It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone.
Equality 7-2521 begins Anthem with this declaration of his sins, indicating the degree to which his society has influenced the development of his thoughts. As the quote suggests, he is a potential rebel who has dared to defy the tenets of his society and who will undoubtedly go further on the road to radicalization, but, significantly, he suffers a great deal of guilt as a result. At the same time, the reader sympathizes with him because his "sin" of thinking alone is almost laughably non-criminal and because the potential repercussions are ominously severe. In addition, the narrator speaks in the first-person plural, suggesting that the concept of "I" has disappeared from his society. Thus, the opening lines immediately establish the setting of Anthem as a dystopian world, while foreshadowing the main character's inner conflict regarding the relative merits of collectivism and individualism.
What -- even if we have to burn for it like the Saint of the pyre -- what is the Unspeakable Word?
The Transgressor, or Saint of the pyre, recognizes Equality 7-2521's worth even as he burns, and, with his eyes, he asks Equality 7-2521 to carry on his battle and return the Unspeakable Word to the human language. For his part, Equality 7-2521 recognizes his duty; so is born his obsession with the Unspeakable Word, which he suspects will crystallize all his doubts about his society and provide him with an alternative mode by which to live. Even after he escapes with Liberty 5-3000 from the City and his conflict with his society temporarily comes to a close, Equality 7-2521's search for the Unspeakable Word continues. It is the very embodiment of his quest for understanding.
No single one can possess greater wisdom than the many Scholars who are elected by all men for their wisdom. Yet we can.
With the discovery of electricity, Equality 7-2521 substantially reevaluates his idolization of the Home of the Scholars for the first time. Whereas he used to believe that he could research nature best by working collectively with the other Scholars, he now questions the efficacy of the group when, by himself, he has achieved more than the previous century of Scholars. This development marks a crucial step in his evolution away from the collectivist principles he has learned from his society, and it underlines Rand's principle that, because groups are held back by their lowest common denominators, only individuals can drive progress. Equality 7-2521 admits to some struggles against this point of view, but he sees no other possible conclusion, and his eventual reinvention of the electric light only serves to confirm it.
For this wire is a part of our body, as a vein torn from us, glowing with our blood. Are we proud of this thread of metal, or of our hands which made it, or is there a line to divide these two?
This passage marks a new step in the development of Equality 7-2521's break with his collectivist society, as he begins to ignore the conventional rejection of self awareness. Before, he has never particularly cared about his own body, but now that he has created the glass box, he takes pride in his accomplishment and associates the powers of his mind with the powers of his body. In Rand's view, the celebration of the body is akin to the celebration of the individual, and Equality 7-2521 describes the electrical wire as an extension of his self. He begins to love his creation not because of its potential use for others but because its existence is a memorial to his power as an individual, although he has not yet clarified this in his own mind.
Our blessing upon you, our brothers! Tomorrow, you will take us back into your fold and we shall be an outcast no longer. Tomorrow we shall be one of you again. Tomorrow . . .
Despite Equality 7-2521's torture at the hands of the Judges of the Palace of Corrective Detention and despite his new ideas regarding the abilities of the individual, his determination to show his box to the World Council of Scholars shows that he still believes in some major tenets of collectivism. Most importantly, he has been taught that solitude is a crime and a corrupting influence, and he still deeply desires to end his mental isolation from his society. He displays some degree of the illogical thinking displayed by other members of his community because he hopes too optimistically and without any legitimate basis that the World Council of Scholars will embrace him and have his vocation changed. Wishful thinking has deluded him, but his meeting with the World Council will soon dash those illusions him and force him irretrievably on the path away from the City's mores.
We have lied to ourselves. We have not built this box for the good of our brothers. We built it for its own sake.
As Equality 7-2521 sleeps on the moss inside the Uncharted Forest, he suffers a moment of disillusionment and despair, but the pain of his recent detachment from his society forces a recognition of his lie to himself. He has told himself that he loves his glass box because of its potential for society's benefit, but, in reality, he cherishes it because it was the product of his own ingenuity and rationality and because it is thus an extension of his self. This understanding of his own motivations is essential for him to continue his discovery of Objectivist and individualist principles, as he must cut all ties with the false precepts of collectivism in order to truly understand what makes him happy. His society has informed him that he must be happy because he serves others, but he and other men are only truly happy when they can work as they wish for themselves.
Our face was not like the faces of our brothers, for we felt no pity when looking upon it. Our body was not like the bodies of our brothers, for our limbs were straight and thin and hard and strong.
For the first time in his life, Equality 7-2521 sees his own reflection. (The City does not have mirrors or streams such as this one, for fear that they might reinforce vanity and promote individualism.) Ayn Rand treats a moderate level of vanity as a positive sign of self-interest, and, accordingly, Equality 7-2521 is proud of his image. He is the prototypical and ideal man, and as a result, his mind and his body are both extensions of his self and of each other. Consequently, his body reflects his personal characteristics of strength and fearlessness, and these traits are the same qualities that he sees and so admires in the Golden One. For both Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One, the body does not contrast with the mind in any form, and as a result, their selves are portrayed as complete and without contradiction.
"We are one . . . alone . . . and only . . . and we love you who are one . . . alone . . . and only."
We looked into each other's eyes and we knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, and left us groping vainly.
Here, the Golden One attempts to explain that she loves Equality 7-2521, but she clearly lacks the necessary vocabulary to do so, and the failed attempt leaves both of them immensely frustrated. They do not know the Unspeakable Word "I," and because of this, they feel instinctively that they are missing an essential concept in their understanding of the world. Love, in the world of Anthem, is an expression of the kinship of two selves, but without the fully articulated expression of self, they cannot verbally consummate their love. The issue of vocabulary rears its head earlier as well, when the lovers meet by the hedge and try to explain their mutual attraction -- this time by stating that they do not wish to be siblings. Fittingly, once Equality 7-2521 deciphers the Unspeakable Word in his books, the Golden One's first words to him are "I love you" -- signaling the completion of his quest.
I am. I think. I will.
These three brief and rhythmically intense sentences open the penultimate chapter of Anthem, after Equality 7-2521 has finally fulfilled his search for the Unspeakable Word. Speaking hereafter in the first-person singular rather than the first-person plural, which he emphasizes by using "I" or "me" in nearly every sentence of the chapter, he finds that he has found the answer for his existence not in humanity but in himself and in each individual man. What he refers to as the "worship of the word 'We'" has caused the deterioration of human society from the pinnacle of millennia of technological achievement into a second Dark Age, but he now knows the way to end this stagnation and restart the ascent of mankind. As suggested by these sentences, he and his mind and will are the only real motivations, and Chapter Eleven is his manifesto of freedom and self-worth -- a manifesto rejects living for others as mere servitude.
And here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, should we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory.
The sacred word:
Ayn Rand's original title for Anthem was Ego, and so it is appropriate that the sacred word ego is the culmination of Prometheus's physical and philosophical journey through the novella. His plans to cut the word "ego" in stone stands in contrast to the words cut in marble at the beginning of the book -- words that declare that "there are no men but only the great WE" and are the antithesis of Prometheus's final conclusion. He calls "ego" his banner, suggesting that he has essentially declared a holy war on collectivism, where his deity is not a god but rather an idea. He also labels ego a beacon, a choice of words that reflects Rand's emphasis on light and human progress throughout her story. Prometheus has resurrected "ego" and consequently believes that it is an immortal concept, one which will remain as long as worthy men continue to be born; likewise, he associates the concept with nature, which had guided him so faithfully to his discovery of "I."
Anthem Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Anthem is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.