Dissolving a Dystopia: A short discussion on Zamyatin’s “We,” and Rand’s “Anthem”

What defines the human condition as we know it. Is it happiness? The ability to form rational thoughts? Is it scientific progress, development of knowledge? Within the context of “We” and “Anthem,” it is none of these traits. For both D-503 and Equality 7-2521, it is individualism, something the reader takes for granted.

Throughout both of these stories, each protagonist struggles to find who they really are, to break from the shackles of the dystopian ‘we.’ On page 71 of “Anthem,” Equality 7-2521 assets, “ I am. I think. I will.” These three sentences form the core theme of the short story, that dystopia is broken by the concept of the individual. This parallels Zamyatin’s dystopia, where only when D-503 discovers divergence from the table of hours and the equality between men that he realizes this core human characteristic. However, in “We,” this discovery comes not directly from D-503 but from I-330, who has crafted her own path amid the fog of equality. She shows D-503 that the rules of the collective society do not apply to her own self. In both stories, this identification of self leads to a break down of the dystopian atmosphere set in stone by the two cities, and eventually forms a basis of revolution that aims to restore the human condition for the inhabitants of each city.

On page 75 of “Anthem”, Liberty 5-3000 tells our protagonist, “I love you.” Love is another fundamental human trait, as a derivation of individualism, and it acts as a driving factor throughout both stories. In both stories, the protagonists find a piece of themselves through identification of a sole love interest. This further dissolves the dystopian backdrop of each narrative, once mutual love exists between characters the role of ‘we’ shifts. Instead of relating the whole of society, it relates just two people, and their individualistic tendencies to place one above the whole. When only a totalitarian ‘we’ exists, there is no room for the love of another individual, because individuals do not exist.

A final central theme for each of these dystopias, revolution, is present in each. In “Anthem,” we note that when Equality 7-2521 finds this indepence from communal ideals, he is charged with a new passion to defeat the collectivity of the city he was raised in. More important than his campaign though, is the cyclical nature of revolution. Both dystopias follow a period of war that reduces society to the strict collective unit, devoid of freedom, because it is this very freedom that leads to conflict. Without freedom of soul and mind, I versus we, there can be no conflict. By the end of each story, a new war is started, created on the basis of individualism. Even in “We,” where we see the final failure of D-503, the revolution will still occur, carried forward by those who showed him what it was to be human. The following conflicts may not resolve the dystopian control, but further the seeds of doubt in the minds of future protagonists. Just as I-330 states, “There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.” The destruction of imagination and uniqueness cannot prevail, because these traits are a fundamentally human concept. Without them, we cease to know what makes us humans, and without us, there is no utopia. Individualism, as developed by D-503 and Equality 7-2521 through both narratives, acts as the diffusing agent of totalitarian dystopia. Once the reader sees this rise of individualism, they understand the fluidity of human nature, and the inherent unstableness in dystopias that aim to destroy what it means to be ‘we’ and not ‘I’.


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