Tuesday, 21 June 2011

In search of I

Anthem (1937) is a dystopian novella by Ayn Rand. In less than 100 pages, Rand creates a bleak alternate future in which people, with names like Equality 5-2739 or Fraternity 1-7389, lack all individuality and have lost the need for the word “I”.

Orphaned at birth, at age five children are sent to a school where they are indoctrinated with 'knowledge'. At 15 their fate is determined by the elders (the Council of Vocations) who determine whether they will be a scholar, a doctor or some other fate. At age 18 they commence the twice-yearly journey to the mating house for a night of procreation. By 45 they can retire shortly before death. 

Anthem follows one man, Equality 7-2521 who is assigned the role of street sweeper. He is curious and keen to know more about the world (traits which are not well regarded in a community in which no one can stand out). One day he finds a tunnel leading down to an old train station and a glimpse of a world now lost. Equality 7-2521 attempts to show the elders electricity and is shunned, so he runs off into the Unchartered Forest. His lover Liberty 5-3000, who he renames the Golden One, runs away with him. Together they live in an old world house and learn to be individuals.

Anthem is a great introduction to Ayn Rand and her philosophies. She argues against collectivism in favour of individualism and in doing so, there are strong parallels to George Orwell’s 1984.

I enjoy science fiction and particularly dystopian novels like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James.