Reviews: Anthem

Rand's Novella is Objectively Boring

I want to start this by saying that I haven't read this since my junior year of High School in 2005, so as of right now, it's been a good decade, so my memories of complete specifics are not as vivid as they once were, but overall, I will say the memories of the story have stuck with me.

I want to get right to the point. As a political novel selling an agenda, it likely will appeal to Objectivists and hardcore libertarians. I am neither, so that is one strike. Still, I've read plenty of books with political messages, not all I agree with, so I can easily overlook that. It's a dystopian novel. I'm fine with it. Equality is a guy who loves to tinker and he very much wants to be allowed to invent things. He builds himself up until the big day when he is told that the career he's most suited to is in fact a street sweeper. The people around him, he is convinced, do not recognize his genius.

Most readers, after following Equality's story for awhile, will probably be convinced that he is as mentally defective as the people he despises who work as sweepers with him. Equality by his nature rants and raves in his journal in a delusional nature and then sets his sights on a girl that catches his fancy, Liberty. They inexplicably fall in love at first sight, which is open to all kinds of alternate character interpretation. They run off into the hills and live happily ever after.

Since this novella is politically themed, I want to compare it side by side with its foil novella, the wonderful Animal Farm. Both are quick reads, both have a political message that deplores authoritarian collectivism. Animal Farm though, is clever where Anthem is humorless. The biggest difference though is who we're meant to empathize with. Orwell wants us to sympathize with the weakest characters. Rand does not. Anthem treats the weak (though kindly enough) characters with disdain.

In the end though, the story is just written in such an ham-handed fashion. There's no heart, no sympathy. No character growth (although Equality himself does change slightly, no one else is fleshed out at all). I found myself begging for the story just to end. Anthem's biggest weakness is not its politics, its weakness is Rand's writing itself.

Gary Stu

First, let me just say this: I do not care for Objectivism. Despite that, when I review Ayn Rand's Anthem, I rate it as a story and how one character essentially ruined the story for me. Politics can go take a hike.

Now, Anthem itself. The story starts in an archtypical dystopia, dedicated to the extreme of collectivism. Progress is stunted because nobody is allowed to stand from the crowd, and scientists are picked not on merit, but randomly. The greatest achievement society has made is the candle. Nobody is rich, but everybody is poor. Names have been phased out of the English language. There is no hope of social betterment; your lot in life is set for you. Wow, what an interesting premise! And then we meet the main man.

The main character is Equality 7-2521, who I'll just call Equality. He is a tall, athletic, intelligent man who was tragically overlooked by a society that hates those who could excel. We see Equality learn about electricity and science in an underground subway station, until finally, after 2 years, he... Creates what is essentially a functional lightbulb. And all believability is chucked out the window. Equality's achievement is akin to a caveman inventing the printing press because he understands writing. Oh, but he's an incredibly intelligent caveman, that makes sense!

And that's not all. Equality meets another person, Liberty <Insertnumberhere>; And it's love at first sight! Literally, he loves her upon seeing her from some distance away. Oh, and Liberty loves him too! And then when Equality runs away from society, Liberty is there to comfort him! Liberty is literally nothing but a love interest for Equality, which makes his plight even less relatable. The entire universe seems to bend over for Equality, outside of the Collectivist society itself, of course. When Equality is in the forest alone, he is able to build a ring of fires around him to protect him while he sleeps, all in the space of a few hours and with no materials or wilderness knowledge; considering how difficult it is to build a single fire without a lighter, he seems "gifted."

And even though Equality is just one character, he is the main POV character. He is the audience's portal into how awful Rand's vision of dystopia is. When the main character is hollow, the work rings hollow.