I think. I will." The contrast between the softer plural pronoun "We" and these short, sharp sentences is jarring in its intensity. In reading the books in the house's library, Equality 7-2521 has rediscovered "I," the Unspeakable Word, thus fulfilling his quest and allowing him to fully articulate the philosophy towards which he has strived. With "I" newly in his vocabulary, his internal conflict and search for a replacement to collectivism have resolved, reconciling his instinct with his consciousness. His society used words to restrain him, but now he uses words to free himself from collectivist doctrine, and he recognizes that he made an error when he sought a reason for existence. His search has in one sense culminated in a word, but in the broader sense, it has culminated in his self.
His journal entry about his finding of the Unspeakable Word is not a narrative but rather the explicit statement that summarizes the goals of the novel. The tone is triumphant, as evidenced by his proud, brief sentences and the setting of the chapter on the summit of a mountain. He uses the word "I" or "my" in nearly every sentence and at the beginning of several paragraphs, as well as at the end of the entry, emphasizing the exultation that accompanies his discovery. He observes his body in the context of his surroundings, associating his mind with his body as the single entity of ego. In other novels, Rand refers to this principle as egoism, as opposed to the collectivist ideal of altruism, and she makes a secular god out of the individual's ego.
Equality 7-2521 learns to favor egoism over altruism because he has seen the evil effects of the worship of altruism. As he states in his journal, what collectivism deems righteous sacrifice is actually a thinly veiled form of manipulation and of victimization of the strong. Reflecting the views of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Nietzsche, Rand rejects the assumption that the strong and the valuable should serve the weak, and in place of this philosophy, she has her protagonist suggest that each individual should earn his own happiness and self-respect. In the society of Anthem, men learn to serve the state first and to place his self second, but Equality 7-2521 sees that this ideals merely take away individual rights while providing nothing in return.
The protagonist does not entirely eliminate the concept of "We," since to erase the word from the language would be the unwarranted exploitation of language through the evil omission of an entire concept, but he declares that "We" must take second place to its first-person equivalent. In other words, society cannot be a monolithic entity and must recognize itself as a group of disparate individuals. The state cannot dictate the worth of an individual, and each member of a group must see himself as a person first and a member second. Similarly, friendship and love are not obligatory groupings but the natural result of shared values, and the ability to choose one's friends make the connections stronger than they would be in a collectivist world.
By finding the inspiration for his new ideas in books from the Unmentionable Times, Equality 7-2521 returns to the individualist ideas of the Enlightenment in the Western world, as he originally did when he experimented with electricity. Although he does not say so explicitly, his main goals can be expressed as the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" of the American Declaration of Independence, which in turn reflects the writings of the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. His ideas also apply to the economic system of capitalism, which opposed Soviet Communism through much of the twentieth century. He wants each man to work at what he loves for the work's own sake, and the novel suggests society will be more productive and progressive as a result.
Anthem Essays and Related Content
- Anthem: Major Themes
- Anthem: Questions
- Anthem: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Ayn Rand: Biography
- Anthem Summary
- About Anthem
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter One
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Two
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Three
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Four
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Five
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Six
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Ten
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eleven
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter Twelve
- The Case Against Objectivism
- Related Links on Anthem
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources