Anthem By Ayn Rand Summary and Analysis Chapter 2

Summary

Sweeping the streets on the edge of town, Equality 7-2521 notices a young woman toiling in the fields. Even though it is forbidden for men to take notice of women, and women of men, he is immediately attracted to her. Her name is Liberty 5-3000, but he thinks of her only as the Golden One. One day she comes close to the road and smiles at him. Every day after that they greet each other with their eyes. He realizes that he violates the law, which states that men may not think of women except for one night during the Time of Mating. He breaks another law on the day that he speaks to the Golden One. He tells her that she is beautiful, and she replies that he is not one of her brothers, for she does not wish him to be. Though their language has no concepts to explain her meaning, he understands, at an emotional level, that she is expressing the right of preference — that she holds him above and apart from all others as one who is special.

Although he does not understand why it should occur to him, he asks suddenly how old she is. She understands, for she is 17. Equality 7-2521 vows to himself that he will not permit her to be taken to the Palace of Mating. He does not know how he will prevent it, he knows only that he will.

He observes as he undresses at night that a feeling of fear hangs over the room, and no one is willing to speak what all seem to feel. He wonders, as he lies in bed at night, what the secrets were of the Unmentionable Times that have been lost. He thinks of what he has been taught: of the great fighting, in which many fought on one side and only a few on the other. He remembers that those few were the Evil Ones, and that they were destroyed along with all that was theirs. All the books of the Evils Ones were burned in the fires that raged across the land. Then came the Great Rebirth. But the words of the Unmentionable Times, he wonders. What were the words?

He knows that one word especially must not be re-discovered and said. It is called the Unspeakable Word, but nobody knows what it is. He has seen, as a boy, what fate befalls the rare person who discovers this word. He saw such a fellow burned at the stake after his tongue had been ripped from his mouth. Before the flames consumed him, Equality 7-2521 believes that the Transgressor looked at him, making eye contact, as if to pass on some holy knowledge that he alone possessed. What, he wonders, is the Unspeakable Word?

Analysis

In this chapter, Ayn Rand further develops Equality 7-2521's unconquerable independence of soul. In various aspects of life, he uncompromisingly follows his own mind rather than obeys the suppressive laws of the state. He refuses to ignore his growing love for Liberty 5-3000, though it is forbidden for men to notice women. He is attracted to her for reasons beyond her physical beauty, such as her straightness of backbone and fearless expression, outward signs of an independent spirit uncrushed by the stifling society in which she exists. Though they have had no more than eye contact and have not yet spoken, he knows immediately without words that they are kindred spirits.

Equality 7-2521's friendship with International 4-8818 and especially his love for the Golden One are choices based on preference. He values these two, for personal characteristics that each possesses, above other members of society. Even in a society as thoroughly collectivized as this, individuality is impossible to eradicate. Each individual is unique and unrepeatable, and myriad differences exist between and among them. Ayn Rand agrees with the American principle that individuals should be equal before the law, but this is the only sense in which they are equal. Morally and psychologically, they are different from one another, and some are better, some are worse. In Anthem, Rand shows Equality 7-2521 to have greater independence than his brothers and sisters. He refuses to bow and obediently follow in the way that most members of this society do. Similarly, International 4-8818 is willing to think for himself. He draws, against the rules and despite his punishment; he refuses to inform on Equality 7-2521 though his silence violates all the laws. The Golden One, with her head high and her eyes scornful, also reveals an uncompromising moral character that stands out in this society.

Human beings are not equal. They make different choices. Though many choose to accept and follow, some choose to think and live independently. The freethinking men and women of Anthem choose to have deeper, more intimate relationships with one another than with passive followers. They reject the egalitarianism of their society — the belief that all human beings should be treated as absolute equals — and live by the principle of individualism, choosing the men and women whom they value. In so doing, they refuse to permit personal values to perish from this earth.

Personal values are critical to understanding why members of this society are unhappy, why some cry for no apparent reason, and why others scream uncontrollably in the night. An individual's happiness depends on an ability to pursue and attain values, those things personally important to that individual. Equality 7-2521, who loves science, is joyous when beneath the ground pursuing the studies so meaningful to him. But this society stifles an individual's freedom to pursue personal values, so it is to be expected that its citizens experience life as meaningless and painful, which is why Fraternity cries, and Solidarity screams in the night. Consciously, they have no knowledge of individuality and personal values, but at an emotional level, they experience the drab dreariness of a life devoid of meaning. They suffocate in an airtight society and gasp for breath.

Equality 7-2521's independence is further shown in his wondering regarding the Unmentionable Times and, especially, the Unspeakable Word. These thoughts are strictly forbidden, and speaking them, punishable by death, but Equality 7-2521 is undaunted. His thirst for knowledge extends beyond scientific matters and includes questions of history and ethics. Regarding every important issue of life — science, morality, love — his is a freethinking mind eager to learn. Unlike his brothers, he is unafraid to explore and to ask questions that others would not dare to. His honest wondering about the Uncharted Forest foreshadows his bold decision to later flee there despite the dangers it presents to his life.

The role of the Saint of the Pyre here is important. The dying man sees in Equality 7-2521 exactly what his teachers and the Golden One sees — his height, his straightness of spine, his searching eyes. The transgressor recognizes his successor when he sees him, and exhorts him with his eyes not to surrender the independence of spirit that is uniquely his. This episode, too, hints at what is to come.

Glossary

Eugenics a system for improving the human species through control of hereditary factors in mating.

Pyre a pile on which a dead body is burned, as in a funeral rite.

Home of the Peasants place of residence for the women who toil in the fields outside of the city limits. Liberty 5-3000 lives here with the other women who engage in the work of farming.

Golden One name that Equality 7-2521 gives in his own mind to Liberty 5-3000. He gives her this name not merely because her hair is as golden as the sun but also because the straightness of her carriage and the fearlessness of her eyes cause her to stand out, to shine forth from the other women.

Time of Mating the period each spring when the state sends all men older than 20 and all women older than 18 to spend one night in the Palace of Mating. Babies are born every winter but are immediately taken from their mothers and raised by the state. The children never know who their parents are, and the parents do not know who their children are.

Palace of Mating the building where the state-controlled breeding occurs. Sex is prohibited in this society except under the authority of the government, which permits it only for purposes of procreation.

Council of Eugenics state agency that governs all sexual activity and procreation. Its members determine who will sleep with whom, based on the best interest of the state, not the happiness of the men and women involved. If all vestiges of individuality and personal choice are to be expunged, then the Council must be certain that the sexual partners have no attachment to, or feelings for, each other.

Uncharted Forest heavily wooded area just outside the city and extends for many miles in distance. Many such unexplored forests range across the land and are believed to have grown over the ruins of the cities of the Unmentionable Times.

Script Fire brief interval initiating the Great Rebirth following the defeat of the Evil Ones during which all books and writings were burned.

Unspeakable Word the word "I," outlawed in this society under threat of death. The political rulers, in seeking to forbid all aspects of individualism, recognize that it is not sufficient to ban the actions of a personal life, but must also eradicate all thoughts of one.

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