Anthem Summary and Analysis
by Ayn Rand
Equality 7-2521 announces that in his experiments he has discovered a new aspect of nature. Although he might be punished for his thoughts, he has begun to realize that the Council of Scholars does not know everything that is to be known. Only those who look for nature's secrets are able to find them.
Equality 7-2521 does not know the origins of the particular power he has discovered, but, when he experiments on a dead frog, he sees its leg jerking. After many experiments, he finds that the copper wire on which the frog hangs has somehow combined with the metal in his knife to create the leg jerk. He puts a piece of copper and a piece of zinc into a jar of salty water and connects them with a wire to create this new power.
He is fascinated by what he has discovered, and sees that it defies all the currently known laws of nature. He has been taught by his society that lodestones in compasses always point north, but now he sees that the new power makes the needle of a compass move. He also discovers that, in thunderstorms, if he puts a tall iron rod next to the entrance of the tunnel, the iron will draw the lightning. He reasons that the new power causes lightning -- a radically new notion.
Armed with his new discovery, Equality 7-2521 finds copper wires and boxes with strands of metal from the half-mile of tunnel that is accessible to him between two cave-ins. He also finds wires that lead to glass globes that contain thin threads of metal, and he concludes that people in the Unmentionable Times must have known about this power from the sky. He decides that he must learn more, although he is frightened because no one but he knows about it. For some reason, he knows more than all the Scholars combined, even though they were elected for their knowledge, and he decides that he does not care about breaking the law in order to learn.
With his discovery of electricity, Equality 7-2521 reaches a turning point in his understanding of his society. Whereas his previous ambition was to join the Home of Scholars, he sees that he can accomplish more alone than can the combined intelligence of all the Scholars. For the first time, he begins to comprehend that he might be superior not just to many of his peers but also to those whom he previously idolized as the holders of all knowledge. With this new discovery, his guilt and need for forgiveness from the Councils slowly fade away, although he has not yet become entirely radicalized in his thinking.
When describing his observation of the effects of electricity, Equality 7-2521 says that he "followed in preference to all our studies." He uses the word "preference" without further comment, indicating that he ceases to see the crime of preference as a real moral issue. In Anthem, vocabulary is an important motif that can encompass entire cultures and bodies of philosophical thought, and Equality 7-2521's blasé use of a nominally sinful word that formerly worried him is echoed in his increasingly harsh rhetoric about his society. He refers to the Council of Scholars as "blind", whereas before he wrote that they "know all things." As later chapters show, however, he does not yet condemn the Council of Scholars, although he recognizes that he has surpassed them.
As in her other major novels, namely The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand here juxtaposes the idea of the singular, productive man against the inefficacy of committees. Similarly to Howard Roark's crusade against the stultification of group think in The Fountainhead, Equality 7-2521 is the independent individual etched in sharp relief against the collective entity of the Council of the Scholars -- a group that falsely claims the invention of the candle and has made no advances since the Great Rebirth. Instead, Equality 7-2521 sees that he gains knowledge from the actions of his self, and he characteristically records both what he knows and what he does not yet understand. Whereas the Council of Scholars displays no understanding of self and claims that what they do not understand simply does not exist, Rand's protagonist displays a keen awareness of self versus the unknown.
In his underground tunnel, Equality 7-2521 replicates the frog experiments of Luigi Galvani, the battery-creating endeavors of Alessandro Volta, and the lightning research of Benjamin Franklin. These men are comparable in that they all contributed to the study of electricity during the Age of Enlightenment, a period famous for its celebration of and achievements in science and philosophy. By contrast, in the timeline of Anthem, these men are all part of the Unmentionable Times, and Equality 7-2521 is forced to hide his discovery from society lest he be punished. The mention of Franklin is particularly important because Franklin was also involved in the American Revolution; he thus helped create Ayn Rand's second country and a major wellspring of the ideals of which Equality 7-2521 has been deprived.
Equality 7-2521's rapid advances in the area of electricity are somewhat unrealistic, given that he has received an inadequate education from the Home of the Students and that he would have to be exceptionally intelligent to match the achievements of three disparate and well-educated men of the Enlightenment. However, he acts as the prototypical man of action and experimentation, and he chooses to seek truth in nature rather than in his society. His investigations are for the sake of knowledge rather than inherently to serve other men, and he represents the spirit of human ingenuity that will ultimately defeat the obstructionist Dark Age collectivism has created. At the same time, the references to the Enlightenment reminds the reader of the tragic loss caused by the Great Rebirth.
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
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