Anthem, published in Britain in 1938, is a novella written by Ayn Rand, who is most noticed for her work on objectivism. This is the concept that man can be viewed as a heroic being, somewhat unhinged from society, to develop their own happiness, as a means of purpose in life. Anthem, whose very story comes from this idea of objectivism, focuses on a single character who is amidst the collective, and is brought up to value the ideas of collectivism. He follows strict rules and in unable to think in the first person.
This novella vaguely sits within the dystopian genre and allows the reader to make a number of assumptions within the first chapter. It is this intricate narrative that drives the Anthem at each stage, through character development and through the construction of the world. Ayn Rand, through simplistic language, has been able to capture a broad ideology and is able to convincingly portray it in a hundred pages.
It is this ideology that is most jarring upon reading Anthem. Since the book is written in first person, the start of the novel tries to take you out of this personal experience by introducing the plural pronoun, we, instead of using the singular, I. This unique method of writing lends itself perfectly to the state of the character and provides a backdrop for the character’s development as well their later development. This, along with Anthem’s interesting insight into Rand’s personal experience in Russia, pre-war, is one of its personal highlights.
It’s this that makes the novella really stand out. Its ability to show you how pernicious these systems are and how easily you are convinced of Rand’s objectivism. Regardless of your philosophical stance, it is easy to understand her motivations through the character’s motives and how they have succumbed to this world.
This novella is not perfect though; there are a lot of flaws with Anthem, although I pose these as flaws due to the shortness of the tale and the dystopian genre itself. It is very obvious now, knowing how other YA novels develop, what will happen at the end. The world could have also been further developed, as well as the interactions with certain characters, and, without spoiling it too much, it doesn’t explain why people don’t escape the system more often. As it seems that it’s almost a cascade effect, without much additional explanation. Again, though, this is likely due to the shortness of the novella, and my knowledge of the YA dystopian genre, as of late.
The great thing about Anthem is it’s inability to shy away from the reader, telling you what it hopes to achieve and giving you characters you want to invest in. I would thoroughly recommend it; it only took me an hour on the train from York. If you are fond of Orwell’s work, of which Anthem proceeded, as well as the other classic dystopian fictions of Huxley and Branbury, I wouldn’t miss it. The inconsistencies, I’ve presented, are only small and lend nicely to the world, and the imagination it provokes.