Fire is a symbol that cannot be defined in one word. It is recognized as a purifier, destroyer, energy, change, and as a generative power of life. It can symbolize ignorance and enlightenment, demolition and rebirth, spirituality and damnation. In Anthem, Rand takes the representation of fire and signifies it in multiple ways and levels. Fire is a prominent symbol in Anthem and is used to represent both good and evil. The three most significant connotations of fire in Anthem are destruction and its revival, determination and individuality, and the meaning behind Equality’s chosen name- Prometheus.
Fire symbolizes destruction/despair and it’s the power of rebirth/immortality through the story of the Saint of the Pyre. The Saint of the Pyre appears only in a flashback but is an important person who contributed to Equality’s transformation in the story. He is a young man who was witnessed being burned in fire at the stake by Equality. This punishment was due to curiosity and the quest of knowledge- a “curse” Equality has as well. The Saint of the Pyre re-discovered the unspeakable word and dared to state it. As a result, the authorities rip his tongue out from his throat, leaving him unable to speak, and proceed to lash him at the stake before setting him on fire. This representation of setting the fire and punishing an innocent man represents despair because all hope of discovery and revelation is gone.
Regardless of this chaos and predicament, the Saint of the Pyre is observed by Equality as calm, moreover, the happiest person among the crowd. He walks into his death prideful and fulfilled, with a sure step. While being lashed, the Saint of the Pyre makes eye contact with Equality, and at that moment, the dying man sees in Equality his curiosity and fight for individuality and freedom. At this moment, the transgressor (Saint of the Pyre) recognizes his successor (Equality) and exhorts him with his eyes not to capitulate his quest for knowledge and pursuit for individuality that is uniquely his. In this way, the Saint of the Pyre’s death can symbolize the rebirth of his successor- Equality.
This scene presents a symbolic changing of the guardian, a passing of the torch from one hero, to another, in order to continue the journey and quest for freedom. Furthermore, Equality’s statement in chapter 12, “I understood that centuries of chains and lashes will not kill the spirit of man nor the sense of truth within him” represents eternal hope and it's longevity (Rand, 98). Along these lines, The Saint of the Pyre and his burning at the stake, symbolizes destruction/demolition, whereas, his transgressor who witnessed his plight- Equality- symbolizes rebirth and the indestructible nature of fire.
Despite this partially negative significance of fire in Anthem, fire can symbolize determination and individuality. The fire is spirit-like, giving motivation to all those who believe in it. The quote “Know what you want in life and go after it. I worship individuals for their highest possibilities as individuals, and I loathe humanity, for its failure to live up to these possibilities”, written by Ayn Rand, evidently shows the value of determination and reaching your full potential as a human being (Rand). Equality is a character that stands by this quote and proves it’s worth in the end with not only his discovery of the word “I” but his discovery of electricity. Both of these influential discoveries could not have been achieved or discovered if Equality failed to show persistence despite his struggles.
Furthermore, Rand proves the maxim 'you can't fight fire with fire,' by proposing that the individual spirit is like a flame that cannot die, even in the darkest/hardest of times. An example of this is Equality’s experience with the World Council when they devalued him and his discovery but how it only ignited a spark which was able to fan his flame into a roaring passion of fire that can light his way to freedom and happiness.
Finally, through resembling determination and individuality, fire shows it’s final significance through Equality’s rechosen name- Prometheus. Prometheus is the man who stole fire from the gods, in order to bring light to the mortals. He was a champion of mankind, known for his courage and intelligence. By bringing fire to man, he allowed for society and man to progress in knowledge and discovery. In the same way, Equality’s discovery of the word “I” brings individuality and worth to one’s self. Equality’s valiant actions, and bearing of ostracism, banishment, and damnation from his fellow citizens rather than surrendering his mind and worth, brings true value to the name Prometheus.
The single most important factor in understanding himself is his independence. And to grab a hold of this, Equality needs to experience change. The process of changing his name into something meaningful to him represents letting go of the past and looking towards a brighter future. His name and his entry into the Uncharted forest is a pathway between the past, which is his experience of restriction and regulation, and to the future, where his newfound individuality and freedom can be expressed.
In conclusion, the significance of Fire is implemented in the book through the story of The Saint of the Pyre, and it's lasting impact on Equality, the determination and persistency that Equality exhibits for his discovery of electricity and the word “I”, and change which is shown through his rechosen name, Prometheus. Equality is a man who holds onto his own values and mind in a strictly collectivist society that demands blind obedience to the group. He is able to overcome the pressures and obstacles that restrict him from his individuality through the Saint of the Pyre, perseverance, and Prometheus, all in which have one thing in common- it’s relation to the symbol Fire.
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