Anthem (novella)

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First edition
Author Ayn Rand
Language English
Genre Science fiction
  • 1938 (Cassell, London)
  • 1946 (Pamphleteers, US)
OCLC 32132103
813/.52 20
LC Class PS3535.A547 A7 1995

Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand, written in 1937 and first published in 1938 in England. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and 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.


Equality 7-2521 is described as "six feet tall, 21 year old male". According to The New Ayn Rand Companion, Equality 7-2521 experiments with electricity to become a literal and figurative bringer of light, similar to Prometheus.[1] He is named "The Unconquered" by Liberty 5-3000, and also named himself Prometheus.

Liberty 5-3000 is the love interest of Equality 7-2521. She is described as being "brave and single-minded. Her eyes are dark and project a hard, glowing, and fearless quality. She knows no guilt" (Gladstein, 1995, p. 52). She is named "The Golden One" and Gaea by Equality 7-2521.

Plot summary[edit]

Equality 7-2521, writing in a tunnel under the earth, later revealed to be an ancient subway tunnel, 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 tells a tale of complete socialization and governmental control. 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 "Ego"). 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 some sort of neurological seizures.

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." Liberty 5-3000 names Equality "The Unconquered".

Continuing his scientific work, Equality rediscovers electricity (which he, until the book nears its conclusion, calls the "power of the sky") and the light bulb. He makes a decision to take his inventions to the World Council of Scholars when they arrive in his town in a few days' time, so that they will recognize his talent and allow him to work with them, as well as to make what he sees as a valuable contribution to his fellow men. However, one night he loses track of time in the underground tunnel and his absence from the Home of the Street Sweepers is noticed. When he refuses to say where he has been, he is arrested and sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention. He easily escapes after being tortured, as the doors are rusty since no one had ever attempted escape before.

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 Uncharted Forest which lies 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. Since it was illegal for men of the City to enter or even think of the Forest, he was not pursued once he crossed its threshold. 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 verbally express 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 the word "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 and hung over his front door.



Rand, as a teenager living in Soviet Russia, initially conceived Anthem as a play.[2] After migrating to the United States, Rand didn't think of writing Anthem, but reconsidered after reading a short story in The Saturday Evening Post set in the future. (The story in question was probably "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benét, which was published as "The Place of the Gods" in the July 31, 1937 edition.) Seeing that mainstream magazines would publish a "fantastic" story, she decided to try submitting Anthem to them. She wrote the story in the summer of 1937, while taking a break from research she was doing for her next novel, The Fountainhead.[3]

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."[4]

There are similarities between Anthem and the 1921 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. Children separated from their parents and brought up by the State
  4. Individualism disposed of in favor of collective will.
  5. A male who discovers individuality through his relationship with a female character.
  6. A forest as a 'free' place outside the dystopian city.
  7. The main character is a man.
  8. This character discovers a link to the past, when men were free, in a tunnel under the Earth.

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.[5][6] 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.[5][7]

Publication history[edit]

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 and Cassell in England. Both had handled her previous novel, We the Living.[8] According to Leonard Peikoff, "Cassell accepted it immediately... Macmillan turned it down; their comment was: the author does not understand socialism."[9] Another American publisher also turned it down, and Rand's agent was unable to sell it as a magazine serial. Cassell published it in England under the title Ego.[10]

After the success of Rand's novel The Fountainhead, a revised edition of Anthem was published in the US in 1946 by Pamphleteers, Inc., a small libertarian-oriented publishing house owned by Rand's friends Leonard Read and William C. Mullendore.[11] 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 an appendix which reproduces the entire original British edition with Rand's handwritten editorial changes.

