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Anthem Summary


Here you will find a Anthem summary (Ayn Rand's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Anthem Summary Overview

In a world where individualism is considered a sin, a young man known as Equality 7-2521 finds solace in a secret tunnel where he writes and reflects on his life. Despite the societal constraints, he relishes his solitude and begins to yearn for more time alone. He recalls his childhood, his dreams of becoming a scholar, and his punishment to serve as a street sweeper for being too smart and too tall. This punishment, instead of dissuading him, provides an opportunity to atone for his perceived sins. At the age of ten, Equality 7-2521 witnesses the execution of a man who dared to discover and use the forbidden word "I". This experience imprints on him the desire to discover, leading him to conduct experiments in his secret hideaway, culminating in the creation of a lightbulb. Meanwhile, he meets a defiant peasant girl, the Golden One, and despite societal norms, they form a bond and fall in love - an act that gives him a strange sense of connection to the Palace of Mating, a location where citizens are sent once a year for procreation. Unfortunately, before he could present his invention to the World Council of Scholars, he is detained for returning late to his quarters and refusing to divulge his whereabouts. Despite being tortured, he refuses to reveal his secret, intent on unveiling it to the council himself. When he finally presents his invention to the council, it is rejected out of fear and anger. With threats to his life and his lightbulb, he escapes to the Uncharted Forest, relishing in his newfound freedom. There, he reunites with the Golden One and together, they find an abandoned house in the mountains from a time long past. Here, he discovers the true meaning of "I", and they vow to start a new generation of individuals who believe in the self and its power.


The fiftieth anniversary edition of Anthem is prefaced by Leonard Peikoff’s discussion on Ayn Rand’s belief system, objectivism. Peikoff talks about Rand's steadfastness as a philosopher and political theorist, disregarding detractors who accused her of misunderstanding socialism. Using her letters as evidence, he asserts that Rand always placed individuality above collectivism and saw societal planning as a threat. The initial title of Anthem was Ego. Peikoff explains that Rand altered it to Anthem due to artistic reasons and to avoid revealing too much of the storyline and philosophy prematurely. He mentions that Rand viewed Anthem as an exploration of her worldview instead of a traditional narrative with a climax. Peikoff describes objectivism as a way of reconciling reality with moral ideals, and attributes the biblical language used by Rand to challenge the notion that deep reverence is only possible in the context of the supernatural. Peikoff recounts the initial struggle for Anthem to get published, attributing the resistance to the prevalence of Communist ideologies among American intellectuals at that time. It was only after two conservative publishers recognized its merits that the novella garnered a following in America. Anthem's popularity soared after its publication. Peikoff also reveals that Anthem was first envisioned as a play, then a magazine serial, before finally being published as a novella on the publisher's recommendation.

chapter 1

The narrative follows a young man known as Equality 7-2521, who refers to himself using the plural pronoun "we". He documents his experiences in a journal from an underground railroad tunnel he found with his friend, International 4-8818, while they were working as street cleaners. He defies the Council's prohibitions and descends into the tunnel, convinced that it's a remnant of the ancient Unmentionable Times, thus deemed evil. Despite this, he is intrigued by the train tracks and makes International 4-8818, a strong, humorous artist, swear to secrecy about the tunnel, even though showing favor to one individual is against the Council's rules. Each night, Equality 7-2521 sneaks away to the tunnel, leaving his group home during the theater performances. He uses stolen candles from the Sweeper's Home and manuscripts from the Scholars' Home to study and write in solitude. He embraces the perceived evil of solitude, enjoying his own company without remorse, despite knowing the severe punishment if caught. He shares details of his life, including his time spent at the Home for Infants and later at the Home of the Students. He was larger and more intelligent than his peers, which marked him as a problem and got him into fights. He strived to be like Union 5-3992, the most average boy in his class, but could not suppress his inherent curiosity and the questions it provoked. At fifteen, the Council of Vocations assigned Equality 7-2521 a lifetime role as a street sweeper – a stark contrast to his desired role at the Home of Scholars, the inventors of technology like the century-old candle invention. Despite his disappointment, he sees this as a method of atonement for his sin of desire. After four years at the Home of Street Sweepers, Equality 7-2521 uses the tunnel to record his past and present life, marking the start of his secret journaling habit.

