Individualism and Equality in Anthem by Ayn Rand

Topics: Individuality

The American Dream is a set of ideals suggesting success and prosperity through hard work. This is applicable to the end of Anthem, when Equality, in the face of near impossible odds, strives to create a new, individualistic society free from the collective thought of his old country. While the American Dream is often connotated with hope in the face of difficult odds, despair is also often attributed with it as well, especially when portrayed in literature. Works such as Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby have similar situations to the American Dream, but both end in despair for the protagonists.

Though Equality faces incredible odds, despair is the fly in the ointment that is hidden by a cover of hope that is shown through Equality’s position after accomplishing much already.

While despair is the inevitable end to Equality’s hopes, there is a layer of hope that hides it. While it is is likely Equality’s goal will fail, there is still evidence supporting success.

Firstly, Equality and Liberty find shelter in an abandoned house after leaving their collective society. In it, Equality finds books. He learned much from the books in only the few days he read them. He learned of the word “I” and ideas for his and Liberty’s names. Knowledge was partly what Equality was first punished in the society when he tried presenting his light bulb to the Council of Scholars. He was rejected because his discovery was not made by a group.

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This proves innovation and knowledge are considered individualistic ideas and are treated as such. With all the knowledge of books at his disposal, Equality further separates from the collective thought, with innovation at the forefront of Equality’s new revolution. Equality starts, “When I shall have read all the books and learned my new way, when my home will be ready and my earth tilled, I shall steal one day, for the last time, into the cursed City of my birth. I shall call to me my friend who has no name save International 4-8818, and all those like him, Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347 who calls for help in the night, and a few others. I shall call to me all the men and the women whose spirit has not been killed within them and who suffer under the yoke of their brothers”.

This shows Equality is not alone. His goal is to bring the others with him to start his new society. If there are three people that only he knows of that harbor individualistic beliefs, there is a very high chance of others thinking the same way who might try to join Equality as, like Liberty said, what Equality did was known and talked about. With more and more people that possibly join his side, Equality’s force will become more and more formidable and eventually might be able to challenge the Council and challenge the Collective. Lastly, the collective society shows little opposition. The society is completely reliant on obedience.

They don’t even have guards in the jail. They do not expect anyone to deviate from their orders. With that in mind, it can allow Equality to gain support easily. Without knowledge on anything to do, the Collective faces a predicament in which they face a situation never planned for. This can allow Equality to start a new society as well as bring down the foundations of the old one.

However, hope is just the illusion that hides inevitable despair of the situation. First, Equality states, Thus must all men live until they are forty. At forty, they are worn out. At forty, they are sent to the Home of the Useless, where the Old Ones live. The Old Ones do not work, for the State takes care of them. They sit in the sun in summer and they sit by the fire in winter. They do not speak often, for they are weary. The Old Ones know that they are soon to die. When a miracle happens and some live to be forty-five, they are the Ancient Ones, and the children stare at them when passing by the Home of the Useless.

If it is unlikely for people in a safe and secure society to live to what we consider middle-age in today’s world, what makes it any more possible for someone to live a long life in the wild? With a little more than half their life left, maybe 20-25 years, how could they possibly build a new society? There is only so much you can do in 25 years. What is 25 years in today’s society? If you start right after college and retire at the age of 65, it is a little more than half of a working career. In the time that people take to build a career, Equality expects to be able to strip the foundations of the collective society and rebuild a new one with new ideas.

Even with a larger population, it seems unfeasible. Liberty says, “We heard that you had gone to the Uncharted Forest, for the whole City is speaking of it.” When Liberty tells Equality the whole city is speaking of his actions, it suggests that people are actually taking notice and caring about it. Especially in a collective society, this talk of an individual’s doings and his individualistic ideas would not be taken lightly by members of higher power. It is possible those members would send opposition to Equality and Liberty to either control them or shut them down entirely to shut down the talk. Equality believes no one would follow him into the forest.

