Controversial literature is always a challenge. Should we avoid using a text in the classroom because we feel that the inclusion serves to endorse its messages? In this case, we are asking, “Should I teach Anthem by Ayn Rand?” What should you do if you admire Rand’s writing but despise her themes?
Students should learn to consider a wide range of views and reach their own conclusions. The divisive themes are one of the reasons that teachers should teach Anthem. Using a text in class is not a personal endorsement of the ideas. I am not trying to teach students to think like me; I am teaching them to think for themselves.
8 Reasons why you should teach Anthem:
- To explore philosophical questions of society and government
- To prepare students for more complicated dystopia novels
- To study Rand’s use of allusion and source materials (The Bible, Greek mythology, etc.)
- To offer feminist critique (I want my students to recognize why many are offended by Rand’s portrayal of the work’s only female character.)
- To argue points of view on society, morality, and ideals
- To analyze interwoven internal and external conflicts
- To think about rhetoric and propaganda
- To consider literature within historical and societal context
Why you should teach Anthem: deep thoughts
The hypothetical dystopia of Anthem gives students an intellectual playground where they ponder and debate essential philosophical questions. What is an ideal society? What does it mean to be an individual? What is truth? What is morality? How do we balance the needs of society with freedom? Students must decide for themselves if Rand’s views are valid.
You should teach Anthem within the context of the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century. When students gain an understanding of the rise of communism and the existential crisis it created for capitalist states, they can appreciate Rand’s point of view fully. Considering Rand’s personal experiences under communism are key to this understanding.
Anthem and literary merit
Disagreeing with the themes of Anthem does not negate its literary merit. Rand’s expert craft and seamless weaving of themes provide a bounty for analysis.
If you want to study the manipulation of allusions, Anthem is the text. An essay as long as Anthem itself could explore Rand’s use – and some would say abuse – of religious motifs. She turns divine constructs on their heads in order to sanctify humanity.
You should teach Anthem to explore point of view. Beyond the confusing usage created by the collective point of view, the evolution of Equality’s point of view as he reaches his form of enlightenment deserves careful analysis.
Despite its literary complexity (and the confusing grammar of the point of view), Anthem is eminently accessible for students on many levels.
Related post: Anthem Unit Plan
Why you should teach Anthem: feminist critique
I certainly expect students to to object to the sexist portrayal of Liberty in Anthem. These views are especially jarring when they come from a ingenious, independent woman. Why does Rand reduce Liberty to a vain, submissive, fertility object? Exploring Rand’s (offensive to me)
My experience teaching Anthem
I initially started teaching Anthem for three main reasons: I needed something brief, I wanted to prepare the students for other dystopia texts (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, etc.), and I knew I could get eighty free copies from AynRand.org. (As I write, this program is still going.)
The more I taught Anthem, the more I became convinced that I should teach Anthem every year. Despite my personal objections to some of her themes (or perhaps because of them), I found it to be a great way to engage students in meaningful discourse about individuality, sexism, society, government, morality, and the nature of truth.
Nothing engages students like arguing, and you should teach Anthem if you want to inspire heated debate.
Whether you love or loathe Rand’s themes, there can be no doubt that she presents engaging philosophical issues. Furthermore, the literary quality of Anthem is undeniable. Both of these factors present a wealth of opportunities for interesting lessons, activities, and assignments.
You do not need to agree with Rand’s views for this unit to be a great learning experience for students.