“We are living through Anthem right now. You should read it,” urged a man whose opinion I respect, and so I did.
Equality 7-2521’s preferred pronouns are “we,” “us,” and “our.” He lives in a dystopian world in which no one has thoughts of his own, but is part of an enforced hive mind. Children do not know their parents, but are educated communally until the age of 15, at which time they are assigned a profession. Conformity is the ultimate virtue. No one should say or do anything on their own or even think an original thought. At the age of 40, workers report to a retirement home to die by the age of 45.
The problem is, Equality 7-2521 is curious. He loves to learn, and he hopes to be assigned to the scholars when he turns 15, but when he reaches that age, he is assigned to be a street sweeper. He rejoices, since this will keep him far away from the pursuit of unauthorized knowledge, and he will have the satisfaction of knowing that he is a virtuous citizen. However, one day while sweeping streets, he comes upon an abandoned, hidden entrance to a tunnel from the Unmentionable Times, and he can’t resist.
In his world, all memories of the past had been erased so that a new social order could be enforced by a few elites who make all of the decisions for the common people. Education consists of brainwashing the children into believing that the past was evil, and that conformity was utopia. When he was 10, Equality 7-2521 witnessed the execution of someone who used the word “I.” That experience reinforced the importance of sticking with the herd for a whole generation.
After secretly spending time in the tunnel from the Unmentionable Times, Equality 7-2521 created an invention that would help the community greatly, moving their entire culture forward, but when he brought it to the World Council, he was condemned because he had done this on his own, without permission. The glory of his invention was swept away by the horror of this evidence that Equality 7-2521 had spent time studying by himself. He had to escape.
As usual, Ayn Rand writes a quasi-essay novel in order to convey her philosophy of Objectivism, although this one is only 95 pages long, as opposed to Atlas Shrugged, which I read decades ago and weighs in at 1,168 pages. The Duke Classics ebook edition of Anthem was only 70 pages long! My own quick explanation of her philosophy is that those who can, should, and those who can’t should get out of the way and be grateful. The strong and smart should be rewarded with power, because if they are given free rein, everyone will benefit. However, her vision is atheistic and harsh, and she is well-hated by many. Darwinism at its purest. Objectivism is brutally efficient and could lead to great progress, but it could not also lead to the death of the poor and less gifted. Rand is not concerned with them at all. On the other hand, her honesty and rationalism can be bracing in the face of Newspeak and political correctness. She writes on one side of a very wide spectrum.
Forced conformity, revisionist history, repression of free speech, a small, powerful ruling class, and the cancellation of original thought? Obviously, Anthem is contemporary realistic fiction.
Disclaimer: I read a library ebook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.