Anthem, by Ayn Rand, portrays a possible future for mankind if a great war destroys society. A postcolonialism lens is a lens that highlights the impacts of new power in societies. The new power, “colonizers”, usually insists on being the ‘better’ and ‘ideal’ person and culture. They want to convince the people of the old power, the “colonized”, to join their system usually with a concept such as: “the old is bad and the new is good.” Analyzing Anthem through a postcolonialism lens shows the detrimental impact of the colonizers on the colonized. The three key problems with a society like the one in Anthem are that science and medicine are regressed; history is seen as evil and is therefore erased; and that without individuality, humanity itself is destroyed.
With a society such as the one in Anthem, any concept of individuality is exterminated from birth. Due to this, achievements in science and medicine are halted. In the beginning of the book, Equality 7-2521 describes the world he has been living in and he frames it in an unknowingly atrocious way. He mentions how his ‘unusual’ curiosity got him into trouble. He also mentions how he was often punished for being ‘smarter’ than his brothers. This explains why he mentions, “We learned the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it, which causes day and night. We learned the names of all the winds which blow over the seas and push the sails of our great ships. We learned how to bleed men to cure them of all the ailments.” We know today that these ‘facts’ are incorrect and that people thousands of years ago didn’t believe in these some of these concepts. Equality 7-2521 also states, “The Council of Scholars has said that there are no mysteries, and the Council of Scholars knows all things.” When certain people came to power after (presumably) the great war, the colonizers, it can be inferred that they did not want history to repeat itself and lead to another war.
In an attempt to avoid this, they instituted laws and rules that prevented their descendants, the colonized, from knowing previous inventions and innovations. These rules were detrimental to the progress of humanity because they made sure that no person may know the things man has done, good or bad, and this forced them to repeat all of our current histories. One individual person may not act on his own, therefore he cannot help pioneer humanity’s success. History is an important thing to record and learn from to avoid repeating the same mistakes and causing future confusion for generations to come. The colonizers of Anthem did not believe in this. They hid all the information and claimed it was evil because they thought that it was the best course of action in preventing a similar atrocity to the one they had experienced. In key points throughout the book, Equality 7-2521 describes the past to the best of his knowledge. The only words he knows for ‘ancient history’ are the “Unmentionable Times.” He makes a point to state that he has learned that, “those times were evil.” He also mentions how that, “we must never speak of the times before the Great Rebirth, else we are sentenced to three years in the Palace of Corrective Detention.” Even thinking of these times is a punishable offense. By banning history, the colonizers destroyed any chance of learning from their mistakes and improving society.
The colonized may never know about the horrendous acts their ancestors may have committed. Without this knowledge, although it may take many centuries, the colonized are likely to commit the same acts unknowingly. Anthem expresses the idea that humanity itself is individuality. The colonizers of Anthem made sure to erase every trace of distinctive persons; in doing so, they completely diminished mankind itself. It is clearly stated from the very beginning of the book that Equality 7-2521 was forced to conform to be equal to all his “brothers”. He was not allowed to be different; even his appearance was a disgrace to his society. He states, “It is not good to be different from our brothers, but it is evil to be superior to them, The Teachers told us so, and they frowned when they looked upon us.” How could any thinking person abide by this? Equality 7-2521 makes a remark several times throughout the story that rule breaking and problems is a rare occurrence. When did this society become so ‘unified’ and numb to normal thoughts? This leads to the question: How brutal were the colonizers in enforcing their rules and how did they completely kill off uniqueness in the colonized? This brutality led to mankind completely starting over at the first farming and civilization periods, completely destroying our past achievements. Anthem is a book that poses numerous important ideas and concepts about where our future might lead. Through a postcolonial lens, the conclusion that colonizers have detrimental effects on the colonized is easily revealed. When a society, such as the one in Anthem, is forced into the dark about its own history; it loses all sense of morals, knowledge, and identity.
First of all, successes in the past are completely disregarded which forces society to revert to the most basic levels of understanding in the sciences. Secondly, when mankind has no history to learn from, it is bound to repeat itself at a later point in time, no matter what kind of rules and punishments are in place. Finally, all people need a sense of identity; without it, humanity itself dies. It is important to remember that our history and aptitude for learning about all things, including ourselves, is what shapes who we are as a collective. Our individuality is what makes us human, and we learn from our mistakes. With the concepts conveyed in Anthem, we have to ask ourselves: In what ways can we prevent a future like this?