Study Guide

Anthem Identity

By Ayn Rand


We are one in all and all in one.
There are no men but only the great WE,
One, indivisible and forever." (1.8)

According to Equality 7-2521's society, whose motto this is, individuals have no identity of their own. They're not allowed to act as individuals, or to think of their lives as unique and self-guided. Instead, the only real identity they have is the group identity, the "great WE." Everybody thinks of himself or herself only as a member of one big, indivisible Collective 0-0009. That's why they all speak only in the first-person plural…

We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers are we allowed our lives. We exist through, by and for our brothers who are the State. (1.15)

As Equality 7-2521 tells us here, in his society, no one has any purpose for living besides the Collective 0-0009, the State. They live to serve the Collective 0-0009, and it's only because of their service to the Collective 0-0009 that they're allowed to live. They have no projects of their own.

We looked upon Union 5-3992, who were a pale boy with only half a brain, and we tried to say and do as they did, that we might be like them, like Union 5-3992, but somehow the Teachers knew that we were not. (1.18)

Equality 7-2521 finds himself at odds with the Collective 0-0009 because he's smarter than everyone else and begins to stand apart from the Collective 0-0009 as an individual. He's punished for this, and feels so guilty about it that he tries to imitate another person who doesn't stand out from the Collective 0-0009 in any way. He's trying to get away from his own identity as an individual. But Equality 7-2521 is not able to escape who he is – his imitation of Union 5-3992 doesn't fool the teachers. Individual identity can't just be willed away.

But it is a sin to give men names which distinguish them from other men. Yet we call them the Golden One, for they are not like the others. The Golden One are not like the others. (2.12)

Individuals in Equality 7-2521's society are not allowed to have any names that might give them an individual identity. That's why all of their names are combinations of numbers and social values – their names mark them off as part of society, and nothing else. Equality 7-2521, however, has here come up with an individual name for the woman he's in love with: he's given her an individual identity. And by doing that, he's started to give himself an individual identity as well, because the name and identity he's given to Liberty 5-3000 exists only for him, the man who loves her.

Men never see their own faces and never ask their brothers about it, for it is evil to have concern for their own faces or bodies. But tonight, for a reason we cannot fathom, we wish it were possible to us to know the likeness of our own person. (5.11)

Individuals in Equality 7-2521's society are also not allowed to see their own bodies – presumably because that would reinforce a sense of individual self. Only others can see what they look like. In a very real way, then, they exist only for others.

We are old now, yet we were young this morning, when we carried our glass box through the streets of the City to the Home of the Scholars. (7.2)

Equality 7-2521 feels as if he has aged greatly over the course of one day. This is because his understanding of himself and his relation to his society has undergone a profound change.

"Our brothers! You are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?" (7.31)

Even at this point, Equality 7-2521 still doesn't think he matters as an individual. But he also no longer equates himself with his society. What matters to him is his invention – the light. That's significant, because it's his invention and is caught up with his own individual identity in an important way. It's not fully clear here whether Equality 7-2521 values the light for its own sake, however, or because he's made it (for his sake, in other words), or because it could be of great use to his fellow men (for others' sake).

We sat still and we held our breath. For our face and our body were beautiful. Our face was not like the faces of our brothers, for we felt no pity when looking upon it. Our body was not like the bodies of our brothers, for our limbs were straight and thin and hard and strong. And we thought that we could trust this being who looked upon us from the stream, and that we had nothing to fear with this being (8.7)

Equality 7-2521 has discovered his own appearance for the first time, and he's surprised and captivated by it. He's explicitly able to identify with it, and to trust it. His identity has itself been a discovery; he's had to find it for himself.

I am. I think. I will.
My hands . . . My spirit . . . My sky . . . My forest . . . This earth of mine. . . . (11.1-11.2)

Now Equality 7-2521 has evidently discovered the word "I," and he can't get enough of it. For the first time, he can express his identity as an individual in language. It's interesting to note how quickly he moves from "I" to "my" – from talking about himself and his actions to talking about his possessions (and claiming the things around him.

"My dearest one, it is not proper for men to be without names. There was a time when each man had a name of his own to distinguish him from all other men. So let us choose our names." (12.6)

Equality 7-2521 wants to find new names for himself and Liberty 5-3000, names that will distinguish them as individuals. This is the last step in arriving at an identity as individuals. Because they're doing this together, it also shows the way in which their identities as individuals are connected to their love for each other. (It's also interesting to note that Equality 7-2521 chooses Liberty 5-3000's name…she doesn't choose her own.)