chapter 2

Equality 7-2521 encounters Liberty 5-3000, a peasant worker who captures his heart. Her beauty is striking, marked by her height, blonde hair and fearless demeanor. Although they initially communicate without words, he eventually gives her the affectionate nickname, the Golden One. Days later, they talk. He tells her she is beautiful but she remains aloof. She shares with him that she doesn't want him as a brother and he reciprocates the sentiment. As they gaze into each other's eyes, Equality 7-2521 is reminded of the City Palace of Mating, a location for prescribed sexual encounters among mature citizens. He can't comprehend why he thinks of this place when he looks at the Golden One, but he knows he doesn't want to see her there. The Golden One is underage for the City Palace of Mating which brings him some relief. When she sees his anger about the place, she smiles. The Golden One seems to understand more than Equality 7-2521 in an intuitive, feminine wisdom. During a meal, Equality 7-2521 is admonished for singing out of happiness. He explains that his happiness prompts him to sing, a reason not understood by the Council Member who insists that living among brothers should bring happiness. Later in his tunnel, Equality 7-2521 ponders about the nature of happiness and why it's unacceptable to be unhappy. He concludes his brothers are unhappy because of fear. He notes his own lack of fear in the tunnel, and his desire not to be afraid, which creates suspicion among his brothers. He observes Fraternity 2-5503 and Solidarity 9-6347, who are expressing unexplained emotional distress. Equality 7-2521's dreams are filled with visions of the Unmentionable Times and the Uncharted Forest, an overgrown remnant of the old cities. He becomes curious about the Evil Ones from antiquity and the Unspeakable Word, a forbidden term that is a death sentence to utter. He remembers witnessing the execution of the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word, who died with joy on his face. The Transgressor stared at Equality 7-2521 with an expression reminiscent of a saint, as he was executed for speaking the forbidden word.

chapter 3

In the midst of dissecting a frog suspended from a copper wire, Equality 7-2521 stumbles upon the concept of electricity. Delving further into this in his hidden underground tunnel, he documents his explorations in a journal. He successfully moves a magnet with electricity and erects a lightning rod. He discovers mysterious boxes filled with wires and lightbulbs in his tunnel, though he lacks knowledge of their operation. He has a nagging fear that he may be the single possessor of this newfound knowledge, going against his society's belief that all knowledge is shared and that the Council of Scholars knows everything. Initially, Equality 7-2521 acknowledges that he has unearthed an unknown power, which instills fear in him despite recognizing its magnitude and significance. Subsequently, he deduces that this power is electricity, once harnessed by the people of the forbidden era. As he continues his scientific exploration of electricity, he becomes aware of his ignorance and the erroneous nature of his society-induced learning. In a bold statement in his journal, he declares that his knowledge surpasses that of the Council of Scholars - a notion considered unthinkable in his society.

chapter 4

A good amount of time has passed since Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One first interacted. When they meet again by the road's hedges, she is waiting for him, indicating her willingness to follow his lead despite her general disdain towards the world. He declares her new name as "the Golden One," and she reciprocates, naming him "the Unconquered." He cautions her against such nonconforming thoughts, but she argues that he harbors them as well and wishes her to do the same. He agrees but admonishes her, "dearest one," not to heed him. He assumes he's the first to ever call a woman by such an endearment. A physical offer of submission is suggested as she implies she is his. The Golden One recommends that Equality 7-2521 joins her in the field where it's cooler. He declines to pass the hedge, so she brings him water. She cradles the water in her palms and brings them to his lips. They remain like this for a while after he's finished drinking, stirring emotions despite their conversation remaining a secret from the others in the field. Following their intimate moment, they retreat in confusion.

chapter 5

Equality 7-2521 figures out how to illuminate a lightbulb, feeling as if he's uncovered the secret to light itself. He's assembled the bulb using materials from his clandestine tunnel, using wires to charge it and creating light without flint or fire. He's astounded and likening the glowing bulb to a breach in prison walls. He concludes that the lightbulb signifies an opportunity to provide bright, clean light to all cities globally, deciding that such an important revelation must be shared. He firmly believes he needs access to the Home of the Scholars, a place where he can collaborate with other scholars he greatly admires, and conduct experiments. He envisions all the world's scholars working in unity to advance his newfound invention. In a month's time, the annual World Council of Scholars meeting is set to happen in Equality 7-2521's city. He plans to present his invention there, expecting they'll be so astounded that they'll absolve him of all his past mistakes and sins. He hopes the World Council will convince the Council of Vocations to reassign him from street sweeper to scholar, allowing him to pursue further research. He is determined to protect his tunnel, as he believes only the World Council of Scholars will comprehend the light's importance. In the midst of his thoughts, he becomes conscious of his physical self. He starts viewing the lightbulb as an extension of his own body, sparking a desire to see his own reflection, even though he knows this desire is considered wrong. Despite never having seen his body before, he stretches out his limbs, becoming aware of his strength.

