Common Reading

Common Reading 2014: Anthem by Ayn Rand

Many see selfishness as the big I in the middle of sin. But “I” and “me” are also the most important words in the English language. Without “I” there would be no individuality or initiative or industry or intention. Where is the line between selfishness and individuality, between the collective good and individual rights?

That issue is at the center of the most hotly debated issues in politics today. These issues focus on drawing the line between individualism and selfishness, between collectivistic philosophy and independence, between freedom and equality.

It is a cultural issue as well as a political one. Individuality is a part of the American way: This has always been a country of rugged individualism. But it has also always been a country of the most charitable people in the world; accusing American individualism of selfishness seems out of the question. There is a disdain for individual responsibility and disrespect for individual accomplishments in this country as the government seeks to level the playing field, to which no one objects.

These are not new ideas; this is not a new debate. Ayn Rand in the thirties and Kurt Vonnegut in the sixties both wrote short works forecasting the dystopian future that awaits a people who sacrifice individuality in favor of equality. Ayn Rand’s Anthem looks even further into the future of such policies to a time when men so entirely lose the sense of individuality that they cannot even use the words “I” or “me” anymore. What would such a world be like and could such men ever recover their sense of individuality and creativity and accomplishment?

Consider these issues and the questions provided below as you partake of the Common Reading for 2014, Ayn Rand’s “Anthem.”

1. What is the significance of the names used in the novel?
2. What does Rand reveal about the time and location of the novel? What does this tell us?
3. Are the characters in Anthem believable? Why or why not?
4. How effective is her style of writing for the message she promotes?
5. Note the names she gives to various activities and places. Is her nomenclature helpful or distracting?
6. Is her critique of collectivism effective?
7. What is her argument for egoism? Is it compelling?
8. What other values does she promote in the novel?
9. Is Equality’s “victory” an effective argument against determinism?
10. What is the novel’s view of women?
11. What is the role of religion in the novel?
12. What is the significance of the use the word “I” in the last chapter?
13. What is the view of nature and science in the novel?
14. What role does martyrdom play in the novel?
15. How is the novel relevant today?
16. How do the other characters in the novel besides Equality such as International, Liberty, the Council members, demonstrate at least subtle self-determination?
17. What does the title of the novel suggest? Is it a good choice?


Read “Anthem” here.