Recently a local reading group I attend reviewed Ayn Rand’s dystopian novelette Anthem. That book served as my introduction to Rand many years ago, and rereading it proved rewarding.
In our discussion, we explored a variety of topics:
* The romance between the two lead characters, Equality and Liberty, develops as Equality becomes an independent thinker and scientist. This anticipates Howard Roark’s comment in Fountainhead, “To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’.”
* The way Equality values his scientific work anticipates the relationship between the heroes and their work in Atlas Shrugged. It illustrates Rand’s view that material objects are not valuable in themselves, but only in relation to individual values and consciousness.
* For Rand, totalitarianism necessarily results, ultimately, in total economic collapse. The central reason for this is that political controls prevent individuals from acting on their own reasoned judgment, ultimately chilling reasoned thought as such. In the long run capitalism and technological progress cannot survive totalitarian controls. Contrast the primitive society of Anthem with the (in some ways) highly technical societies of other dystopias, such as Brave New World and, more recently,Hunger Games.
Below are the review questions used for our group (and others are free to reproduce these for purposes of discussion).
1. What is the ego? (Peikoff’s 1994 introduction)
2. How do the conditions surrounding the writing and publication of Anthem relate to the book’s theme? (Peikoff’s 1994 introduction, Rand’s 1946 foreword)
3. What are the principles and laws of the story’s society, and what are the emotional consequences of Equality 7-2521 breaking them? (Chapter I)
4. What is the connection between the collectivism and the technological regression of the story? (Chapter I)
5. Why does Rand place the budding romance between the discovery of the tunnel and the Unspeakable Word? (Chapter II)
6. What is the relationship between the advancing scientific discoveries and the building romance? (Chapter III, Chapter IV)
7. Why does Equality say “our new power defies all laws?” Is he right? (Chapter IV)
8. Why does Equality think “this wire is as a part of our body?” (Chapter V)
9. Why does Equality believe the Council of Scholars will accept his gift? Why is he wrong? (Chapter V, Chapter VII)
10. What is the significance of the observation that the electric light “would bring ruin to the Department of Candles?” (Chapter VII)
11. How does Equality’s self-discovery connect to his love of the Golden One? (Chapter VIII, Chapter IX)
12. How does Equality’s independence mesh with the Golden One’s deference toward him? (Chapter X)
13. What is the “world ready to be born?” (Chapter X)
14. What does Equality mean when he writes, “I am the warrant and the sanction?” (Chapter XI)
15. What does Equality mean when he writes, “I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others?” (Chapter XI)
16. How does Prometheus retain his independence while learning so much from others? (Chapter XII)
17. How can one man stoke “the spirit of man?” (Chapter XII)