Anthem is a novella by Ayn Rand (in contrast with Atlas Shrugged). It touches on her usual Objectivist themes, but it has a more fantastic, sci-fi setting, and it's pretty much the concentrated embodiment of The Evils of Free Will. In the future, humanity has fallen into a dark age brought on by the evils of collectivism. Individualism and freedom have been stamped out to the point where speaking the words "I, me, my, mine", or "ego" is a crime punishable by death. Society is ruled by several oligarchical Councils that outlaw all new ideas and inventions; as a result, science and the arts have stagnated.
The book is the secret journal of Equality 7-2521, in which he recounts his youth and tells of his emancipation from Ayn Rand's dystopia. He had been born with a "curse" — a strong sense of curiosity, an eagerness to learn and question everything, and an unwillingness to subordinate himself to society.
For more information on Rand's ideas, please see Objectivism.
This work provides examples of:
- After the End: Occurs centuries after the collapse of modern society.
- Ambition Is Evil: Well, by Anthem society standards it is. Subverted by the Hero's example.
- Author Tract: Like many of Ayn Rand's works, the evils of "collectivism" (the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it) is at the forefront of this book.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Shades of this. The dystopia's morals kinda seem like our own, but they're distorted (or simply practiced in a brutally consistent fashion) to the point of, well, creating a dystopia.
- Cardboard Prison: Equality 7-2521 is put in one for presenting his discovery of electricity to the Council. He just opens the door and walks out. Justified in that his captors didn't imagine that anyone would dare escape.
- Character Filibuster: The last two chapters consist solely of Equality 7-2521 monologuing about how good it is to be an individual.
- Covers Always Lie: the cover of a recent edition depicts the main character as a man in relatively modern clothes standing in front of a crowd of workers in similarly modern attire, against a mechanized backdrop. The art suggests an industrial society like the 20th century Soviet Union. However, the book takes place in a low-tech, agrarian society with no evidence of heavy machinery or industrial manufacturing, and the attire is explicitly described as old fashioned tunics and iron bracelets, not the grey suits and ties of the workers on the cover.
- Crapsack World: This is a world with a severely reduced population, where lashings and immolation are used as punishments for minor offenses, where it's considered a miracle if anyone lives past the age of 45, where children are taken away from their parents at birth and raised in state orphanages, where curiosity and individuality are harshly discouraged, and where all but the most basic technology has been lost.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Deconstructed. Anthem's dystopia is built on this concept. It isn't a nice place to live.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Equality is tortured for not attending one of the community's compulsory gatherings.
- Dystopia: A society of complete equality, whether its inhabitants like it or not.
- Dystopian Edict: The words "I, me, my, mine, ego" are forbidden on pain of death.
- Hope Springs Eternal: The Saint of the Pyre represents this; while he's burning at the stake for saying an Unspeakable Word note , he looks at the Hero and nonverbally calls upon him to try and rediscover those same words and the concepts behind them. When Equality and Liberty, now Prometheus and Gaea, find an old house from before the collapse of society containing books which teach him about those words, Prometheus reflects on how he plans to find others like him and found a new society based on individuality to overthrow the collectivist one he escaped from.
- How We Got Here: The book starts with Equality hiding in a dark tunnel, he explains from the beginning why he is there.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: The main character, at first.
- Individuality Is Illegal: To the point where even using a singular pronoun is punishable by death.
- In Medias Res: The book starts with Equality hiding in a dark tunnel, then explaining from the beginning why he is there.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Prometheus does have Gaea, but it's still just the two of them in the middle of nowhere.
- Language Equals Thought: Invoked. Banning of first-person singular pronouns is a consequence of the society's philosophy of collectivism.
- Loners Are Freaks: Subverted. Even if Anthem's society doesn't think so, loners are awesome!
- Lost Technology: Most modern technology. By the time the story takes place, Candles had only recently been rediscovered. Equality rediscovers electricity all on his own. When he takes this to the House of Scholars they vote against it and refuse to look into it further, implying the technological regression is due to the discouragement of curiosity.
- Love at First Sight: Equality and Liberty.
- Meaningful Name: At the end of the book, our heroes rename themselves Prometheus (the bearer of enlightening fire) and Gaea (the mother of all gods), respectively.
- Meaningless Meaningful Words: The names of all the characters are a combination of one of these with a series of numbers.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: The entire story centers around Equality throwing off future humanity's hat of total subservience to the collective.
- No Sex Allowed: Save for the mating ritual once a year.
- Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The World Council, which controls the entire society and keeps it the way it is.
- Planet of Hats: Everyone is the same in this world, or else.
- Pride: Subverted in that the prideful upstart is actually successful.
- Prophetic Name: Liberty 5-3000, who ends up rediscovering individual freedom alongside Equality 7-2521.
- Rape by Proxy: In this society sex is forbidden outside of a mating ritual that takes place once a year, and for which every woman over the age of eighteen, and every man over the age of twenty must participate in whether they want to or not. They have no choice over who their partner is, and any resulting children are taken away at birth. Equality 7-2521 had to participate in two of these rituals; he found the whole experience disgusting and was terrified by the thought of Liberty 5-3000 having to perform such a ritual (fortunately she was 17). When Equality 7-2521 finally had sex with Liberty 5-3000, by his own choice, he realized how wonderful sex can be when it's consensual.
- Recycled Premise: Anthem received some controversy for its similarities to Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We.
- Screw Destiny: Anthem's society operates on a sort of caste system where one's fate is determined by the government.
- Taking Up the Mantle: The Saint of the Pyre, while being executed for speaking an Unspeakable Word, looks a young Equality 7-2521 in the eyes to nonverbally beg the boy to rediscover individuality.
- You Are Number 6: No one has names in this dystopia. They're all "MeaninglessMeaningfulWord #". The main character is Equality 7-2521.