Anthem Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the manipulation of language enforce collectivist doctrine in the society of Anthem?

    One of the main motifs in the novel is the omission of the word "I" from human knowledge, as it enforces the association of the self with the group and the state in the unconscious. Over the course of the novella, Equality 7-2521 begins to recognize the need for this Unspeakable Word, but his society has not equipped him with the mental machinery necessary to work out the exact nature of what he is missing. Although he breaks away from the collective at a relatively early point, he does not understand how to offer an alternative philosophy until this block in his thinking is removed, and his search for the Unspeakable Word is a central struggle in Anthem.

  2. 2

    How does Rand connect Equality 7-2521's mental development to the ideals of the Enlightenment?

    As Equality 7-2521 rediscovers electricity, he replicates the experiments of Galvani, Volta, and Franklin, all of whom lived and conducted their research during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Franklin was particularly involved with the founding of the United States of America and borrowed heavily from the ideas of contemporaries such as John Locke; Equality 7-2521 comes to appreciate the value of these ideals as he increasingly emphasizes an adaptation the Declaration of Independence's emphasis on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which in turn stems from Locke's protection of "life, health, liberty, or possessions." Finally, as Prometheus, the protagonist obliquely cites Enlightenment thinkers as he discusses the history of man, who "declared to all his brothers that a man has rights which neither god nor king nor other men can take away from him."

  3. 3

    How do Equality 7-2521's experiments with electricity and the invention of the glass box influence his understanding of self?

    Prior to discovering the tunnel and commencing his scientific experiments, Equality 7-2521 believes that the Council of Scholars is omniscient in its understanding of nature, and that he is at fault for exceeding others in a society that worships forced equality. However, after he discovers electricity, he realizes that the Council of Scholars does not know everything and that he as an individual can achieve more than any group. He also discovers that he can find happiness in experimentation because, for once, he is free to do as he wishes, and he thereby learns an appreciation for the strength of his own body. After inventing the glass box, he at first believes that he values the box because he sees its potential for humanity, but eventually, he learns that he actually loves the box because it is his creation and thus an extension of his self.

  4. 4

    Explain the connection between mind, body, and self in Anthem.

    At the beginning of the novella, Equality 7-2521 has a very incomplete understanding of self, so he ironically views the superiority of his mind and body as a crutch that prevents him from assimilating into his society and living morally. However, when he invents the glass box, he finally appreciates the strength of his own body and mind, and when he meets the Golden One, he learns that the connection between mind and body is particularly strong. His and the Golden One's fearless, strong bodies represent their similarly worthy minds, and, on the night of his invention of the box, Equality 7-2521 finally realizes that to take pride in one's body and accomplishments is akin to taking pride in oneself. By the end of the story, he has learned that mind, body, and self are inextricably interwoven -- and that the result is an ideal whole.

  5. 5

    In what ways does Rand reverse our usual expectations about morality in Anthem?

    At the heart of Anthem is a polemical argument that reverses our assumptions about selfishness and altruism. Collectivism operates on the expectation that if every man unselfishly works for others, all will be happier, but in Rand's extreme collectivist society, this philosophy leads inevitably to the repression of the able individual, while an egoist man will by contrast benefit society by working solely for himself. Rand also represents this apparently counter-intuitive argument through the visual association of snow white -- traditionally the hue of innocence and purity -- with the evil indoctrination of the Home of the Students, while placing Equality 7-2521's positive scientific experiments in the dark tunnel. Correspondingly, Equality 7-2521 develops the philosophy of egoism and comes to believe the opposite of what the Home of the Students taught him.

  6. 6

    What is the significance of the Uncharted Forest for Equality 7-2521?

    The Uncharted Forest serves two major functions for Equality 7-2521: it is a foreshadowing of his future, and it is an affirmation of his doubts regarding collectivism. At first, Equality 7-2521's thoughts are drawn to the Uncharted Forest because he senses that it separates the flawed collectivist society of the City from possible remnants of the Unmentionable Times with which he is obsessed. Later, his body recognizes unconsciously that the solution to his break with the World Council of Scholars lies in the forest, and he runs instinctively into it. Once he enters the Uncharted Forest, he begins a mental and physical journey away from the City, triggered by the sense of happiness and independence that he now associates with the wilderness.

  7. 7

    Explain the relationship between the Golden One and Equality 7-2521.

    The Golden One is not simply Equality 7-2521's love interest; she also serves as his first disciple, who follows him into his forest and trails the path he blazes into a rejection of collectivism. Accordingly, despite the importance of the romantic subplot in Equality 7-2521's mental development, the Golden One is a secondary character who does not exhibit the full three-dimensionality of Equality 7-2521. For him, she is a symbol, and he loves her rationally and because she instinctively shares his values and character. His love for her is also an exploration of his love for himself, which he comes to celebrate because it brings him joy.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of the house of the Unmentionable Times for Equality 7-2521?

    Sensing that his literal and metaphorical journey away from the City is coming to a close, Equality 7-2521 chooses to settle with the Golden One in the new house to create a new, individualist life where he can discover the Unspeakable Word and resolve his inner dialogue on collectivism. The house is an embodiment of the values of the Unmentionable Times, and Equality 7-2521 specifically mentions that it belonged to only two people, emphasizing its rejection of collectivist values. The house also contains a mirror in which the Golden One stares fascinated for hours, allowing her to gain Equality 7-2521's understanding of the importance of the body. Moreover, it features many electrical appliances and books which give Equality 7-2521 a fuller knowledge of what humanity has forgotten in its worship of "We."

  9. 9

    Compare the scene of the World Council of Scholars with the penultimate chapter's proclamation of "I" in terms of their respective philosophical arguments.

    The words of the World Council of Scholars encapsulate the basis and problems of collectivism, just as Equality 7-2521's words about his rediscovery of "I" constitute a manifesto in favor of egoism. Whereas Collective 0-0009 tells Equality 7-2521 that "what is not thought by all men cannot be true," Equality 7-2521 chooses to search for the Objectivist truth. He says in Chapter Eleven, "I am not a sacrifice on their altars," directly refuting the council members' claim that he must submit to the will of others and serve society as the authorities see fit. While the meeting with the Council of Scholars marks the point of no return, after which Equality 7-2521 inevitably leaves and rediscovers "I," his manifesto celebrates his discovery and allows him to justify his refusal of his society.

  10. 10

    What are some potential errors of Rand's arguments in Anthem?

    Because Rand chooses to argue against the most extreme possible manifestation of collectivism with the most extreme form of individualism, she does not adequately refute the supposition that a moderate form of collectivism or even a slightly altruistic society based mainly on individualism may have merit. Rand's declaration that man will most efficiently help society by focusing solely on his own works is an exaggerated version of capitalism, but in historical practice, a purely selfish approach has often led to a gap between the rich and the poor that has had more to do with lack of opportunity for the poor than with their weakness. Furthermore, Rand proposes a model based on a perfect human rationality that may only exist in theory, and one might consequently contend that Rand has made some false assumptions about human nature that rival her description of the errors of Marxism.