Ayn Rand was a refugee from communism who expressed her hatred for socialism in literary form. Anthem is a description of life in a dystopian socialist world in which individuality is suppressed and punishable by death. The hero, already frustrated by an inappropriate job, rediscovers his individuality and some principles of physics, becoming the new Prometheus.
Introduction to Ayn Rand
Background of the author
In Anthem, Ayn Rand sets out to describe the ultimate socialist/communist world. She had acquired a very low view of socialism and communism when her family, wealthy Jews, were victimised by the Communist government in Russia.
She eventually fled Russia as a refugee, settling in America. She had long been influenced by Nietzsche, and valued strong individualists, which communism did not. Her experiences of mistreatment and her philosophical views did not endear her to socialism.
Ayn attempted to use her literary works to argue the case against socialism. They are published by the Ayn Rand Institute, which promote her philosophy and economic views.
Anthem is one of a group of twentieth century works outlining and warning about a future socialist dystopia. It is therefore of a kind since other writers wrote mostly about collectivism and authoritarianism: Animal Farm, 1984, The Machine Stops and, to a lesser extent, Brave New World.
In Anthem, she describes a world in which the word 'I' has been abolished and is punishable by death and individuals have every bit of freedom extinguished. It is an attack against collectivism in its extreme form.
It uses a standard technique of science fiction, taking tendencies in the present, extrapolating them into the future and magnifying them.
The book is set in England. The hero of this short novella is Equality 7-2521. He is a misfit in that he tends to think by himself, though originally he speaks only in the third person pronoun, 'we', as the word 'I' has been abolished.
However, his tendencies to individualism render him suspect, and his ambitions to go to study are thwarted by the committee who appoint people to jobs. He is sent to be a street sweeper.
However, his frustrations lead him to explore and he finds a tunnel left over from the old society. Exploring it, he stumbles on information that make him rediscover the ego, his individuality.
The new Prometheus
He rediscovers scientific truths forgotten in the new society, such as electricity. He has become the new Prometheus, the titan who gave humans fire. He displays the word 'ego' above his door, but we are left to imagine his fate in this authoritarian, collectivist world.