42 pages 1 hour read

Ayn Rand


Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1938

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Anthem is a short novella written by Ayn Rand and published in 1938. Rand is known for her polarizing fiction, which includes the well-known novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. She is also known as the founder of a controversial philosophy known as Objectivism. In 1987, Anthem won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame Award. Since its publication, the novella has been met with mixed reviews due to the controversy around its Objectivist themes, which champion egoism and individualism and oppose collectivism. This dystopian novella is written in the form of a secret diary owned by Equality 7-2521, a curious outlier living in a City of the World Council—the oppressive collectivist governing body. While he initially regards his inherent individualism as a hindrance, Equality 7-2521 comes to understand it as his strongest trait, and he plans to enlighten other citizens living under the World Council.

This guide uses the Kindle version of Anthem: The Original 1938 Unabridged and Complete Edition printed in 2023.

Plot Summary

Equality 7-2521 writes down his thoughts and experiences while hiding in the abandoned tunnel he sneaks into each night. He has spent his life trying to fit in, but his unusual height and extraordinary intelligence make this a difficult task. When he was a child living in the Home of the Infants, Equality 7-2521 fought with the other children, and when he moved into the Home of the Students, he was unhappy and was targeted by the Teachers for being different. As with everyone, when Equality 7-2521 turned 15, he was prescribed a social role by the Council of Vocations. He wanted to be assigned to the Home of the Scholars—the innovators who had come up with the two most recent inventions, glass windows and wax candles; however, he was assigned to work as a Street Sweeper. He has adapted to his new schedule, waking, eating, working, and recreating alongside the other Street Sweepers in the City. He is expected to fulfill his social role until he turns 40 and is sent to the Home of the Useless with the other Old Ones. One of Equality 7-2521’s work crew members, Union 5-3992, collapses in a fit of convulsions while Equality 7-2521 and another crew member, International 4-8818, continue working behind the City Theatre. While cleaning, they find a grate, open it, and discover the tunnel. Equality 7-2521 descends into it, and when he emerges, he easily convinces International 4-8818 to keep the tunnel a secret.

Each night during the Street Sweepers’ recreation time at the City Theatre, Equality 7-2521 sneaks into the tunnel, where he uses stolen and foraged materials to write, read, and conduct experiments. During his working hours, Equality 7-2521 notices Liberty 5-3000, a female working as a Peasant, or farmer. He watches her each day, and she returns the favor. They exchange looks and subtle gestures, and Equality 7-2521 starts referring to her as the Golden One in his mind and in his writings. One day, he gets close enough to talk to Liberty 5-3000, and they both express their attraction for one another. He is relieved that she is only 17, meaning that she has not been sent to the Palace of Mating, where women and men are paired together by the Council of Eugenics and all resulting children are taken and raised by the government. That day, he is punished for singing without cause. He has noticed that there are other Street Sweepers who also seem unhappy living in the World Council. Fraternity 2-5503, for instance, is prone to bursts of weeping, and Solidarity 9-6347 screams for help at night. He thinks about the Uncharted Forest—the forbidden wilderness outside the city—and the Unmentionable Times that occurred before the establishment of the World Council. During the Unmentionable Times, there was a war, and the Evil Ones were defeated; all their books were burned in the Script Fire, and one word—the Unspeakable Word—was eliminated. The punishment for knowing the Unspeakable Word is death. When he was a child, Equality 7-2521 witnessed a man burned alive for knowing the Unspeakable Word, and he is convinced the man, whom he calls the Saint of the Pyre, made eye contact with him and tried to pass on the word to him.

While conducting experiments with a deceased frog, Equality 7-2521 unwittingly discovers electricity. He tries to recreate the strange force that made the frog twitch. He speaks again to Liberty 5-3000, and they exchange the pseudonyms they use for each other—the Golden One and the Unconquered. Liberty 5-3000 fetches Equality 7-2521 water from the field moat using her hands, and he drinks it and kisses her hands, although he does not understand the concept of a kiss. Back in the tunnel, Equality 7-2521 creates electric light and is thrilled by his discovery. He decides he will bring his discovery to the World Council of Scholars, who are meeting in the City soon. In his excitement, Equality 7-2521 loses track of time and is late leaving his tunnel. He refuses to tell the Council of the Home where he has been, so he is taken to prison, where he is tortured by two men who are naked save for leather aprons and masks. He is tortured and questioned until he falls unconscious; then he wakes in a cell. Judges come to him periodically to ask if he is ready to talk, but he refuses. Before the meeting of the Scholars, Equality 7-2521 escapes from prison, which is easy given the lax security measures. Battered and bloodied, he arrives at the meeting and presents his box of electric light. The Scholars reject Equality 7-2521 and his invention, arguing that it would disrupt society. They decide to turn him over to the World Council to receive punishment, but he takes his invention and breaks out through the window. Not conscious of where he is heading, he runs into the Uncharted Forest.

While he is initially intimidated by the Uncharted Forest, Equality 7-2521 finds it a beautiful and welcoming place when he wakes on his first full day away from the City. Carrying his glass electric box, he explores the forest, stopping when he is hungry to kill a bird, cook it, and eat it. As he is drinking from a stream, he sees his reflection for the first time and notices that he looks strong and trustworthy. On his second day, he is joined by Liberty 5-3000, who left the City when she heard about Equality 7-2521’s escape. They continue wandering in the forest, easily surviving in the natural environment, although they are still plagued by overwhelming questions, lacking not only the answers but even the language in which to pose these questions. While walking in the mountains, they come across an abandoned house from the Unmentionable Times. They decide to claim it for their own, and Equality 7-2521 studies the books, which provide him with the language and answers he has been seeking. Equality 7-2521 recognizes individuality as a virtue, and he scorns collectivist ideals. He assigns himself and Liberty 5-3000 new names—Prometheus and Gaea, respectively. Gaea is pregnant, and Prometheus plans to raise their child with individualistic values. He also plans to return to the City and bring back the other outliers, like Fraternity 2-5503 and Solidarity 9-6347. He feels it his duty to bring individualism to the collectivist world, and he has learned the Unspeakable Word—Ego.

Related Titles

By Ayn Rand