Anthem Chapter 1 Summary

     This dystopian book by Ayn Rand begins in first person plural point of view. The narrator refers to himself as "we" instead of "I." The reader quickly realizes this change of pronouns is due to the laws of the futuristic society in which he lives. Some examples of these laws are as follows: men may not write unless the Council of Vocations tells them to, none among men may be alone, and all men must be alike. The narrator, who calls himself Equality 7-2521, does not seem to agree with all of the laws. Six feet tall at age twenty-one, he is much taller than the other men, which he considers a burden because all men are supposed to look alike. He also says that he knows that he is evil, but he doesn't exactly say why although he mentions stealing a candle. He says if he is caught he could spend ten years in the Palace of Corrective Detention, which sounds like a prison. He says that the World Council has been in charge since the Great Rebirth, and no one is supposed to talk about the times before the Great Rebirth because they are the Unmentionable Times.

     Equality 7-2521 explains that all children begin in the Home of Infants where they stay until they are five years old. Then they move to the Home of the Students until they are fifteen. At fifteen the Council of Vocations chooses their jobs for them, and they must go to work. Another law is the transgression of preference, which means they are not supposed to like anything better than anything else. Equality 7-2521 admits that he broke this law when he hoped to become a scholar. He realized he was smarter than others around him and wanted to learn more. He mentions that the Council of Scholars have studied how the earth is flat and how to bleed men to cure them of sicknesses. They also discovered the candle a hundred years ago and how to make glass. These "new" discoveries make readers question the time period of the novel. The Council of Vocations decided that Equality 7-2521's life mandate would be a street sweeper, so Equality 7-2521 said he felt happy about that. He knew he deserved to be punished for wanting one job over another, so this career would be his punishment.

     He then explains what a typical day entails for him. He lives in the Home of the Street Sweepers. When the bell rings, he has a half hour to dress and eat breakfast as part of the one hundred street sweepers who live in the home. Then he spends five hours working. He returns for a half-hour lunch then goes back to work another five hours. After that he has one hour for dinner before he goes to the City Halls for the social meeting where he hears about new laws and they sings hymns about brotherhood and the collective spirit. Finally, he goes to the City Theater to see a three-hour play on toil and how good it is before he walks home. He repeats this process every day of his life until he is forty years old. At forty, people are considered Old Ones and are sent to the Home of the Useless to wait until they die, which almost always happens by age forty-five.

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