Summary and Analysis
After countless nights of experimenting, Equality 7-2521 succeeds in harnessing the power of electricity to re-invent the electric light. It is light in a rudimentary form: A box of glass that glows when its wires are connected. This power can be harnessed to benefit society. But how is he to convince others of this great new boon?
He knows many will fear his discovery; worse, the authorities will be enraged at his transgression, at his daring to think and work alone. He believes the Scholars are the only ones who will understand and recognize the merit of his invention. When the World Council of Scholars convenes in his city, he will present to them, as his gift, the "glass box with the power of the sky." The Scholars will explain the value of the invention to the Council of Vocations, and it will reassign Equality 7-2521 to the Home of the Scholars.
A new thought strikes him: He cares, for the first time, what becomes of his body. He wonders, for the first time in his life, what he looks like. Men never see their own faces in this society, and are forbidden to ask their brothers. They have been taught that it is evil to have concern for their own faces and bodies. But now, for some reason he does not understand, he desires to see his face.
Equality 7-2521 can be thought of as the Thomas Edison of his age, the man who discovers how to employ the power of electricity to generate light. But the conditions under which Equality 7-2521 conducts his research are vastly more difficult. He must sneak around, concealing his precious work as though it was a guilty secret. He has only three hours at night for his studies, after working all day as a Street Sweeper. He crouches alone in a dimly lit, ill-equipped tunnel. He forages and steals what supplies he can. He has nobody with whom to brainstorm and discuss his ideas. He receives no moral support from his society — only its opposite, the threat of punishment and death if caught. In short, the harsh conditions under which Equality 7-2521 carries out his work underscore an important truth regarding innovators: They are motivated solely by their love of the work.
Equality 7-2521 loves science. He burns with passion to study it and understand nature's secrets. Researchers and inventors follow their own vision, their own truth. Equality 7-2521 is pleased that his electric light will benefit society, but society's gain is not the primary motivating factor of his work. Rather, his own personal values impel him, the importance that he — alone among the members of this society — places on this creative work. Ayn Rand shows that creative work is personal, not social. When personal values are extirpated from an individual's life, he or she cannot engage in creative work.
As a consequence of holding and reaching values of his own, Equality 7-2521 experiences the previously unknown sensation of pride. When he gazes upon the wires glowing in the dark, he is filled with a sense of his accomplishment. He thinks of the wires as veins torn from his body. The invention is merely an extension of his self, something brought into existence by his mind and his hands. A powerful experience of self-love fills him — a creator's recognition of achievement and of the value possessed by the one who accomplishes it. This sense of self worth is why, for the first time, he desires to see his face and know what he looks like. The recognition of his inner beauty leads him to expect that his external demeanor will match it.
He recognizes that he and he alone created this invention — that it was his brain and his hands that brought the light into existence. He knows that his brothers contributed nothing but the obstacles. Equality 7-2521 moves one step closer to recognizing the reality of individuality, that human beings are not mere appendages of a faceless, social mass. Clearly to him, only one man invented the light — "we" did not accomplish it — and it enables him to further question his lifelong indoctrination by society. He is almost ready to throw off the tyranny of "we," and to discover the lost and sacred Unspeakable Word.
The Box of Glass rudimentary form of an electric light that Equality 7-2521 has re-invented. Though he knows little about electricity, he recognizes that lightning is caused by the same force that generates the light.