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“Anthem” by Ayn Rand dystopia in 100 pages

Dystopian fiction is a classic trend in the science fiction genre, and this particular brand of storytelling has hit another surge of popularity with series such as “The Hunger Games,” “The Maze Runner,” “Divergent ” and others. However, the tradition of dystopian fiction has an exciting history of literature that some readers may not have yet explored. A short novella by Ayn Rand called “Anthem” comes to mind.

Written in 1937 and first published in 1938, “Anthem” chronicles the story of Equality 7-2521 as he writes down his thoughts and discoveries while living in a collectivist society that has forgotten technology and embraced primitive practices. At just over 100 pages, this short novella is quite different from Rand’s other well- known works such as “The “Fountainhead”, and “Atlas Shrugged.” True to her style, “Anthem” still comments very heavily on sociopolitical ideas, such as social gains, social aims and social objectives in the context of collectivism. These themes are illuminated by the world Rand has created where the people say: “We are one in all and all in one. / There are no great men but only the great WE, / One, indivisible and forever.” 

The commanding detail to the story is the voice that Rand tells it in. Although it is a first- person narration, first-person pronouns are not used. Equality 7-2521 refers to himself as “we” as he writes down his thoughts. Equality 7-2521, readers find out, has committed many transgressions, but his biggest sin is that he was born curious. Despite knowing the punishments for the Transgression of Preference (preferring some work, lessons, or people to others), he still wants to know about the world around him. He accepts his position as a street-sweeper but accidentally comes upon something that burns his curiosity.

What he discovers is more than he could have ever dreamed of; he finds the remains of train tracks in a tunnel underground left from the Unmentionable Times. Readers follow him through a series of choices that are familiar to us in our world and yet frighteningly foreign to the main protagonist. In his journey to discover himself and the words his time has lost from the Unmentionable Times, Equality 7-2521 bravely reminds readers of the importance of yearning for knowledge and new ideas. But most importantly, he takes us on a journey to discovering someone we are both painfully familiar with and absolutely lost from: ourselves.

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