In Anthem, Ayn Rand illustrates how society and individuals suffer under extremist rule. The characters are bound to one another, and assigned specific duties, with the intention of benefiting the collective. After Equality 7-2521 makes a discovery from an ancient time, he begins to work on something that is outside of his designated vocation. In a different society, where innovation is valued, his work would be praised when he brings it to the authorities. But instead, he is punished for thinking for himself and not sacrificing his own will and desires for the collective. Even though what he has found could benefit his “brothers,” they do not accept it, because he worked on it alone, and it was not a part of his job.
The idea of not being free to think and do what one wants is frightening enough, but the fact that the society shuns progress in favor of keeping everyone in line is terrifying. There is evidence in the novel that the society was not always in this state, but at some point, the people have chosen to live this way. The result is generations of individuals who do not view themselves as individuals, but as cogs in the machine of the community, only able to do what they are assigned, and having to sacrifice the chance to accomplish anything or be happy for themselves.
Anthem is a great read for fans of dystopian novels, and a nice, short introduction to Ayn Rand for those who find Atlas Shrugged daunting.