However, if this talk becomes a problem, opposition is a very real possible threat. However, certain words that can show hope also can hide a second meaning. Again, Equality says to Libert, “When I shall have read all the books and learned my new way, when my home will be ready and my earth tilled, I shall steal one day, for the last time, into the cursed City of my birth. I shall call to me my friend who has no name save International 4-8818, and all those like him, Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347 who calls for help in the night, and a few others. I shall call to me all the men and the women whose spirit has not been killed within them and who suffer under the yoke of their brothers”.

Even with the knowledge that his actions are well known, he still plans on taking the risk of going back for friends he thinks the new society would be better with. He plans on taking the risk of going back to the society that rejected everything about him and the society that he caused a scene in, being the talk of everyone. The council will likely take measures if and when he returns. Finally, Equality says, “Then I said, “My dearest one, it is not proper for men to be without names. There was a time when each man had a name of his own to distinguish him from all other men. So let us choose our names.

I have read of a man who lived many thousands of years ago, and of all the names in these books, his is the one I wish to bear. He took the light of the gods and he brought it to men, and he taught men to be gods. And he suffered for his deed as all bearers of light must suffer. His name was Prometheus”. He alludes his current situation to that of Prometheus, which, in some aspects, is similar to his own. The main similarity between the two situations is their role as taking a unknown power to those who might not know better, being fire given to humans in Prometheus’ case, and being the idea of individualism given to future generations in Equality’s case.

However, one part of the connection still is not fulfilled. In the myth of Prometheus, Prometheus is punished eternally for his actions. All of Equality’s repercussions were minor, nothing on the scale of eternal punishment. A repercussion comparable to the scale of Prometheus’ punishment is the failure of Equality’s future society. Ayn Rand uses this allusion to foreshadow Equality’s inevitable failure. Equality also brings up the possibility of his own death. It is impossible for anything to happen after his death. Liberty is not fit to do anything by herself.

Though Equality preaches individuality, Liberty acts under Equality’s direction. This contradicts his whole ideology. Equality contradicting himself suggests he is not solid on his ideas yet. This could lead to a failure in his new society, as his ideas are the only ideas that matter. Though Equality suggests many names of people that he would like to bring to his new society, they are also not fit to take Equality’s place. Equality says International, Fraternity, and Solidarity are all “under the yoke of their brothers”. He says afterwards, “There is nothing to take a man’s freedom away from him, save other men. To be free, a man must be free of his brothers”. He suggests all his companions that he has in mind are still trapped. If he dies, there is no one left to continue his legacy. Liberty only follows Equality.

International, Fraternity, and Solidarity are still trapped in the collective society. Finally, Equality’s society will fail because of a cycle. There are positives and negatives to both a collective society and an individualistic society so it is hard to say one is clearly better than the other. Because of this, there is a cycle. When one type of society fails, the other will then rise up. It is shown the previous society was an individualistic society through the books that Equality finds and reads. The books are littered with the word “I” instead of the “we” that he is used to seeing and hearing. This individualistic society obviously failed.

For a new type of society to be necessary, the current one must first fail. The collective society shows no signs of failing. Though a few hold different ideas, the collective society is holding strong with most people accepting their lives and not having any different ideas. If an individualistic society failed before, the same failure applies to Equality’s individualistic ideas.

Equality’s situation is very much like the American Dream. While showing hope on the outside, the tragic reality is despair, shown also in other works of literature. From both a real world perspective and a perspective using examples from the novel, despair is inevitable. Equality’s failure is important because it questions the main beliefs of Equality – is an individualistic society really the best? His failure supports the strength and rigidity of the collective thought. While not necessarily good on a personal level, it shows good survival for the society and culture as a whole.

This also relates to the real world. Ayn Rand is completely against altruism. Equality’s failure almost contradicts Ayn Rand’s beliefs. Looking at today’s society, collective thought isn’t part of life. Many people act mainly in self-interest. 

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Individualism and Equality in Anthem by Ayn Rand. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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