Equality 7-2521 is a man who holds on to his own mind in a collectivist society that demands blind obedience to the group. The single most important factor in understanding his character is his independence. Despite powerful pressure from the state to conform, he will not betray the values that are important to him. Scientific research is what gives meaning and joy to his life, and he will not abandon it though he knows the severity of the punishment that awaits him if he’s caught. Similarly, he dares to love the Golden One though it is forbidden. Finally, he refuses to surrender the electric light to the authorities when he realizes that they will destroy it. He accepts ostracism, banishment, and damnation from his fellow citizens rather than surrender to them his light and his mind.
His independence of thinking and of spirit is what explains his actions from the earliest days of his childhood. Even in his youth, he knew it was the “science of things” that fascinated him. Though it is forbidden to prefer one field to another, he loves science far more than any other field. Though youths are not permitted to desire a profession of their own choosing, he yearns to be sent to the Home of the Scholars where he can pursue the research he loves. In his first significant act of the present-time story, he discovers an abandoned subway tunnel and ventures into it. Though he knows that the Councils do not permit it, and though he further realizes that the tunnel is a remnant of the Unmentionable Times — to be scrupulously shunned — he explores it immediately and afterward tells his friend it belongs to him. Then he proceeds to steal materials and manuscripts, employing the tunnel for a private laboratory in which to conduct experiments. It is necessary to realize that all of these actions are not merely prohibited, they are unthinkable in this society. Such thoughts do not occur to men in this culture. For example, when Equality 7-2521 informs International 4-8818 that they will not report their discovery of the tunnel, his friend is flabbergasted. International 4-8818, though himself an exceptionally independent man, raises his hands to his ears, “for never had they heard such words as these.” The obvious meaning is that such words had never been spoken or even thought.
Clearly, Equality 7-2521 is a genius. Under unspeakably arduous conditions, and in the face of bitter antagonism from the powerful authorities who oppose him, he proceeds to advance the state of humankind’s knowledge by an enormous leap. With only his own talent and initiative — with nothing but obstacles contributed by others — Equality 7-2521 is able to reinvent the electric light in a society that has only recently made the progress from torches to candles. This invention is an extraordinary testimony to his own genius and perseverance.
Equality 7-2521 is a fictitious example of the great thinkers of history who have made revolutionary breakthroughs in spite of the social antagonism they faced. Such individuals as Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Robert Fulton, the Wright Brothers, and many others were scientists and inventors whose discoveries and innovations overturned previous thinking. Such geniuses were not only confronted by the difficulty of identifying nature’s secrets but also by the antagonism of the society whose beliefs they challenged. Great creative thinkers such as Equality 7-2521 are motivated by the love of their work — whether it is biology, medicine, or physics or in such areas of the humanities as literature, music, or philosophy. Their passion keeps them going despite the inherent difficulties of making intellectual breakthroughs and of battling the conservative elements of society that oppose them. Equality 7-2521 will not surrender his creative work no matter the degree or variety of difficulties he encounters.
This persistence is a measure of his integrity. He lives by his convictions regardless of the obstacles that confront him. For a man to possess the virtue of integrity, he must be true in action to the principles and values that he holds. He must practice what he preaches. Equality 7-2521 possesses integrity to an exceptional degree, for he not only lives in accordance with his values through the normal vicissitudes of life, but more tellingly, even when in conflict with a stifling dictatorship that outlaws his creative work and threatens to punish his actions by death. If a man knows that a career of scientific research is right for him and pursues it even though opposed by his family, that is admirable. But if he pursues it in a social context where the state decrees against it — and where individuality has been so expunged that all conceptions of independent thinking are foreign to all — that is extraordinary. Equality 7-2521 is a fictitious example of the kind of heroes responsible for the progress that real society has achieved.
His relationship with the Golden One also displays his integrity. He clearly knows that she stands out from all other women. When she asks him if he would look at her in a crowd of other women, he replies that he would look upon her if she were with all the women of the earth. Though it is forbidden for men to think of women at any period other than the Time of Mating, he thinks of her often. Though it is forbidden for men and women to speak to each other, he initiates a conversation with her. Though the Councils are all-powerful, he decides that he will not permit them to ever take the Golden One to the Palace of Mating. When he must flee the city under threat of death, his inability to see her is his one regret. Again, his commitment in action to his values stands out. He will not yield the things he wants out of life, no matter the struggle it takes to attain them.
Finally, his integrity reaches also to his quest for freedom. No doubt his greatest achievement is his realization — in a society that does everything possible to stifle it — that human beings are individuals, and that they require political freedom to live. His re-discovery of individualism, embodied by his identification of the word “I”, is not an isolated incident in his life. It is the outcome of a lifelong commitment, in practice, to the principles of independent functioning. He knows he wants to be a scientist, he wonders about the Unspeakable Word, he performs secret experiments and woos the Golden One though both are strictly forbidden. Throughout his life, he is true to his own mind, never a blind follower of the state. He lives like an individual long before he discovers the concept of individualism. Because of his unbreached commitment to his mind, he chooses the path that ultimately leads to his re-discovery of the individual mind. In some unspoken way that he could not articulate, Equality 7-2521 knew from childhood that human beings are individuals who must live by their own minds — and this is the way he always lives. Logically, his independent functioning leads to the re-discovery of independence.