Although Anthem may be one of Ayn Rand's lesser-known works, it certainly is not less in terms of importance. Written after Rand's first novel, We the Living, Anthem is not only one of her earliest works, but it is also one of her most controversial. In fact, Anthem was so controversial that it was only published in England when it was written in 1938. It was not printed in America until fifteen years later in 1953 when Pamphleteers, Inc. published it as a pamphlet.
Anthem is an important work not only because of the controversy that it generated, but also for its content. Anthem is a 105 page-long prose poem (which is impressive in of itself) that depicts a civilization that is so steeped in collectivism that even the word "I" is forbidden. In fact, speaking the word "I" or doing anything else that emphasizes one's individuality is punishable by death. Individuals do not exist in this society, only groups of people with a collective name. Anthem is the story of one person's struggle to regain his individuality and his own identity from the collective that stole it from him. It is also the story of what frightening lengths a government will go to to stay in power.
Anthem also continues with the theme of an individual struggling against a corrupt collective that was present in We the Living, the novel which directly preceded Anthem.
This theme also figured prominently in each of Rand's subsequent novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Though the futuristic "utopia" found in Anthem is starkly different from Communist Russia, which is the setting of We the Living, it seems as though Rand is drawing a parallel between the two; as though she thinks that the world of Anthem is a likely outcome if Communism is allowed to flourish and continue unchecked.
A cross between Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and The Fountainhead, Anthem is an important, worthwhile read not only for the controversy it generated or for its scathing criticism of Communism. Anthem is perhaps Rand's most reader-friendly novel because it presents her ideas so concisely. Given its immensely interesting story and unique format, I would recommend this novel to anyone, even casual fans of Ayn Rand or those who have not enjoyed her other works.