I don’t know if I ever mentioned this on this blog, but last year my English teacher had as read Anthem by Ayn Rand, and along with reading the book, made us write an essay for an essay contest run by the Ayn Rand Institute.
Now, I hated the book, really, truly loathed it, but I didn’t want to get a failing grade on the essay, so I read it and wrote it and was done with it. I didn’t really care about the essay contested, I just wanted an A.
So imagine my surprise when, several months later, I get a letter that says I won semi-finalist placement in the essay contest. What!
So, my name is on the website and I was sent $30 dollars of prize money which is really cool. But this is the first writing contest I’ve ever won and now I am very excited and very happy.
I am posted my essay below, because maybe someone would like to read it?
My essay is pretty decent and makes the book seem pretty good (I wasn’t going to submit to an essay contest with an essay bashing the book they praised after all) but, considering my dislike of Rand’s writing, I feel pretty good all things considered!
(Sorry if this is ramble-y, I am very tired…)
Anthem Contest Essay (Topic 3)
Most fictional, future worlds, even the post-apocalyptic and/or totalitarian ones, are technologically advanced, at least compared to the time in which they were written. In Anthem, unlike most, technology is not advanced, but rather regressed, to a primitive society, in which candles are the newest technological advancement, and beyond its simple primitive state, the people in charge of this society actively reject the advancement presented to them by our protagonist, Equality. The world created in Anthem shows that progress is not always equated to the progression of time, and that it is in fact possible to regress when the ideals of a society are not what they should be, in order to progress.
Equality 7-2521 is Anthem’s protagonist, and from the very beginning, he is rebelling against his society. Beginning with the line “It is a sin to write this,” (Anthem, 1) Equality is ashamed of his desire to learn about the world around him. And the society punishes him for this by making him a street sweeper, and while this alleviates him of his guilt, as expressed by his words on page six, “We knew we had been guilty, but now we had a way to atone for it…So we were happy, and proud of ourselves and of our victory over ourselves,” (Anthem, 6). But this does not curb his rebellion, and he eventually makes his way into reinventing the light bulb. Showing that, you cannot suppress freewill or creativity in everyone, and this instinct to create is what drives progress. As Equality later realizes, his supposed sin was in fact, the restarting of progress. He comes to accept it as a blessing.
Equality only accepts this after he is banished to the forest. Here, he and Liberty discover advancement from the “unmentionable times”, the past, which was far more advanced than their present. Equality comes to realize that his ideals of individualism are what is right, rather than his society’s ideals of collectivism. With collectivism, individuality is stifled, and so is progress. But with individualism, comes creativity and with it, technology can advance. Without creativity, when we become fearful rather than curious, much like Anthem’s society, that is when we regress, and progress becomes the tedious and treacherous thing it is in Equality’s world, where “It took fifty years to secure approval of all the councils for the candle,” (Anthem, 27).
This society’s “council of scholars” (as they are termed) fears the loss of control Equality’s light bulb advancement symbolizes. They react with anger and confusion, leading to equality’s escape into the forest. Ayn Rand portrays the scholars in a way that links primitive-savagery with their idea of collectivism, in order to reflect our negative attitude of the understood primitiveness to the society’s collectivist ideals, in order to sway our opinions and views to match her own ideas, and ideals of individualism to an extreme that she farther details in the last two chapters of the book, in which Equality, finally free from the society who opposed his advancements, has found the word “I” and “Ego”, and is forever changed for the better. The very nature of creativity is individualism, and the nature of progress is creativity.
What Ayn Rand’s regressed future world says of the nature of progress is this: The nature of science is creativity. The nature of technology is ingenuity. Without freethinking, we have neither, and rather than achieving progress, we worsen. In showing that time does not always bring with it advancement, Rand shows just how easily a society can regress, and why it becomes ever more important to push forth advancements that arise with individualism. Technology is not a matter of time; it is a matter of people.