About the Book

Book Protagonist: Equality 7-2521
Publication Date: 1938
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction

Historical Context


By Ayn Rand

The historical context of 'Anthem' by Ayn Rand fuses both fiction and reality. Although set in an imaginary dystopian state, many of its features are similar to the reality of the time.

Ayn Rand’s major aim in writing Anthem was to project her philosophy of individualism and to warn of the evils of totalitarianism and collectivism. The novelette was written in 1937 with the 20th Century rife with political conflicts, revolutions, and dictatorships that operated with the ideology of collectivism, Ayn Rand was trying to predict an extreme case of retrogression of the human race if totalitarianism is allowed to prevail.


The first few decades of the 20th century saw many varieties of collectivism taking over the world. There were the revolutions and insurrections in Russia, Rand’s native country, which led to the system of the government changing from Monarchy to Communism. Rand’s family was gravely affected by these insurrections and they lost their family fortune. In other parts of the globe, Socialism was taking over Germany, Fascism was ruling Italy and the intellectuals from other parts of the world were sympathizing with these government models.

These happenings influenced Rand in writing Anthem and she used the novelette to paint a hyperbolic picture of the outcome of collectivism.

Allusions to Government and Social Institutions

The government structure and social institutions in Anthem are modeled after structures across the world at the time. Rand depicted intergovernmental relations at City, State, and International levels with government bodies that resemble the ministries, departments, and agencies of the real world at the time, especially totalitarian structures that control all aspects of citizens’ lives. Let us take a look at some of the Governmental structures modeled after real government structures.

  • Palace of Corrective Detention: Prisons and correctional facilities are integral parts of government structures. In Anthem, this is where people are sent when they are sentenced for violating the laws of the state.
  • Home of the Clerks: These are those in charge of keeping and storing the manuscripts and records of the city and state. This can be likened to government bureaucracies. And even the slow work rate and “red-tapism” attributed to bureaucracies across the world is alluded to in Anthem as the protagonist notes that the clerks in the Home of Clerks spend an entire year copying a single manuscript.
  • Home of the Students: This can be likened to schools in the real world. In totalitarian dictatorships, school curricula are often manipulated to condition young minds to see the government as good and deserving of adoration and Rand captures this in her depiction of the Home of the Students.
  • Home of the Leaders: This is where those assigned to rule the people are housed. They are voted to represent the people in all tiers of government.
  • Home of the Useless: In Anthem, this is where people that are up to the age of forty years retire to live out the rest of their lives in idleness as the government fends for them. This can be likened to retirees who benefit from social security.
  • Council of Vocations: This is a body that assigns students to various occupations and trades after schooling. In Anthem, they are made of five members, three males, and two females.
  • World Council of Scholars: This is the highest intellectual body in Anthem. The body constitutes the Council of Scholars from all the cities. The Council of Scholars is in charge of conducting scientific research and making inventions. This body is unwitting unproductive as the greatest invention they have made over time is the invention of glass and candles.
  • The Uncharted Forest: This is an unexplored area of the city where no one dares to venture. There are stories that occasionally in some centuries, an individual runs into this forest and never returns. Due to the unknown nature of the forest to the people, the citizens believe that those people never return because they have been devoured by wild beasts.

Then there are other occupations within the cities that are assigned to live in specific places and are strictly regimented as well, such as Home of the Street Sweepers (to which the hero is assigned), Home of the Actors, Home of the Artists, Home of the Peasants beyond the city, etc.


Anthem by Ayn Rand takes place in a fictional future date when all advanced technologies have been destroyed in hallmark events that began a new civilization akin to the dark ages. The past is demarcated from the present in Anthem and the only reference to the past is the phrase “The Unmentionable Times”.

  • The Great Rebirth: This is the dawn of a new retrogressive civilization when the majority overpowered the few exceptional citizens, destroyed all their inventions, and took control of governance. The citizens are taught that The Great Rebirth destroyed everyone and everything evil to rebuild a perfect state where only the collective exists.
  • The Unmentionable Times: This refers to the times when independent individuals existed. Their inventions, their terminologies, and everything associated with them were erased from history with the only trace of them being a phrase and whisperings among the old ones in the Home of the Useless. Technologies like automobiles are now legends referred to as “wagons that moved without horses”.
  • The Script Fire: A symbolic fire in the history of the people where all the books of the individuals regarded as evil were gathered and burned. The fire was so great that its flames raged for three months. across cities.


What is the punishment for speaking the Unspeakable Word?

The punishment for speaking the unspeakable word is cutting off of the tongue and a public execution where one is burned at the pyre in the full glare of all other citizens. The protagonist narrates this as an unforgettable spectacle he saw when he was ten years old. This is found in Chapter Two, pages 34-35 of Anthem by Ayn Rand.

What crime did Equality commit in Anthem?

in Anthem by Ayn Rand, Equality 7-2521 committed the major crime of doing things individually contrary to the totalitarian society he lives in. First, he commits many Transgressions of Preference by loving some subjects more than others, regarding a fellow street sweeper as his friend, and interacting with someone from the opposite gender.
Then he commits the crime of stealing materials for his experiments, another crime of engaging in an occupation he was not assigned to.

What is the first sin that Equality confesses to?

The first sin that Equality confesses to is writing. In the city, people are not allowed to write unless permitted to by the state.

Onyekachi Osuji
About Onyekachi Osuji
Onyekachi is a lecturer of Public Administration and a Literature enthusiast. After gaining accreditation in English Literature, Onyeka analyzes novels on Book Analysis, whilst working as an academic and writing short stories.
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