A novella I recently read

Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

Read it here.

Thinking about use of grammatical person…

Rand was born in Russia, but later emigrated to America. She wrote Anthem in 1937, as a warning about the dangers of communism (or any type of collectivism). The novella has aged well, in my opinion, because the world in which its set is one without modern technology, as the authorities control the masses by keeping them ignorant and enslaved through manual labour and lack of access to information and technology, a technique still used by communist regimes.

This is a miserable world, where babies are raised by the state instead of loving parents, jobs are randomly allocated to men and women, regardless of their interests and passions, and sex is government mandated for the purpose of procreation alone. Everyone is the same; everyone is equal, so they are told.

In order to express the idea of communism, Rand has chosen to use a first person plural narrator – ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’. I’ve read quite a few first person plural short stories recently, to see how this grammatical person is used; normally, ‘we’ expresses the solidarity and consensus of a group, but instead Rand uses it to express the thoughts and feelings of an individual who has been so conditioned to be part of the collective, that he is unable to think as a singular person.

Protagonist, Equality 7-2521, is a number, not a name. But as much as he’s told that everyone is the same, he knows he is not like the others; he wants freedom, and he risks his life to achieve it. The ending of the novella is powerful – after trials and tribulations, the first person plural becomes first person singular – ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’. This is a happy ending.

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