Anthem Summary and Analysis
by Ayn Rand
Equality 7-2521 is stunned because he has created something new by himself. After countless days and failed attempts, he has managed to use the artifacts from the Unmentionable Times to construct a glass box which can harness his previously discovered power of the sky. Whenever he connects wires to the box and closes the current, the wire glows in a circle of light. He is amazed because it shines light without the help of a fire.
He blows out the candle and can see his fingers against the wire's red light, and he becomes unaware of anything except for his hands above the light. He realizes that he can now light his tunnel as well the Cities and thus give everyone a new, cleaner, and brighter light. Man can harness the power to his will, and he knows that he must not keep his secret to himself and continue working only at night. He wants to join the other Scholars in finding new aspects of his discovery.
In a month, the World Council of Scholars is coming to their annual meeting, and this particular meeting will be in his city. He decides to gift the Council with his invention and confess everything, believing that they will forgive him for his transgressions. Then, he imagines, the Council of Scholars will have the Council of Vocations reassign him to the Home of the Scholars, even though reassignment never occurs.
Equality 7-2521 decides to wait until the World Council and guard his tunnel, knowing that if anyone other than a Scholar were to find the secret, that person will not understand the significance of the glass box. Instead, Equality 7-2521 and his light will be destroyed because of his crime. For the first time, he cares not only about the light but about his own survival, because his body and his invention are connected. He stretches his arms, feeling their power, and he suddenly wishes to know the details of his own appearance, although it is evil to look at his own body or ask others about it.
In Rand's original drafts of Anthem, she opened the paragraph describing Equality 7-2521's invention of a primitive light bulb in a different manner: "The Light! . . . Here, under our hands, at our bidding, the light of the sky, the light to set the earth aglow, the Light smokeless and flameless and unquenchable!" (qtd. in Mayhew 35). The revised version states more succinctly, "We made it. We created it. We brought it forth from the night of the ages. We alone. Our hands. Our mind. Ours alone and only," thus shifting the emphasis away from the invention of the light itself and more closely to the achievement of Equality 7-2521. Similarly, she decapitalizes "the Light," and, in its stead, she equates light with the more basic idea of self.
The chapter marks the height of the first crescendo of optimism and exuberance in Anthem's narrative arc. If Chapter Three recounted Equality 7-2521's rediscovery of Enlightenment principles, then Equality 7-2521's achievements in this section clearly echo the work of Thomas Edison, the prolific American inventor of the first practical light bulb. He consequently moves from the Enlightenment era to the period of the Industrial Revolution, further pulling out of the mental Dark Age of his rearing. He observes the light within the context of darkness, and he experiments with the glass box in order to provide a glimpse of knowledge in a world that has lost much of its technology and understanding of nature. In a feat of human ingenuity, he does so in an extremely oppressive environment.
Although Equality 7-2521's invention of the glass box is in part remarkable because he arrives at it without any support from society, Rand depicts him as succeeding because of as well as in spite of his lonely surroundings. The creation of the light causes him to be aware of and take pride in the strength of his own body, and the glass box becomes the emblem of his self-love. He concludes the chapter by wishing to know about his own appearance because he suspects correctly that his body reflects his inner strength and superiority, much as the Golden One's exterior exhibits her heroic qualities.
Despite the reinforcement to Equality 7-2521's sense of ego through the construction of the glass box, he has not entirely freed himself of the paradigms of his civilization. He no longer feels guilty about sneaking away and personally working toward his own achievement, but he still believes to some extent in his culture's doctrine that all work should be for the purpose of serving others. He rationalizes the discrepancy between his discovery and his society's morality by explaining that his invention is important because it will serve all of humanity. He is correct, but events later in the novel will cause him to understand that he values the light first for its own sake as the result of his production and only second as a herald of technology.
While still exulting in the value his self, Equality 7-2521 nevertheless does not continue to think of his experimentation as a solitary affair. Instead, he dreams of being welcomed into the Home of the Scholars and joining with them in a cooperative effort to develop more uses of electricity. This remaining vestige of Equality 7-2521's belief in collectivism could serve as a hooking point which will contain the danger he poses to his dystopian communist society. However, the fear and shortsightedness inherent in collectivism will prevent them from accepting him and thus ending his radicalization.
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