Equality 7-2521 lives in a dark futurist dystopia in Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem. He has no words for love or self, and being alone is a crime. Yet, as do characters in countless other dystopian novels, he still finds moments to write his story of discovery.
By itself, Anthem is slim – just 100 pages – and quick to read. I enjoyed the story of Equality 7-2521’s literal self-discovery and I love the concepts within it: What is joy? What is pleasure? What is self?
Anthem has its faults, notably a complex ideology that Rand obviously hopes to impart to the reader. For me, this philosophy seemed to overshadow the story of Equality 7-2521 a bit too much. But, because it is a slim story, it was still a worthwhile reread for me.
Rereading this novella reminded me of the need to reread the classic dystopian novels: Animal Farm, 1984, and so forth. From my dim memories, Rand’s dystopia most reminds me of the dystopia in The Giver, for, like Jonas, Equality 7-2521 learns of what life was like before the dystopia, which in Equality 7-2521’s case is called “the Unmentionable Times.” The difference is that in Jonas’ world, the high councilmen (can’t remember what they are called) have kept a person that has those memories (called The Giver); in Anthem, even the memories are gone and all must be rediscovered.
In some respects, I found Anthem to be much more compelling than The Handmaid’s Tale, another dystopia-tale I read recently, because the narration made sense in Anthem. If Equality 7-2521 doesn’t have a word for something, he uses words he does have. Tense don’t shift. It is written in one chronological time frame, although he does share some flash backs of his life history as he writes in his journal. (It still bothers me that I can’t explain how the handmaid in Atwood’s novel told her story since the tenses were so “off.”) That said, Anthem is a completely different story than The Handmaid’s Tale and it has a different agenda. While The Handmaid’s Tale looked at religion as totalitarian disaster, Anthem does not. This dystopia is godless and religion-less, as is Equality 7-2521’s ultimate escape. The only god in Anthem is the individual. And that is to what the novel sings an “anthem” to.
This also reminded me of Ella Minnow Pea, silly as it was. In that novel, once or twice Ella mourned the day the “I” would fall off of the memorial and she’d no longer be able to express herself: “I love you.”
And celebrating the power of “I” is also Rand’s goal in her writing. My volume has a 10-page introduction and a 10-page appendix discussing Rand’s philosophy and how Anthem is a precursor to her further philosophical treatises/novels (Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead). Rand developed her own philosophy, called objectivism. I’m sorry to say, reading this novel and the front and end matter has only confused the issue of “objectivism” in my mind. It seems quite complicated. But the gist seems to be that no overarching power – government or religion – is more powerful than each individual; by extension there is no god and there is no faith because truth is given power only through reason. For more information on objectivism, visit Wikipedia’s entry, The Ayn Rand Institute, or the user-created Objectivism Wiki.
As one who believes in God and faith, though, I didn’t find Rand’s political agenda to be remarkably or annoyingly atheist, however. I believe celebrating the individual can go in harmony with religion and Anthem was an appropriate “hymn” to that individual.
In reading Yann Martel’s letter to Stephen Harper about this book, I have to say, he gave up the entire plot. Although his letter is amusing and sarcastic, don’t read his letter until you read the book. I’d be annoyed if I were Stephen Harper. Sometimes I really hate spoilers! (Other times I read the last page first.)
My copy of Anthem has the most recent publication of the novel as well as a facsimile of Rand’s edits to the original 1938 U.K. publication. (Publishers in the U.S. would not publish Anthem until 1946, apparently for political reasons.) I’ve read the novella twice; the first time was for a book club, so I marked two or three passages with pen in the margin. Other than that, it’s in excellent condition.
I’d like to giveaway my copy. (Remember my poll about giving away used books? This book is used and does have pen markings in it. If you don’t want it for that reason, I understand.) If you would like to be entered into the drawing, tell me in a comment below. I’ll select a winner next week.
NOTE: GIVEAWAY IS OVER.
What is your favorite dystopian novel? I’m in the mood to read some more of them.
Have you read Ayn Rand’s masterpieces? What are your thoughts on objectivism within those books? Is the plot overshadowed by philosophy?
If you have reviewed Anthem on your site, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.