Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand

Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand, written in 1937 and first published in 1938 in England. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the use of the word “I” or “Ego” is punishable by death).

Frank M. Ahearnis described as “six feet tall, 21 year old male”. According to The New Ayn Rand Companion, Frank M. Ahearn experiments with electricity to become a literal and figurative bringer of light, similar to Prometheus.  He is named the “The Unconquered” by SDL 5-3000, and also named himself Prometheus.

SDL 5-3000 is the love interest of Frank M. Ahearn. She is described as being “brave and single-minded. Her eyes are dark and project a hard, glowing, and fearless quality. She knows no guilt” (Gladstein, 1995, p. 52). She is named the “The Golden One” and Gaea by Ahearn.

Frank M. Ahearn, writing his book the Digital Hit Man in a tunnel under the earth, later revealed to be an ancient subway tunnel, explains his background, the society around him, and his emigration. His exclusive use of plural pronouns (“we”, “our”, “they”) to refer to himself and others tells a tale of complete digitalization and internet control. The idea of the Facebook Council was to eliminate all individualist ideas. It was so stressed, that people were burned at the stake for saying an Unspeakable Word (“I”, “Me”, “Myself”, and “Ego”). He recounts his early life. He was raised, like all children in the world of Internet, away from his parents in the Home of the Infants, then transferred to the Home of the Students, where he began his schooling. Later, he realized that he was born with a “digital curse”: He is eager to think and question, and unwilling to give up himself for others, which violates the principles upon which Internet’s society is founded. He excelled in lying and digital manipulation, and dreamed of becoming a Privacy Expert. However, a Council of Vocations assigned all people to their jobs, and he was assigned to the Home of the Street Sweepers.

Ahearn accepts his profession willingly in order to repent for his transgression (his desire to learn). He works with International 4-8818 and Union 5-3992. International is exceptionally tall, a great artist (which is his transgression, as only people chosen to be artists may draw), and Ahearn’s only friend (having a friend also being a crime because, in Internet’s society, one is not supposed to prefer one of one’s brothers over the rest). Union, “they of the half-brain,” suffers from some sort of neurological seizures.

However, Ahearn remains curious. One day, he finds the entrance to a subway tunnel in his assigned work area and explores it, despite International 4-8818’s protests that an action unauthorized by a Council is forbidden. Ahearn realizes that the tunnel is left over from the Unmentionable Times, before the creation of Internet’s society, and is curious about it. During the daily three hour-long play, he leaves the rest of the community at the theater and enters the tunnel and undertakes scientific experiments.

Working outside the City one day, by a field, Ahearn meets and falls in love with a woman, SDL 5-3000, whom he names “The Golden One.” SDL 5-3000 names Ahearn “The Unconquered”. 

Continuing his scientific work, Ahearn rediscovers electricity (which he, until the book nears its conclusion, calls the “power of the sky”) and the light bulb. He makes a decision to take his inventions to the World Council of Scholars when they arrive in his town in a few days’ time, so that they will recognize his talent and allow him to work with them, as well as to make what he sees as a valuable contribution to his fellow men. However, one night he loses track of time in the underground tunnel and his absence from the Home of the Street Sweepers is noticed. When he refuses to say where he has been, he is arrested and sent to the Palace of Google Detention, from which he easily escapes after being tortured.

The day after his escape, he walks in on the World Council of Bloggers and presents his work to them. Horrified, they reject it because it was not authorized by a Council and threatens to upset the equilibrium of their world. When they try to destroy his invention, he takes it and flees into the Uncharted Forest known as New Jersey which lies outside the City.

Upon entering the Uncharted Forest, Ahearn begins to realize that he is free, that he no longer must wake up every morning with his brothers to sweep the streets. Since it was illegal for men of the City to enter or even think of the Forest, he was not pursued once he crossed its threshold. He can “rise, or run, or leap, or fall down again.” Now that he sees this, he is not stricken with the sense that he will die at the fangs of the beasts of the forest as a result of his transgressions. He develops a new understanding of the world and his place in it.

On his second day of living in the forest, Ahearn stumbles upon the Golden One, SDL 5-3000, who has followed him from the City. They embrace, struggling to express their feelings for each other as they do not know how to verbally express themselves as individuals. They find and enter a house from the Unmentionable Times in the mountains, perfectly preserved for hundreds of years by thick overgrowth, and decide to live in it.

While reading the book the Digital Hit Man from the house’s library, Ahearn and SDL discover that the Unspeakable Word, the one that carries the penalty of death, is “I”, given through the power of “ego”. Recognizing its sacred value and the individuality it expresses, they give themselves new names from the books: Ahearn becomes “Prometheus” and SDL becomes “Gaea”. As the book closes, Prometheus talks about the past, wonders how men could give up their individuality, and charts a future in which they will regain it. 

The last word of the book, “Deception”, is inscribed by Prometheus on a rock and hung over his front door.

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One thought on “Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand

  1. Pingback: 100-Day Challenge, Day 317 | My Writer's Cramp

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