Anthem

IMG_1620I knew I shouldn’t have read this but I can’t seem to resist dystopian stories at the moment, no matter who’s written them.  When I read the back cover I thought it would be a good idea to give it a try.  I’m not at all a fan of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but The Fountainhead is a work that fascinates me all the same.  I read it for the second time last year with my book club.  I’m astonished how someone can be so dedicated to an odd radical philosophy and spend most of their life writing giant books to promote it.  Rand’s philosophy of objectivism is nothing more than a vulgar rationalisation for individualism and egotistical behaviour.  The Fountainhead is worth reading because of the array of despicable characters and all that they get up to in the name of individualism.  The FountainheadAnthem, and all of her other books are nothing more than a grotesque plea for her philosophy.  This novelette, Anthem, could have been interesting if it wasn’t so heavy on Rand’s philosophy.  Thank God it wasn’t 750 pages, even though it was small I still felt as if I was being beaten senselessly about the head with her philosophy.  I read Anthem in one sitting and found it to be laborious, boring, and the writing lack-luster, where I found The Fountainhead a lot easier to read and interesting in a strange way.  Anthem was a great idea, however didn’t capture me at all, drowning in Rand’s individualist philosophy, and the story being much too simple.  There went my dystopian reading experience, out the window.

“Equality 7-2521 is a man apart.  Since the Great Rebirth it has been a crime in his world to think or act as an individual.  Even love is forbidden.  Yet since his childhood in the Home of the Infants, Equality 7-2521 has felt that he is different.  When he is sent by The Council of Vocations to work as a road sweeper, he stumbles upon a link to the old world that gives him the spur to break free.  First published in England in 1938, Ayn Rand’s short dystopian novel crystallizes the ideas of individualism and competition that would make her name world-famous.” ( back cover of Anthem, Penguin Modern Classics)  About the only thing  I agree with in that description is  “Ayn Rand’s short dystopian novel crystallizes the ideas of individualism and competition.”  I’m still trying to understand who would rate this 4 stars.  I must give Rand one thing, her books really make people think about what they believe in.  Read at your own risk, unless you’re curious like me.

Title: Anthem

Genre:  Dystopia/Philosophy/Classic

Published:  1938

Edition: Penguin Modern Classics (Beautiful cover and the only thing I like about this book)

Pages:  105

Language:  English

My rating:  

Favorite quote:  none

+1,169

34. The Fountainhead

On a rainy cool day twenty-two years ago, I walked to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore www.shakespeareandcompany.com  on the left bank of Paris.  I had two hours to kill before catching my train back to Normandy.  I didn’t have much money on me, but I was determined to find a treasure since I was desperate to read in English.  I was learning French intensively at the Sorbonne and my brain desired nothing more than an English break.

Combing the shelves for something good wasn’t easy because there are so many goodies there, but since I was broke my choice was limited  to a really cheap book.  What did I run across?  A dried water-logged version of The Fountainhead for 2 francs.  I had only heard of this book but hadn’t had the chance to read it at university.  So, for 2 francs I figured I had nothing to lose. It’s was a steal!

I began reading it on the train and found myself immediately engrossed  in this story of Howard Roark, passionate, arrogant, driven architect who’s been thrown out of architecture school.  I was glued all weekend to this book that I found fascinating and intriguing.  I enjoyed immensely the architectural descriptions and the complexity of the story.  Now I realize I really loved this book probably because I was young when I read it.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by such a character; who is self-assured and inspired to build to perfection, no matter who doesn’t like it.

Now it’s twenty-two years later and I’m re-reading The Fountainhead with my book club.  I read it in four days just like the first time but not with the same enthusiasm.  The constant preachy theme of Ayn Rand’s unrealistic philosophy of objectivism was an omnipresent whisper throughout the novel.  Objectivism can best be described as “an uncompromising  defense of self-interest as the engine of progress.”(back cover of the Penguin Classics edition of The Fountainhead)  After researching the philosophy of Rand a bit closer I discovered that objectivism can be broken down into five branches: reality, reason, self-interest, capitalism, and romantic realism.  Did this discovery make me understand and believe in her philosophy more?  Absolutely not.  Rand stated that man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness, and that he must not force other people, nor accept their right to force him, that each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own rational self-interest.”  Blah, blah, blah…  This is the principle philosophy in all of her books and essays including the well-known Atlas Shrugged, which is a big whopping 1200 pages(surely a lot more of the same) and Anthem, which examines a dystopian world in the future where individuals don’t have names, values, or independence.  Other work by Ayn Rand include The Virtue of Selfishness, We the Living, Capitalism:  The Unknown, and The Romantic Manifesto.

As I read along diligently, I marvelled at the quality of writing and the intricacy of the story, since English was not Rand’s maternal language.  The names of the characters to the descriptions of life, expressions, and so forth are like a step back in time.  The novel is divided into four parts named after the principal characters beginning with Peter Keating, Ellsworth M. Toohey, then Gail Wynand, and finally Howard Roark.  The amazing parade of secondary characters is unbelievable but adds to the quality of the story.  If you go on Goodreads.com www.goodreads.com there is a book discussion for The Fountainhead:  Best character in The Fountainhead and why?  Difficult.  Ellsworth M. Toohey is an amazing antagonist – manipulative, cold, calculating, with a pertinacious cruelty; where Howard Roark is a hard-working, knowledgeable, self-confident, arrogant, perfectionist architect.  You can’t help rooting for Roark and hoping for the violent death of Toohey.  Needless to say, all the characters are low down and despicable!  I have never read a book like that before.

All in all, this is a must read.  I don’t agree with Rand’s philosophy at all but it’s an intriguing, well-written story on capitalism and how it can go wrong (like we don’t already know) and that was written over sixty years ago.  When I first rated it on Goodreads I gave it five stars but I’ve decided to take off a star because of the philosophy even though I know this book wouldn’t be what it is without it.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-American author, playwright, and screenwriter.  In 1926, she came to the United States where she worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and produced a play on Broadway.  Her first novel The Fountainhead got her noticed but Atlas Shrugged is her best-known novel.  She was largely ignored in the literary world because of her philosophy of objectivism.  In her early life, Rand’s father was a pharmacist in Saint Petersburg and his shop was confiscated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.  Her family then fled to Crimea.  Rand was twelve years old at the time and that incident no doubt contributed to her development of objectivism.  Check out the video below of Rand ardently defending her philosophy to Mike Wallace!