R is for RAND! (as part of the a-to-z book challenge).
This was just beautiful. It’s a wonderful dystopian novella, which has a great message. Yesterday night, I watched a YouTube clip of an interview with philosopher Ayn Rand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzGFytGBDN8) and she seemed like a witty and insightful person, so I was interested in reading one of her works. And boy, was I glad I did. She’s a powerful and imaginative writer. Anthem is an explosive achievement!
I’d heard of Rand before in school. Whenever her name is mentioned, the words “objectivism” and “capitilism” and “ego,” almost certainly follow. She’s got bad press in the media because of Ring Wing types espousing her ideas and philosophy of objectivism.
This novella Anthem is a perfect introduction into Rand if you’re scared about tackling her famous larger works “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”.
Anthem has an interesting voice and narrative structure. It’s told in the second person (I think! But I’m not sure. There’s use of the pronoun “We” and “Our”) and later twitches to first person. At first it’s confusing because it’s difficult to tell if our hero Equality is talking about the experiences of himself or others, but the reader soon finds out that mankind is one, one is mankind. There is no such thing as the individual in Anthem’s world. This is a scary idea, which Rand develops in a creepy way.
From a young age, Equality has been a clever chap, whose had a great desire to learn. Unfortunately, his dreams of becoming a scholar are crushed and he is put to work as a “street sweeper”. The repetition of certain sentences like “100 beds” is simple and stark. In Anthem, Rand doesn’t resort to complex or dull writing, she can express her ideas in a powerful, succinct way, which is loaded with emotion. In other words, she doesn’t need to consult a thesaurus to make her point and win the reader over into sympathizing with her characters.
Rand even makes a brutal torture scene seem beautiful and artistic. At times, it reads like she’s preaching her philosophy through Equality as her mouthpiece, but this is how it should be done. Take note, Orwell and Bradbury. Both male authors just got outplayed by a female author.
The romance between Equality and Liberty was touching and sweet. In dystopian works, there should always be a sense of hope to balance out the desolation, otherwise it’s monotonous throughout. Sure, Equality makes some poor decisions but he did so because he was innocent (or ignorant, take your pick!) of the consequences. Because of the collectivist society he was raised in, he thought his invention of light in a box would help his fellow creatures. Predicably, the council of scholars are threatened by this ambitious young sweep sweeper’s ingenuity and attempt to kill the poor guy.
Anthem is not altogether realistic. It’s equal parts nightmare and romantic dreamy surrealism. For example, Equality is brutally tortured, smashes his way out of a window and kills a bird by throwing a stone and other than a few scratches, he’s fine. In my opinion, this is one of the many strengths of Anthem – in Rand’s wonderous world, any thing is possible.
I also liked how she made it clear how there were others facing the same worries as Equality such as the guys in his Jane Eyre style dorm room. This society is oppressive but they can’t do much to make people happy and mentally compliant. A collectivist society isn’t possible in practice because Rand argues we will always be motivated by a sense of ego. We carry out altruism not for others, more because it makes us feel good to help others. And this selfishness isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. It’s honest psychology.
From reading her work, Rand is saying we shouldn’t treat everyone equal unless they deserve it, in that if someone helps us, we can choose to help them in return.
I don’t understand why people hate on Rand, to be honest. She believes in the ego and surely that’s a good thing. Her idea of selfishness seems harmless and positive. I don’t know if Anthem is a critique on socialism or communism as Rand was a Russian who moved to America, but it’s a great story.
I’ll be reading Rand’s other works; Anthem was just so good.