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Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand, first published in 1938. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age as a result of the evils of irrationality and collectivism and the weaknesses of socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the word "I" has disappeared from the language). As is common in her work, Rand draws a clear distinction between the "socialist/communal" values of equality and brotherhood and the "productive/capitalist" values of achievement and individuality.

Plot summary

Equality 7-2521, writing in a tunnel under the earth, explains his background, the society around him, and his emigration. His exclusive use of plural pronouns (we, our, they) to refer to himself and others is immediately obvious. The idea of the World Council was to eliminate all individualist ideas. It was so stressed, that people were burned at the stake for saying an Unspeakable Word (I, Me, Myself, and Egos). He recounts his early life. He was raised, like all children in the world of Anthem, away from his parents in the Home of the Infants, then transferred to the Home of the Students, where he began his schooling. Later, he realized that he was born with a "curse": He is eager to think and question, and unwilling to give up himself for others, which violates the principles upon which Anthem's society is founded. He excelled in math and science, and dreamed of becoming a Scholar. However, a Council of Vocations assigned all people to their jobs, and he was assigned to the Home of the Street Sweepers.

Equality accepts his profession willingly in order to repent for his transgression (his desire to learn). He works with International 4-8818 and Union 5-3992. International is exceptionally tall, a great artist (which is his transgression, as only people chosen to be artists may draw), and Equality's only friend (having a friend also being a crime because, in Anthem's society, one is not supposed to prefer one of one's brothers over the rest). Union, "they of the half-brain," suffers from epilepsy.

However, Equality remains curious. One day, he finds the entrance to a subway tunnel in his assigned work area and explores it, despite International 4-8818's protests that an action unauthorized by a Council is forbidden. Equality realizes that the tunnel is left over from the Unmentionable Times, before the creation of Anthem's society, and is curious about it. During the daily three hour-long play, he leaves the rest of the community at the theater and enters the tunnel and undertakes scientific experiments.

Working outside the City one day, by a field, Equality meets and falls in love with a woman, Liberty 5-3000, whom he names "The Golden One." Also, Liberty 5-3000 names Equality "The Unconquered."

Continuing his scientific work, he rediscovers electricity and the light bulb. He decides to take his inventions to the World Council of Scholars, so that they will recognize his talent and allow him to work with them. He is still motivated by a socially instilled need to aid his fellow citizens. However, one night he spends too much time in the underground tunnel and his absence from the Home of the Street Sweepers is noticed, and he is arrested and then sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention, from which he easily escapes after being tortured.

The day after his escape, he walks in on the World Council of Scholars and presents his work to them. Horrified, they reject it because it was not authorized by a Council and threatens to upset the equilibrium of their world. When they try to destroy his invention, he takes it and flees into the forest outside the City.

Upon entering the Uncharted Forest, Equality begins to realize that he is free, that he no longer must wake up every morning with his brothers to sweep the streets. He can "rise, or run, or leap, or fall down again." Now that he sees this, he is not stricken with the sense that he will die at the fangs of the beasts of the forest as a result of his transgressions. He develops a new understanding of the world and his place in it.

On his second day of living in the forest, Equality stumbles upon the Golden One, Liberty 5-3000, who has followed him from the City. They embrace, struggling to express their feelings for each other as they do not know how to think of themselves as individuals. They find and enter a house from the Unmentionable Times in the mountains, perfectly preserved for hundreds of years by thick overgrowth, and decide to live in it.

While reading books from the house's library, Equality and Liberty discover that the Unspeakable Word, the one that carries the penalty of death, is "I." Recognizing its sacred value and the individuality it expresses, they give themselves new names from the books: Equality becomes 'Prometheus', and Liberty becomes 'Gaea'. As the book closes, Prometheus talks about the past, wonders how men could give up their individuality, and charts a future in which they will regain it.

The last word of the book, 'EGO', is inscribed by Prometheus on a rock.


In Chapter 12, Rand alludes to Greek mythology renaming her two main characters Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000. Equality is renamed Prometheus, an allusion to the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. Liberty is renamed Gaea, an allusion to the titan of the earth and mother of the Gods.



Rand, as a teenager living in Soviet Russia, initially conceived Anthem as a play. After migrating to the United States, Rand didn't think of writing Anthem there, but reconsidered after reading a short story in the Saturday Evening Post set in the future:

It is widely believed that the story in question was By the Waters of Babylon by Stephen Vincent Benét, which was published as "The Place of the Gods" in the July 31, 1937 edition of "The Saturday Evening Post".

Ayn Rand's working title was Ego. Leonard Peikoff explains the meaning behind this title: "[Rand] is (implicitly) upholding the central principles of her philosophy and of her heroes: reason, values, volition, individualism." Thinking that the original title was too blunt, unemotional, and would give away too much of the theme, Rand changed the title to Anthem. "The present novel, in Miss Rand's mind, was from the outset an ode to man's ego. It was not difficult, therefore, to change the working title: to move from 'ego' to 'ode' or 'anthem', leaving the object celebrated by the ode to be discovered by the reader."

There are similarities between Anthem and the earlier novel, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, another author who had lived in communist Russia. These include:

  1. A novel taking the form of a secret diary or journal.
  2. People having numbers instead of names.
  3. Sexuality is highly regulated.
  4. A sort of 'hive mind' thought in the people of the dystopia.
  5. A male influenced positively by a female character.

There are also a number of differences between the two stories. For example, the society of We is in no scientific or technological decay, featuring X-rays, airplanes, microphones, and so on. In contrast, the people of Anthem believe that the world is flat and the sun revolves around it, and that bleeding people is a decent form of medicine. The similarities have led to speculation about whether Rand's story was directly influenced by Zamyatin's. However, there is little evidence that Rand was influenced by or even read Zamyatin's work, and she never mentioned it in discussions of her life in Russia.

Publication history

Initially, Rand planned on publishing Anthem as a magazine story or serial, but her agent encouraged her to publish it as a book. She submitted it simultaneously to Macmillan Publishers in America (who published Rand's earlier novel, We The Living) and Cassell in England. "Cassell accepted it immediately... Macmillan turned it down; their comment was: the author does not understand socialism."

After the success of Rand's novel The Fountainhead, a revised 2nd edition of Anthem was published in 1946. The original English edition (Cassell 1938) entered the public domain in the United States in 1966, due to the failure to renew its copyright after 28 years as then required by US law. A 50th Anniversary Edition was published in 1995 including a appendix which reproduces the entire original British edition with Ayn Rand's handwritten editorial changes.


The work has inspired many musical pieces, including full-length albums. According to Enzo Stuarti, Pat Boone composed the music and his friend Frank Lovejoy wrote the lyrics of the song "Prelude", featured in the album Stuarti Arrives at Carnegie Hallmarker. The song begins with a line right out of Anthem. In another point of the song it reads: "...I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my land, and my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom." In Anthem, it reads: "...I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my land, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom." The song made its debut at about the same time the film Exodus came out. A memo to Ayn Rand dated May 4, 1964 mentions the unauthorized adaptation but there is no indication that she took any legal action.

The entire artwork of Arch Enemy's album Anthems of Rebellion as well as the thematic and lyrical content of the songs draws heavily on the world portrayed by Rand. Anthem is also credited by Neil Peart for influencing Rush's 2112, which mirrors the plot, structure, and theme of Anthem.

The Libertarian Futurist Society awarded Anthem the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1987.


Works cited

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