On his second day in the forest, Equality 7-2521 hears steps behind him. When the steps come closer, he recognizes the form of the Golden One. She is too overcome initially to speak, but he asks how she came to be in the forest. She says that she followed him and tells him that the whole city speaks of his escape. On the night of the day she heard of his escape, she fled from the Home of the Peasants, entered the forest, and followed the trail he had left. Her tunic is torn and her skin is cut, but she takes no notice of either. She is not afraid. She tells him that she will go where he goes, that she will face the dangers he faces and share the fate that befalls him. If he dies, then she will die with him. She says he may do as he pleases with her, but he must not send her away. She kneels before him.
Equality 7-2521 does not understand what happens next. He bends to raise her to her feet, but when his skin touches hers it is “as if madness had stricken us.” Her takes her in his arms, presses his lips to hers and she wraps her arms around him. They stand together for a long time, and he is frightened that he has lived for 21 years without knowing the joy that is possible to men.
That night they make love, and he discovers that to hold a woman in his arms is “the one ecstasy granted to the race of men.”
But even in his newfound happiness he asks disturbing questions. If this solitude of theirs is evil, he wonders, then what kind of happiness is possible to human beings? If this is wrong, as they have been taught all their lives, then what is right? Now for the first time, he begins to doubt the truth of this teaching.
One day the Golden One says to him, “We love you. ” But she frowns and shakes her head, realizing that those words — that word, “we” — do not capture the truth of her feelings. He looks into her eyes, knowing that for one instant they had been on the verge of a discovery. But then the instant flees. He wonders, what is the word that they lack?
Ayn Rand continues her theme of independent thinking and personal values in another form. The Golden One, like Equality 7-2521, has been taught that life’s meaning lies exclusively in selfless toil for her brothers and sisters. At a conscious level, she accepts the only beliefs she has ever heard. But implicitly, she does not agree. She is drawn to Equality 7-2521 because of his unconquered soul. He — and the independence he represents — is what she wants out of life, and all the teachings of the collectivists are powerless to change her mind. Though the result is damnation and execution if she is caught, she will not be denied. She refuses to surrender her love. Against all the beliefs of her society, she flees the city and pursues Equality 7-2521 through the Uncharted Forest.
The Golden One understands at some wordless level that human beings must conduct life in accordance with their own judgment, and that life’s meaning lies in the attainment of personal values. She loves Equality 7-2521 and everything he stands for, regardless of what her brothers and sisters believe. If she is to be happy, then she must be true in action to her convictions. In the heroine’s character, as well as the hero’s, the author shows that the meaning of life lies in values that are personal, not social, in things and goals that are uniquely and distinctively one’s own.
Love is one such value. Because human beings are denied individuality in this society, they know no love. The state understands that love is preference, the valuing of one individual over all others. To stamp out individuality, the collectivist authorities must forbid love, which is why procreation is controlled by the state. In deciding who sleeps with whom and when, the authorities ensure that men and women are prohibited from making choices based on their own values. Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One discover love as a consequence of their commitment to their selves. They think for themselves, judge for themselves, and choose for themselves. The depth of love they hold for each other is a direct result of their recognition that human beings are unique individuals, not interchangeable parts of a whole.
The romantic love experienced by Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One is not shared with the rest of humankind. Love is a function of the self. Everything Equality 7-2521 is — his genius, his inventiveness, his relentless pursuit of truth — comes from his independence. This essence of him — of his self, of his soul — is what draws the proud, unconquered spirit of this beautiful young woman. She stands out from her sisters regarding the exact virtues that cause Equality 7-2521 to stand out from his brothers. They choose each other, and they choose in accordance with their own values, not in compliance with society’s laws or customs. Their love is personal, a function of the deepest convictions of their individual souls. This is the nature of romantic love, according to Rand.
Equality 7-2521’s quest for knowledge is also personal. Society disapproves of the questions he asks regarding both science and philosophy. His passion for truth drives him. His is the mind of a great thinker, determined to understand, fearless regarding the consequences. He seeks to discover the Unspeakable Word though it means certain death if he is caught. Rand shows that great scientists and thinkers such as Equality 7-2521 are driven by their own vision, their own passion for knowledge, despite the antipathy of society. They are on a relentless quest generated by a love of wisdom they possess deep in their souls.
His attempt to identify the Unspeakable Word — the forbidden thought that would explain so much — comes close to fruition. The Golden One, struggling with the same idea, expresses herself haltingly: “We are one . . . alone . . . and only . . .” They look at each other then, knowing that “the breath of a miracle had touched” them. But then the moment was gone, leaving them with the aching awareness that some vital component of knowledge was still denied them.