Sunday, April 22, 2012


Anthem - Ayn Rand

To continue in the tradition of reading non-list books I read Anthem by Ayn Rand.
The reason I chose this book is that Atlas Shrugged by Rand is on the list and Sandra has a copy but she seemed to suggest I might struggle to read it. Perhaps because of the philosophies contained within? So I decided to have a go at Anthem which seemed short and manageable.
It was interesting to read a dystopian novel that was coming from a quite different angle. I generally think of dystopian fiction as being written by left-leaning individuals, and I have a feeling Ayn Rand is a poster-theorist for the American Right so that definitely biased my reading Anthem as anti-communism and pro-capitalism despite being written well before the Cold War. 
There are a number of issues in Brave New World* similar to those in Anthem which makes me wonder if perhaps not all...** actually I recall that Brave New World is more like capitalism taken to its extreme but the end result is much the same. Perhaps there is a lesson in that.

In terms of the actual book, I was flabbergasted at the lack of sexism - men and women were raised separately to do their jobs, neither were demeaned as more or less important and the main character, Equality 7-2521, was portrayed as being disgusted at the way in which they procreate, rather than the anonymous sex being enjoyable to him but wanting to protect "the Golden One" from being defiled.

[spoilers below]

Once Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One run off into the forest it becomes a little more male-dominated as Equality makes all the decisions - he is the one who reads the books while the Golden One stares in the mirror.
Earlier in the book they had both committed acts of rebellion by naming each other (The Golden One and The Unconquered) however after his reading Equality gives himself his own name, which is a necessary act of rebellion however the Golden One is not afforded the same opportunity to rebel against her state-sanctioned name as Equality names her himself.

There are too many subjugated women in the world for this to really feel like freedom for her to me. It grated against me and I felt like she was simply moving from tyranny to a patriarchy. It would have fitted better with the rest of the narrative to have each of them adopt the name given to them by the other in an act of submission and love to each other, or to each choose their own names in a rebellious act of freedom.

I do think that everyone should read this book. It is short and easy and, despite a decided propaganda fell to it, it is important for people to understand the importance of fighting against bad policies and social movements. Rand and I might disagree*** on what those are, but I believe we both believe in the importance of fighting them!


Endnote: This book would have been better in a language that distinguished between you(singular) and you(plural) and I imagine it would translate very badly into a language that doesn't distinguish between I and we - are there any such languages?

*Which I appear not to have posted about despite having read it and it being an actual list book!!

** The end of that thought follows: ...perhaps not all dystopian authors are left leaning as I had previously suspected.
***She died almost exactly 3 years before I was born, so it isn't something we've discussed over tea or bourbon.