chapter 6

Overcome with joy about his invention of the lightbulb, Equality 7-2521 lost track of the hours and showed up late at the Home of the Street Sweepers. Quizzed by the Home Council about his whereabouts, he stayed silent. The Council, devoid of any emotion, decreed his imprisonment in the Palace of Corrective Detention until he spilled the beans about his location. In the confines of the Palace, Equality 7-2521 was stripped, bound to a post, and subjected to a brutal lashing while questioned about his previous location. His consciousness waned, and upon regaining it, he felt relieved at not having disclosed anything about the tunnel or the light. He remained in the Palace's cell until he realized the World Council of Scholars meeting was the next day. Then, he made a daring escape from the Palace. No obstacles were put in place to hinder any escape attempts because no one had attempted it before. He silently retreated to his secret tunnel, where he penned this chapter. He savored the thought of the imminent day that he believed would bring redemption and a reunion with his brothers.

chapter 7

Escaping to the forest, Equality 7-2521 pens his imminent demise, fearful of his impending death by the beasts. Reflecting on the events of the day, he notes entering the World Council of Scholars meeting unopposed. He observes the sky's reflection in the windows and a painting celebrating the inventors of the candle. The scholars, taken aback by his presence, question his identity. Revealing his status as a street sweeper, he provokes their anger and fear. Regaining control, he shares the tale of his discovery - the lightbulb, his imprisonment, and the secret tunnel. On demonstrating his invention, the scholars recoil in fear. He laughs, declaring that he has gifted them with power over nature itself. Collective 0-0009 berates Equality for disregarding societal laws and even gloating over it. The scholars hurl threats at him, promising severe punishment. Unfazed, Equality requests only the protection of his precious light. The scholars argue that individual achievement is evil and anything not universally accepted is false. They voice their fears about the lightbulb threatening the Department of Candles and upsetting the World Council's plans. They decree that if the lightbulb eases men's toil, it’s evil since suffering is man's purpose. They plan to destroy the light. Unable to bear the thought of his invention's destruction, Equality seizes the lightbulb and flees. Exhausted, he finds himself in the Uncharted Forest, contemplating dying alone. He acknowledges his self-deception - he didn't create the light for others; he did it for its own sake. Despite wishing to see the Golden One once more, he feels no regret for his inventions or scientific pursuits.

chapter 8

Equality 7-2521 awakes in the wilderness, not to the sound of a bell but because he is refreshed. He appreciates the grandeur of the forest, stretches out on the moss, and delights in his newfound freedom. He revels in the fact that he can sleep as much as he wants. Suddenly, his body springs up and spins around. Carrying his lightbulb, Equality 7-2521 ventures further into the dense forest. He likens it to the sea, viewing the undergrowth as waves reaching up to the treetops. When hunger strikes, he kills a bird with a stone and cooks it. He enjoys the process and feels a sense of pride in his meal. Next, he reaches a stream and drinks from it. Seeing his reflection for the first time stuns him. He notices he looks different from his brothers; they're lackluster and oppressed while he is lean, robust, and agile. He feels confident in himself and his solitude. As the day ends, Equality 7-2521 recalls his banishment from society or as he puts it, being "Damned". But he laughs, unbothered by his fate. He only thinks about his old life once. He's writing on the same paper from the tunnel and plans to write more as he has a lot to express. For now, though, he halts, puzzled by the many things he still needs to comprehend.

chapter 9

Days after venturing into the Uncharted Forest, Equality 7-2521 resumes journaling. He is surprised when he hears footsteps and discovers the Golden One has tracked him down. She reveals that she heard rumors of his confrontation with the World Council of Scholars and tracked him into the forest. Despite her ragged appearance, the Golden One is neither tired nor scared. She professes her willingness to share in Equality's fate, admiring his strength, pride, and beauty. She pleads to stay with him, which he agrees to, and they share a passionate kiss. Equality reassures the Golden One that there's nothing to fear in the forest or their solitude. He proposes they focus on their union and the joy it brings. They claim the world as theirs and journey hand-in-hand through the forest. They consummate their love, leading Equality to realize the ecstasy of intimate relationships. Together, they traverse the forest, hunting birds with handmade bows and arrows and sleeping surrounded by campfires for protection. They dream of building a home together. Equality finds joy in watching the Golden One follow him obediently and without question. In this new life, Equality starts doubting the societal laws he was raised by. He questions the demonization of solitude, seeing that he and the Golden One are happy in their isolation. He realizes his greatest joys, the lightbulb and the Golden One, have no link to his brothers and come solely from himself. He senses a flaw in his previous thinking, feeling a crucial word is missing from his vocabulary. The Golden One struggles to express her love for Equality. She uses the phrase "[w]e love you", but it leaves them both confused as it falls short of capturing her personal feelings.

