How should I interpret the word ego?
In the beginning of the book, Anthem, by Ayn Rand, I didn’t know exactly what to think. Since we had to take notes for this book, I looked back at my notes early on. My notes say, “Chapter 1: regarding the cover- I don’t know what the light bulb means. I think it will signify something very rebellious.” How I was accurate is a mystery to me but, looking at the cover now, the light bulb seems just like discovering an idea. When I read the first few pages, I was introduced to the character Equality 7-2521, and became certain that that the numbers 7-2521 were a statistic important to the rest of the book. I realized later, that I was mistaken, but it was very much apart of my thinking throughout this book. What I was not thinking of while reading was the “forbidden word.” And what I did not realize was how this word was the central element to this book. Ayn Rand managed to seamlessly use plural pronouns such as “they” and “we” in place of the word “I.” Her use of the word ego on the last page left me wondering, how should I interpret this word?
Anthem is interesting because Equality’s story is about being rejected for his individualities. For his intelligence, he was placed in the Street Sweeper position which is the equivalent of putting an honors student in the lowest possible class. Rebecca had said that, “Those who were more able were put in lower positions.” The reasoning behind that was that the Councils wanted to suffocate individuality. The ideal society in their minds was a collective society based on the fact that they believed individuality caused disruption and overall dishonest, untrustworthy people.
When the Council was eliminating ego, it believed that it removed everything bad and egotistical from the world. By forcing the brothers to live in order, with expectations that had no leniency, the brothers came to live in fear. Whether the brothers realized this or not, they were never happy; Union 5-3992 and International 4-8818 were some of those who realized this,[AV1] even if it was subconsciously. It seems to me like those who were rejected, were the ones still relating to the Unmentionable Times. And in my notes, I say, “pg. 23- Life is so perfect that it is flawed. Council of Scholars doesn’t know everything. Like in Stephanie Meyer’s The Host, where she created a perfect species, the Council too feels they are doing the same with the brothers.” My notes and especially Union and International’s crying in the night remind me of the fact that no community is happy, unless they can accept the imperfections. One can strive for perfection, but nothing is ever seamless.
Even the government is not perfect. What I realize more so now is that the Scholars do not know much at all. They are naïve, as Jillian said, due to the fact that, “The Council isn’t the smartest [AV2] because they are brainwashed into believing that collectivism is the only way to live.” That was a pivotal moment in my brain, because then the rest of novel fit together. The Council leaders were put in their positions because they would continue the traditions of their leaders before them. What I don’t fully understand, is why do they seem to write off individuality as something that makes nations tumble? It made it confusing for me, seeing as I live in a society that embraces it.
Equality and Liberty began to embrace individuality when they learned from each other the ideas previously forbidden to them. Their first understanding came at this moment when everything was perfect until they couldn’t find the right word to express their emotions:
“‘We love you.’ But then they frowned and shook their head and looked at us helplessly. ‘No’ they whispered, ‘That is not what we wished to say.’ They were silent, then they spoke slowly, and their words were halting, like the words of a child learning to speak for the first time: ‘We are one… alone… and only… and we love you who are one… alone… and only.’ We looked into each other’s eyes and we knew that the breath of a miracle had touched us, and fled, and left us groping vainly. And we felt torn, torn for some word we could not find’” ( 86-87).
This quote shows their sense of self or, more so, their meaning of I. When they stumbled to say I love you, I didn’t pay near enough attention. And I realize that this is the moment when I should’ve paid close attention to detail. If I had really read this passage, that is when I would’ve thought, you need to say I. That moment was the start of their realization that they had an ego and that they wanted to use the word I. But they couldn’t get there, not until they made that breakthrough. Like the last puzzle piece that you can’t get to fit just right, until you turn it over. They were turning and adjusting that puzzle piece long before, but they really turned it over on pg. 95 saying: [AV3]
“I AM. I THINK. I WILL. My hands… My spirit… My sky… My forest… This earth of mine…… I am a man… I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them… I am done with the monster of ‘We,’ the word of serfdom, or plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I’” ( 94-95).
This was jubilation. To be free from burden, from force, from strict ruling, must be the most freeing experience alive. Maybe it is like in those moments, when a song just matches every emotion in your body, and you sing full-heartedly without that worry that someone can hear you singing off tune. Or, maybe it isn’t some experience you can relate to. I know that I can’t yet relate to it, even though I feel like I understand it. The ability to say I for the first time, must be overwhelming. And I manage to say it all the time, without even getting the meaning.
In the story of Anthem, it wasn’t about statistics at all. It is about collectivism vs. individualism, and how extreme both cases are. But when reading this story, and especially looking back, I realize that it is about being both egotistical and being,“‘… one… alone… and only…” (87) Contrary to what Emma had mentioned which was: “Ego is kind of selfish. I think that it is the word ego from Latin because it sounds less rude”, I think that being egotistical can mean that Equality shows both traits, but not necessarily in a bad way. Some words now have different meanings or usages then they did decades and especially centuries ago. To be egotistical is not necessarily a bad thing, it depends on who you are and your situation. Ego is used in this book as something sacred, something untouchable until you decipher the words of the scrolls from the “Unmentionable Times.” Ego to me is to know yourself, and to let it surge through your body, as everlasting freedom.
[AV1]make it fluent, right now it is incredibly rough
[AV2]tie it back to the beginning of paragraph