Me, Myself and I
by Marisa Natale
Ego: Noun, defined in Philosophy as a conscious, thinking subject. Ayn Rand described her lyrical and profound novel, Anthem, as “the meaning of man’s ego.” Though individualism is no strange concept coming from the founder of Objectivism, Anthem’s message fully embodies her philosophies. It exemplifies the ways in which man’s independence flourishes when released from the chains of a society that values uniformity above individualism.
Anthem opens upon a dystopian future – a society closed to progress, innovation and individuality. All participants in this society refer to themselves as “we”, conforming to the society’s belief that “we are nothing…we exist through, by and for our brothers”. (1.15) Anthem’s society believes that everything must be the same for anything to be good. Nobody can be better than anyone else, to be singular is a sin, and anything that is not thought or done for the community should not be thought, should not be done. The protagonist, Equality 7-2521, finds himself separate from the masses. He has an independent mind – he is curious and quick, and is developing an acute sense of self. When he was a young boy, the Saint of the Pyre planted this seed of independence in Equality. Despite these gifts, he is a victim of his own indoctrination, filled with guilt and conflict about his thoughts and abilities. “This is a great sin, to be born with a head which is too quick. It is not good to be different…but it is evil to be superior.” (1.17) But an intelligent mind cannot easily be silenced, and Equality finds himself yearning for a life of knowledge and scholarly exploration. He sneaks away, conducting experiments and making discoveries in an underground tunnel he found while working. His nights are spent there, alone. This is Equality’s first foray into direct rebellion. Equality’s transgressions don’t end there. One day, as he is street sweeping, he spies a woman planting seed, and approaches her. As the days pass, he continues to see her, and Rand implies that Equality and the woman, Liberty, are in love – committing what Anthem’s society calls “the sin of preference”. They even name each other – she “the Golden One”, and he “the Unconquered”. Equality’s love is another milestone in his journey towards egoism, and away from the restraints society imposes. Spending his nights in the tunnels, Equality “discovers” electricity. “We could not conceive of that which we had created. We had made no fire. Yet here was light, light that came from nowhere, light from the heart of metal.” (5.4) Astounded by his discovery, Equality decides that he must take his creation to the Scholars, hopeful that they will forgive his transgressions in light of his astonishing invention.
Equality understands that any man save the Scholars would surely destroy him and his creation, and he has a realization, one that brings him ever closer to being his own man – he cares about himself. “For the first time do we care about our body. For this wire is a part of our body, as a vein torn from us, glowing with our blood.” (5.10) Even when he takes his construction to the Scholars, and they threaten him with punishment, Equality’s only concern is for his creation. "Let the will of the Council be done upon our body…. But…what will you do with the light?" (7.31)
Upon seeing that the Scholars care not for him or his invention, Equality escapes to the Uncharted Forest, a place forbidden to men. “We have torn ourselves from the truth which is our brother men, and there is no road back for us…. We know these things, but we do not care.” (7.57-58)
Equality’s hope comes from knowledge, from his invention, his relationship with his creation aiding him in his journey towards Rand’s ideal of egoism. He finally admits his selfish intentions behind the creation of the light. “The glass box is like a living heart that gives us strength.... We have not built this box for the good of our brothers. We built it for its own sake. It is above all our brothers to us, and its truth above their truth.” (7.59)
The next day, when Equality awakens, he realizes his true, human potential. He explores his surroundings, testing the limits of a body he is only newly conscious of as being his alone. Now that Equality is out from under the yoke of his brethren, filled with his own knowledge and unique abilities, he is physically stronger than ever – symbolic of the ways in which men thrive when freed from society’s imposed obligations.
As he explores, Equality discovers the Golden One following him. She has braved the dangers of the fo rest, cutting herself away from civilization to follow her love to freedom. Together, they find an abandoned home and make it their own, learning from the books they find there. Equality begins reading, and there, he makes his final leap to egoism, during which he realizes his own power as a man; he discovers the word “I”. “It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth.” (11.5) There, he discovers the Unspeakable Word – Ego.
He plans to return to the city, to invite several people to create a new, free civilization with him. Equality recognizes the spark of humanity within them, much like the Saint of the Pyre recognized it in him. International 4-8818 had discovered the tunnels with Equality, and kept the discovery secret, a quiet act of defiance against the Councils. “But International…are different…their eyes are like fireflies, for there is laughter in their eyes.”(1.36) He includes Fraternity 2-5503, who feels his forbidden emotions so strongly, he cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347, so trapped and haunted by his oppression that he screams out in the night.
When Rand says that Anthem is “the meaning of man’s ego”, she simply means that. Individualism is the strength of humanity. Each man should be the center of his own universe. Knowledge and independent thought transform Equality from a creature of indoctrination to a man, full in his own being and following his own interests. Collectivism is a poison, which seeps into the bones of civilization and destroys the very thing that makes us human. “The word ‘We’ is as lime poured over men, which…crushes all beneath it.” (11.16) It is the mighty taker, the worship of which forced men to submission. “He gave up all he had won, and fell lower than his savage beginning. What brought it to pass?…. The worship of the word "We.”” (12.17-18)
Anthem sings the praises of the individual spirit, and the importance of following one’s own desires. Rand’s message is a liberating call to freedom and individualism, insightful and inspiring. She stresses the importance of independence and selfishness as crucial to the maintenance of the progression of humanity. “To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. That and nothing else.”(12.15)
Classic Literature Class 2011