chapter 10

Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One ascend into the mountains, unhindered by followers. After days of trekking, they mistake sunlight bouncing off a deserted house for a fire. The large-windowed, two-story structure perplexes Equality 7-2521, who can't fathom how it remains upright without much wall support. They deduce it's an ancient house from the Unmentionable Times, shielded from decay by surrounding trees. The Golden One is unafraid when questioned by Equality 7-2521. Entering the antiquated dwelling, they marvel at its size and technology, surprised that it could accommodate no more than a dozen people. They find the house's color scheme, mirrors, and lightbulbs astounding, having never seen houses that were anything other than white, brown, or gray. They also discover a bedroom with two beds, shockingly indicating that just two individuals lived there. This privacy amazes them. In a closet, they find multicolored clothes, causing the Golden One to marvel. Despite some garments disintegrating to dust, many endure. Equality 7-2521 discovers a library full of books, not manuscripts, the different language of which both confounds and intrigues him. He informs the Golden One they will inhabit this house forever, living in seclusion until their end. She accepts, responding, “Your will be done.” Equality 7-2521 starts living off the land surrounding the house, collecting wood and water, and hunting mountain goats for sustenance, while the Golden One becomes engrossed in her own reflection in the mirror. She falls asleep dressed in the discovered finery. Equality 7-2521 takes her to bed and then, candle in hand, spends his night engrossed in the library books, too thrilled to sleep. Gazing at the night sky and the vista below, he contemplates his new mission to live, speak, and ascribe meaning to life. He seeks answers within his heart, finding history, both virtuous and wicked, reflected in his hands. He's filled with awe and sympathy, his heart yearning to unveil its secret.

chapter 11

Equality 7-2521 has an epiphany and understands the value of the individual, symbolized by the word “I.” He stands on a mountaintop and believes he has found the essence of his existence: himself. His personal experiences make the world beautiful and meaningful. He realizes his own will is his only true authority, and the most sacred phrase becomes “I will it!” He now grasps that his own happiness is his life's ultimate purpose, regardless of the state of the world. His achievements belong to him alone, and he will defend them fiercely. His most valuable possessions are his thoughts, will, and freedom, with freedom being the most crucial. He owes nothing to others and expects nothing in return. His respect is earned, not given freely. His friends are chosen, and he decides when to associate with them. His relationships are not dictated by orders or obedience. He believes that the word “we” should be secondary to “I” in a man's thoughts. If “we” dominates a person's thinking, it breeds malice and fosters falsehoods. It allows the weak to exploit the strong and crushes those underneath. Equality 7-2521 rejects his old society and collectivism. He claims to have found his god – the individual self, represented by the letter “I” - and he aims to elevate it above all else.

chapter 12

Having found the word "I" in his readings, Equality 7-2521 is filled with joy and empathy for humanity. He shares this revelation with the Golden One who professes her love for him. They both choose new names, with him becoming Prometheus and her, Gaea. He believes the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word has passed his mission onto him: to learn from the Unmentionable Times, live independently, and rebuild society free from the constraints of collectivism. He plans to secure his home from unwelcome visits from his former city. Gaea is expecting a child, and Prometheus is determined his son will live as a proud individual. Once he has made his home and land productive, he intends to return to the city and bring back those, like his friend International 4-8818, who haven't been broken by society. He hopes to start a new generation with them. Reflecting on the course of human history, Prometheus notes the series of oppressions man has overcome, from gods to kings to societal bonds. He emphasizes the inherent rights of man that cannot be taken away. Prometheus ponders the losses humanity has incurred due to collectivism and how individuals didn't foresee their downfall. He believes there must have been those who saw it coming and wishes he could reassure them that all hope isn't lost. He is confident the human spirit will ultimately conquer collectivism, even if it takes a while. He's resolved to revive the lost world for the sake of freedom, rights, life, and honor. He believes that even if his new generation doesn't succeed, their belief in individuality will live on because they are bound by the most significant word in human history: "ego."

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