Summary and Analysis
Equality 7-2521 says that when, in the course of his reading, he first discovered and understood the meaning of the word "I," he wept — he who had never known tears.
Equality 7-2521 reads many books for many days. When he finally lays aside his studies, he calls the Golden One and tells her what he has learned. Her first words on hearing his discoveries are: "I love you." He tells her that the code of individualism requires each person to have their own name to differentiate them from the rest of humankind. He tells her of a figure about whom he has read. He was a legendary hero who lived far in the past, who took the light of the gods and brought it to humans. In this way, "he taught men to be gods." He suffered for his deeds as all bearers of light must suffer. His name was Prometheus. "It shall be your name," replies the Golden One. Additionally, he tells her of a heroine from the legends of the past. She was a goddess who was the mother of the earth and of all the gods. Her name was Gaea. He requests that the Golden One take this name, for she is to be the mother of a new kind of gods. The Golden One agrees.
Prometheus looks ahead and sees the future clearly before him. Prometheus says that he will continue to live in his own house and learn to grow food by tilling the soil. He will gain much knowledge from his books and use that knowledge in the coming years to re-create the achievements of the past. He is proud of the attainments he can reach, but also saddened by the inability of others to do the same, for their minds are shackled by the collectivist philosophy that keeps them enslaved.
Prometheus learns that the power of the sky was known to the freethinkers of the past; they called it electricity and used it to light their cities, heat their homes, and power their inventions. He has found the engine in the home that produces this power and will learn to repair it. He will study the wires that carry this power, learn how to use them, and then create a network of wires around his house and the paths that lead to his house. In this way, he will make the house impregnable from assault by others, for they have nothing with which to threaten him but their numbers. They use brute force, but he uses his mind.
Prometheus and Gaea will live on their mountaintop in peace and security. He says that she is pregnant with his child, who will be raised as a free man. Their son will be taught the word "I" and will learn reverence for his own spirit. He will learn what pride there is in being a human individual. When Prometheus's work is accomplished — when he has read the books, fortified their home, and tilled the soil — he intends to stealthily venture for the last time into the city of his birth. There he will call to him all those of independent spirit who remain — his friend International 4-8818 and all those like him. He will seek out Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347, who screams in the night. He will reach out to any of the men and women whose heads are still unbowed, who retain the slightest spark of autonomy and who yearn in some form for freedom. These individuals will flock to him, and they will return to his fortress. Prometheus says that here, in the uncharted wilderness, they will build their city and write a new chapter in the history of human freedom.
That the hero and heroine take new names is significant for several reasons. They reject the collectivist names that were imposed on them by the slave society in which they were raised. The name Equality 7-2521 stands for a particular aspect of collectivist thinking. The collectivists do not mean by the term "equality" the individualistic principle that all individuals possess the same legal rights and are to be treated identically by the law. The collectivists mean that all are equal in an absolute sense — that no individual is or should be better than the crowd, that no one possesses greater talent than others or greater intelligence or greater virtue. It is the equality of an ant colony, in which all individuals are equally subordinated to and enslaved by the rulers.
The collectivists seek to prevent individuals from rising, from attaining excellence, from standing out, from achieving pride in their own person and accomplishments. Individuals free to live their lives and actualize their potential — who hold high standards in all areas of life and strive to consistently meet them — are not readily malleable by an all-powerful state. Such individuals do not conform or obey. They are independent, living by their own thinking, pursuing their own values, striving for their own happiness. But others taught that they have no right to rise above the herd, that they must seek no distinction, that each is the same as all, such unfortunates will bow and kneel and follow. Believing themselves no more than a cog in a vast machine, they will seek no individuality and will be ready clay for their masters to mold. The hero rejects this philosophy of humanity, and consequently rejects the name that embodies it.
Further, the numbers that follow every person's name are a means by which the rulers instill the same collectivist lesson. A human being is not an individual, according to the collectivist philosophy; he is merely a fragmented part of a greater whole. Mandating that numbers follow each name, in amounts running to four or five digits, signifies that each person is only one of thousands bearing the same name, belonging to the same tribe, serving the same group. No one person is unique, unrepeatable, or outstanding. She is merely a numbered and controlled member of society, a splintered part of which the group is the whole. The numbers and the collectivist names combine with the eradication of the word "I" to form a collectivist culture designed to extirpate even the knowledge of individuality. The hero and heroine, as an act symbolizing their commitment to an individualistic philosophy, must repudiate the practice of attaching numbers to a person's name.
Further, even though the Golden One's given name is Liberty 5-3000, the word "liberty" is so corrupted by the collectivists that it stands for the exact opposite of its original meaning. In the collectivist culture, liberty means not the inalienable right of each person to sovereign individuality, but rather the "right" of each person to be subordinate to the group. The collectivists, in their attempt to create universal slavery, corrupt the language — the very ideas and terms with which persons think — so as to obliterate all thoughts that clash with their push for blind obedience. The very concepts of individualism and freedom are expropriated and used to designate meanings that are the polar opposite of their originals. George Orwell, in his famous book, 1984, shows the collectivist dictators similarly corrupting the vocabulary of liberty by making such irrational claims as "Freedom is slavery." Prometheus and Gaea, at this point in the story, finally understand the full evil of collectivism and repudiate all its forms and trappings, including the bastardized name originally given the Golden One. As befitting free individuals, they will choose their own names.
