The Effects of Collectivism, and a Lack of Individuality on the “Individual” In Anthem and We

The Effects of Collectivism, and a Lack of Individuality on the “Individual” In Anthem and We  By Katie Mooradian:


I plan to analyze individuality in both Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. I hope to find similarities between how their limited opportunities for individuality, take away their humanity. Both stories feature a removal of “human universals” such as choosing a mate, and child rearing by their natural parents, which compete against what we today would term as human nature. I am assuming that the protagonists of each story will share similar personality traits, and that I can analyze how their lack of individuality affects their overall psyche. I plan to analyze this information directly from the texts. I also wish to look at differences between societies, most specifically how each government keeps control over its citizens, and how they maintain a lack of individuality among them. We has technology, but the government highly oppresses their citizens with laws, and police who have nearly complete visibility of all citizens including their home lives because every one lives in glass houses. This creates very complacent citizens who fear disobeying any rules, as well as other individuals who ban together in an organized rebel group. In Anthem society has regressed, and is now less technologically advanced by state mandate. Citizens have very restricted freedom of choice in how they live their lives from childrearing, to career choice.  These topics may eventually lead into talking about revolutions by the protagonists against the rest of society, and what acted as their catalyst. Both stories include another female character who helps to assist the main character, but Anthem ends much more successfully with the creation of a new society, whereas any progress made in We was annihilated by the government.

There is much writing on the biblical references in both We and Anthem, which describe how both novella’s include two main characters, one male, and one female. They are both said to be expelled for “Eden” to create new societies, in the same way as Adam and Eve. Although there are some works done describing individuality in each book separately I have only been able to find one article by Peter Saint-Andre titled Zamyatin and Rand which tries to analyze the books together. Saint-Andre focuses on the similarities between both utopias, why they collapse or do not function properly, and similarities in structure. Since I have not read We I am unable to draw further conclusions just yet, but I hope to see connection to how a lack of individuality takes away what could be considered natural human behaviors, and how it spoils a potential utopia, transforming the societies into dystopias.

The primary sources that I will be using are of course both novels themselves, as well as a variety of criticisms of each novels, focusing on sections involving individualities, human nature, and reasons why each society is a dystopia. Literature such as Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin’s We, and Needs of the Psyche in Ayn Rand’s Early Ethical Thought will speculate on how collectivism effects the “individual’s” emotional wellbeing and shape their interactions with the world. Where-as Deception of Self in Zamyatin’s We focuses more exclusively on how the lack of individuality changes the lives of characters in We. Nearly all criticisms of Anthem discuss the lack of individuality because it is such an obvious part of the book since “I” and “Ego” are entirely removed from the book, and it is such a turning point when the main character discovers these words and their implications.

I own both of the primary sources for my topic which helps make this paper more practical, but I am struggling with secondary sources, especially for Rand. I am able to find informative pieces on all the subjects I am looking to cover in the databases, but Dickinson doesn’t own many of the books and journals I need for my paper so I will have to take out interlibrary loans for all the sources for Anthem, as well as the majority of sources for We. I am hoping that the library will be able to help me get access to them, otherwise my research topic will be somewhat impractical. Overall I have found more related information than I had originally expected to find, and the scope of my project has broadened. I plan to focus the majority of my attention on the affects of individuality, but since that is so interconnected with concepts such as human nature and the structure of government in We and Anthem both will inevitably be included, and articles on those topics are likely to also include information about individuality.



Works Cited

Primary Sources:

Rand, Ayn. Anthem. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1938.

Anthem was written by Ayn Rand in an attempt to warn of the dangers of collectivism. The novella takes place in the future, but the date is not specified. Technology has been limited, and individuality has been entirely removed from their society to the point where “I” and “Ego” are no longer part of citizens vocabulary. As in We individuality is removed for the collective will of the people. The main character, Equality 7-2521 has lost much of his humanity due to the way citizens are raised, which includes being raised by someone other than biological parents, he may not choose his profession, and is not allowed to have friends. The names in Anthem are similar to We in that people are primarily identified by numbers.

Zamyatin, Evgeniĭ Ivanovich. We. New York: Viking Press, 1972.

We is a novel which is focused primarily on the idea of surveillance. The main character D-503 living in a house made of glass which removes all possibility of privacy for the citizens of One State, a futuristic nation. The way of life in D-503’s country also limits individualism. Characters are forced to march in formation, there are strict rules controlling relationships, and children are also raised by the state. Collectivism and government control has a very obvious effect on the personalities of the characters, most specifically D-503 who is wary of breaking the laws, when compared to the rebel I-330 who is in an organization, MEPHI which is revolting against the government and its restrictions.

Secondary Sources:

Berman, Michael. “Studies on Themes and Motifs in Literature.” In Disguise, Deception, Trompe-l’œil: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. 133-148.

Brook, Yaron. “The Ayn Rand Institute: News and Highlights.” The Ayn Rand Institute: Center for the Advancement of Objectivism. (accessed September 20, 2012).

Cooke, Brett. Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin’s We. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2002.

Doyle, Peter. “Zamyatin’s Philosophy, Humanism, and ‘We:’ A Critical Appraisal.” Renaissance & Modern Studies 28 (1984): 1-17.

Mayhew, Robert. Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005.

Saint-Andre, Peter. “Zamyatin and Rand.” Journal of Ayn Rand studies 4, no. 2 (2003): 285-304. (accessed September 30, 2012).

Saint-Andre works to analyze both We and Anthem together. He looks at similarities in the structure of the writing, and of the utopias themselves. He points out many parallels experienced by both of the main characters including their way of life within each society. They experience the same types of upbringing, and neither was able to choose his own profession. This article has proven very helpful because it is very thorough and detailed.

Smith, Natalie . “Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin’s “We” .” Slavic and East European Journal 47, no. 2 (2003): 317-319.

Wegner, Philip. “On Zamyatin’s We: A Critical Map of Utopia’s ‘Possible Worlds.” Utopian Studies 4, no. 2 (1993): 94,23.

2 thoughts on “The Effects of Collectivism, and a Lack of Individuality on the “Individual” In Anthem and We

  1. This is a very interesting proposal and I am looking forward to seeing this topic discussed. This proposal also makes me want to read We so I can have a greater understanding of its relation. You have many good primary and secondary sources and this should allow for you to have plenty of research on your subject area and allow you to fulfill the page limit. I believe this is a good proposal and will lead to a well written final paper.

  2. Your topic is interesting and unique, to me it has a draw because I love Rand’s work. One of the only criticisms I would have is that for others who may not know/love either of these works you may have to find a way to draw more interest. I like your focus on language and lack of individualism and I think that although you are having difficulty finding the amount of sources you want, you will still have enough information for your paper, especially since this is mostly literary criticism and a lot of the conclusions will be your own.

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