Author: Ayn Rand
In Anthem, Rand examines a frightening future in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Equality 7-2521 lives in the dark ages of the future where all decisions are made by committee, all people live in collectives, and all traces of individualism have been wiped out. Despite such a restrictive environment, the spark of individual thought and freedom still burns in him–a passion which he has been taught to call sinful. In a purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521 dares to stand apart from the herd–to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice. Now he has been marked for death for committing the ultimate sin. In a world where the great “we” reign supreme, he has rediscovered the lost and holy word–“I.”
Why I choose this “classic”:
When I was putting together my list of books for this challenge, I knew that I wanted to include some Ayn Rand because her name had been mentioned so often in the 2012 election season. However, the sheer size of Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead scared me. But Anthem coming in at only a couple of hundred pages seemed do-able (and to test my mettle, I added fountainhead in one of my other categories). Anthem fit well into my dystopia theme – although the year is unmentioned.
This was a hard review to write – I actually finished the book back in the first week of December, but I knew that I wanted to mull over it a bit before posting my review – like I tend to do with many classics. The first thing that caught my eye/ear when I was listening (yes, this is an audiobook review) was the introduction that was written for the 50th anniversary edition by Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff is a philosopher and founder of the Ayn Rand Institute – he had some interesting things to say, not only about Rand’s philosophical leanings, but her experiences in general in the writing of the book – the fact that she completely re-wrote it prior to its release in the US in the 1940’s as she improved on her writing style. This introduction for me helped set the book and gave some foundation to it, which I think added to my thoughts on it. The most intriguing part of the intro was where Peikoff highlighted the fact that Anthem wasn’t the original name of the book, its working title (and the title I think more appropriate) was EGO…
When I heard that, my ears pricked up, because I realized while there was the ego that we refer to as he’s so egotistical, I thought about the ego theory developed by Freud. I’m not sure which one specifically she had in mind as she was writing the book because I think both could work – so that was an intriguing thought. For a book that was written back in the 1930’s/40’s – I appreciate that she didn’t write a specific year for the setting, just used an undisclosed future – because I’ve found if they set a year, and then you read that book after the setting and stuff hasn’t occurred it takes away from the intended affect.
Some of the themes in this reminded me of ones that have appeared in more recent dystopian fiction – for example, the assigning of jobs has shown up in The Giver (Lois Lowry) and the Matched Trilogy (Ally Condie) – and yet, it had its own uniqueness still. I had to chuckle at the part where he (Equality 7-2521) discovered electricity and when presented with the information, the world council was afraid that with that, the candle-makers would be put out of work…kind of reminded me of working in the federal government where at times there are remarkable amounts of redundancies and you question the need for them, but people continue to argue that they are needed…
I have a hard time figuring out who exactly I would recommend this to, because it wouldn’t be to most of my reading buddies. Maybe anyone interested in philosophy; people who are looking for thought-provoking reads…I shall have to ponder that some more. Would I read this again – I don’t think so, but it was intriguing and now I am kind of curious to see what Rand wrote in the Fountainhead…but i’m not quite ready to read it yet – maybe in the next year or so. Even with my abundance of reading, I need to review my critical thinking skills before tackling it.