From studying his books, Prometheus has learned a good deal about the history of the Unmentionable Times. Although no specific historical details are given, it is reasonable to infer that he is knowledgeable regarding the ideas of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the creation of the United States. He says that breaking free of the bonds imposed by various tyrants, persons of past eras "declared to all his brothers that a man has rights," and so "stood on the threshold of the freedom for which the blood of the centuries past had been spilled." Prometheus here refers to the ideas of such seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers as John Locke and Voltaire, who argued that rational beings owed blind obedience to neither church nor state, but possessed the right to direct the course of their own life. Prometheus also has in mind men such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the other thinkers of America's founding period, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The men responsible for the founding of the American republic were individualists who believed that the only moral purpose of government was to protect the right of individual citizens to pursue their own happiness. Clearly, from his brief commentary, Prometheus has learned these important facts of history and greatly admires these freedom fighters of the past.
Further, Prometheus now knows the history of collectivism's development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although he does not mention the specific historical details, his readings will have informed him of the work of the German philosophers G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx, whose writings proclaimed the superiority of the nation and/or the working class to the individual. Hegel and Marx stressed the moral obligation of the individual to be subordinate to the needs of the group — and it was largely their teachings that led to the rise of National Socialism in Germany, to Communism in the Soviet Union, and to Fascism in Italy, the context in which Rand wrote Anthem. Prometheus understands that as the collectivist doctrines spread around the globe, they eventually swallowed the free countries and turned them into totalitarian dictatorships as well. In this fictional universe created by the author, the doctrine of individual rights died in countries such as the United States because humans were gradually taught to worship the word "we" and renounce their reverence for the word "I." But Prometheus, like some Thomas Jefferson of the future, does not intend to permit the spirit of freedom to die out on the earth. It is not enough that he, his family, and his friends will live in freedom on their protected mountaintop. He intends to rekindle the battle for individual rights, to challenge the global collectivist state, and to initiate a new revolution on behalf of political freedom. Prometheus will bring more than electric light to his society; he will provide something of far greater value than that. He will bring the light of freedom back into human lives after centuries of absence.
Prometheus is confident about the ultimate triumph of individualism and freedom over collectivism. The most important consideration regards the role of the mind in human life. Because the collectivists value blind obedience above all, they necessarily view the freethinking mind as their most dangerous foe. Independent thinkers like Prometheus have their own ideas and arrive at their own conclusions by a process of logical thought. They hold their own minds as sacred, enabling them to discover new truths in the field of electricity, or in biology, physics, medicine, music, philosophy, and so on. Free minds like these do not confine their judgment to issues in the professional fields they choose; they think also on moral and political issues and recognize the grave injustices of the collectivist dictatorship. They speak out on behalf of an individual's rights and in defense of political freedom.
Thinkers such as Prometheus represent a profound threat to the unquestioned authority of the collectivist leaders. For this reason, collectivists are ruthless in stamping out any hint or vestige of independence in their subjects. Because the authorities recognized the precociousness of Prometheus's intellect, not in spite of it, they consigned him in his youth to the profession of Street Sweeper, denying him the logical choice of being a Scholar. Because the collectivists stifle the mind, they have lost all elements of scientific and technological progress, including in the realm of military weapons. They are utterly primitive in all areas of their lives.
Prometheus knows this. He knows too that he and his wife and friends are nothing like this. They are men and women of the mind. Prometheus always knew implicitly that it was by means of independent thinking that humans survive and prosper on earth; this is why he was always fascinated by the "science of things," and why he defied all laws and rules to experiment alone in his tunnel. Now, after his reading regarding the accomplishments of the freethinkers of the past — given his knowledge of their "steel towers, flying ships and power wires" — he knows explicitly the importance of the mind. He and his friends will use the supreme power of their minds to defend themselves. Prometheus already plans to study the generator by means of which electric power in his home was formerly produced. He will learn to repair or replicate it. His study of electrical engineering will, in the future, enable him to create new products of immense use to his life and those of his friends. Further, he will erect a barrier of electric wires to protect his mountaintop fortress, and similarly will employ his scientific genius to create other weapons to be deployed should the collectivists make war on him. He knows that in any conflict between mind and brute force, the mind will triumph.
Finally, he is confident about the outcome of any clash between himself and the collectivists due to his awareness of the undying human spirit. Speaking of the heroic freedom fighters of the past about whom he has read, he states that their battle is one that can never be lost; that the liberty they died to save can never perish. The human mind and soul will eternally hunger for freedom; this aspiration can never be killed by any dictator or collectivist state. Humans suffering under the yoke of tyranny will, when liberty is offered to them, seize the opportunity to live as free persons. Prometheus now understands that the human mind requires freedom — successful life on earth requires it — and therefore the soul yearns for it. The human desire for freedom cannot be squelched, and Prometheus's battle cannot be lost.
Prometheus legendary titan of Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and brought it to earth. He was punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock and had a vulture eat out his liver daily. But thereafter humans had fire to keep warm and to light the darkest night.
Gaea goddess of Greek mythology who gave birth to the earth and to the titans.
City of the Damned city in which Prometheus and Gaea formerly resided, and from which they fled.
Ego the self. That aspect of an individual that thinks, forms values, and makes judgments. Here it refers to the need that individuals have to be liberated of the stifling restraints of collectivism, free to use their own minds and glory in their own individual uniqueness.