Private: Learning More » Anthem » Questions and Answers on Anthem

A high school teacher had assigned Anthem, Ayn Rand’s novelette to her tenth grade English classes. She wrote to Miss Rand, reporting that her students enjoyed the book because of the “unique ideas and theories presented”; however, the students raised questions about the book which the teacher was unable to answer, and she asked the author for help. Printed below are some of the questions, and Miss Rand’s answers (from The Objectivist Calendar, June 1979).

Did you model your characters after particular individuals?

No. All the characters are invented by me.

How did you decide upon the names for the characters in the book?

Since the people had no concept of individuality, they could not have individual names—only numbers. I patterned the numbering after telephone numbers, with the prefixes consisting of statist slogans, some good, but hypocritical for that society (such as Liberty)—others, ironic on my part (such as “Equality” for the hero, who is obviously a genius, and not the intellectual “equal” of average men).

What race is Equality?

Any race—since he represents the best possible to all races of men.

When Equality went into the forest, wasn’t he afraid after he heard about those who never returned?

No, he was not afraid, because he had the adventurous courage of a scientist who always wants to study the unknown. Besides, he did not want ever to return to his hometown, to the slavery of a collectivist state.

How were the people in the Unmentionable Times destroyed?

They were destroyed by the kind of philosophy they accepted. They rejected reason, egoism, individualism and freedom—and they accepted mysticism, altruism, collectivism and dictatorship. The society presented in Anthem is the ultimate logical consequence and perfect embodiment of that vicious philosophy. Observe that the slogans of that philosophy are preached all around us today. If you don’t like the kind of society you saw in Anthem, it is that philosophy that you have to reject and oppose.

How can the Council of Scholars make decisions without thinking?

They make decisions by the guidance of their feelings and by blind obedience to a government-prescribed dogma.

What was the tunnel used for in the Unmentionable Times?

It was a subway.

Why did this society come to be, and how could it get so out of hand that almost everything was a transgression?

The reason, [with respect to] both parts of the question, lies in the philosophy that men accepted (see my answer to the fifth question). When men have no rights, they are expected to live for the sake of others, anything they do for their own sake would be regarded by their rulers as a transgression.

Who picked the people for the World Council?

The gang entrenched members of the World Council would choose its own members and perpetuate itself. As an example of such politics, see the government of Soviet Russia.

Why was unhappiness against the law?

Because the rulers wanted no complaints; they wanted the slaves to pretend to be satisfied with the conditions of their existence.

Why was 40–45 considered old?

Because life was so hard in such a society that men were worn out and few were able to survive to the age of 45. It is a historical fact that in primitive, pre-industrial societies, men’s life expectancy was 20 years. (It is 72 today.)

How long did it take you to write Anthem?

About three months.

How did you get the idea for the theme?

I got the idea in my school days in Soviet Russia, when I heard all the vicious attacks on individualism, and asked myself what the world would be like if men lost the word “I.”

What kind of religions existed in this society?

The worship of the state, of the collective, was that society’s religion.

Why did you choose the title Anthem?

Because this story is my hymn to man’s ego.