Reception and legacy[edit]


Reviewing the 1953 American edition for a genre audience, Boucher and McComas were unsympathetic. Noting that "Rand implies that a sinister conspiracy of purveyors of brotherhood has prevented its American publication until now," they ironically concluded "One can only regret that the conspiracy finally broke down."[12]


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 Hall. 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." A memo to Rand dated May 4, 1964, mentions the unauthorized adaptation, but there is no indication that she took any legal action.[13]

Robert Silverberg's 1971 novel A Time of Changes also depicts a society where I is a forbidden word and where the protagonist rebels against this prohibition. In a 2009 preface to a reprint edition of his novel, Silverberg said he had read Anthem in 1953, but had long forgotten it when he wrote A Time of Changes. He was surprised to see the similarities when he rediscovered Rand's story, but said overall the two books are very different.[14]

Anthem is also credited by Neil Peart for influencing Rush's "2112" with strong parallels to the plot, structure, and theme of Anthem. Peart has said that although he had read Anthem, he was not consciously thinking of the story when he wrote the song; however when the similarities were pointed out, he realized that there must have been some unconscious influence, and gave credit to "the genius of Ayn Rand" in the liner notes. The band also released a song called "Anthem", and their Canadian record label (co-founded by Rush manager Ray Danniels) is Anthem Records.

Reviewer James Bowls noted a similarity between the opening scene of "Anthem", where the protagonist sits alone in a tunnel and writes down his feeling of rebellion against the collectivist society into which he was born, and Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Author of the Acacia Seeds" in which a literate, individualist ant similarly sits alone in a disused side tunnel and writes on acacia seeds a manifesto of outright rebellion against its anthill society (literally such in this case): "The similarity is striking, even though Le Guin's brand of Libertarianism is very distant from Rand's."[15]


The Libertarian Futurist Society awarded Anthem its Hall of Fame Award in 1987.[16] In 2014, Anthem was nominated for a Retrospective Hugo Award for "Best Novella".[17]


In 2011, Anthem was adapted into a graphic novel by Charles Santino, with artwork by Joe Staton.[18][19]

The book was adapted into a stage play in 2013 by Jeff Britting, the department manager of the Ayn Rand Archives at the Ayn Rand Institute. First performed in Denver, it opened on Broadway in September 2013.

The novella inspired a musical, premiering off-Broadway at New York City's Lynn Redgrave Theatre in May 2014. The cast included Randy Jones of The Village People, Jason Gotay, Jenna Leigh Green, Remy Zaken, and Ashley Kate Adams.[20]



  1. ^ Gladstein 1999, p. 49
  2. ^ Peikoff, Leonard, "Introduction" in Rand 1995, p. viii
  3. ^ Peikoff, Leonard, "Introduction" in Rand 1995, p. ix
  4. ^ Peikoff, Leonard, "Introduction" in Rand 1995, p. vi
  5. ^ a b Saint-Andre, Peter (Spring 2003). "Zamyatin and Rand". Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 4 (2): 285–304. 
  6. ^ Gimpelevich, Zina (1997). "‘We’ and ‘I’ in Zamyatin's We and Rand's Anthem". Germano-Slavica 10 (1): 13–23. 
  7. ^ Milgram, Shosana. "Anthem in the Context of Related Literary Works," in Mayhew 2005, pp. 136–141
  8. ^ Heller 2009, p. 104; Burns 2009, p. 50
  9. ^ Peikoff, Leonard, "Introduction" in Rand 1995, p. x
  10. ^ Heller 2009, p. 104
  11. ^ Heller 2009, p. 198; Burns 2009, p. 102
  12. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, October 1953, p. 72.
  13. ^ Britting, Jeff. "Adapting Anthem: Projects that Were and Might Have Been," in Mayhew 2005, pp. 66–67
  14. ^ Silverberg 2009, pp. 10–12
  15. ^ James D. Bowls, "Libertarian Ideas in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Detective Fiction" in Lilian White (ed.) "The Impact of Radical Political and Social Ideologies on Twentieth Century Popular Culture"
  16. ^ "Prometheus Awards". Libertarian Futurist Society. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ "1939 Retro-Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  18. ^ Exclusive Interview: Charles Santino – writer/producer of ANTHEM the Graphic Novel « MindPosts
  19. ^ Anthem: A Graphic Novel | New York Journal of Books
  20. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (April 4, 2014). "At Long Last, We're Getting An Ayn Rand Musical". io9. Retrieved May 21, 2014. 

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Anthem study guide, themes, quotes, teacher resources