The story of Anthem takes place in some unspecified future time and place in which freedom and individual rights have been obliterated. Collectivism is dominant and has led to the establishment of a global dictatorship of the Fascist or Communist variety.
Equality 7-2521 is a Street Sweeper of the city, having been chosen for this profession by Council of Vacations. Because of his fascination with the Science of Things, he secretly desires to be sent to the Home of the Scholars. He has been taught that it is a sin to harbor secret ambitions, and so believes he is guilty, though strangely, he feels no pangs of wrongdoing.
One day while sweeping the streets, Equality 7-2521 comes upon a metal grill leading down into a dark tunnel. The tunnel is clearly a remnant of the Unmentionable Times, the ancient period prior to the establishment of the present society. Equality 7-2521 sneaks to the tunnel alone every night , where safe from others beneath the ground he secretly performs scientific experiments.
He also meets Liberty 5-3000. She is young woman who works in the fields and lives in the Home of the Peasants beyond the city. In his own mind, Equality 7-2521 takes such notice of Liberty 5-3000 that he gives her a different name. He commits yet another transgression by speaking to her, and it is clear that she takes notice of him.
He has forbidden thoughts. In the night, he wonders about the Uncharted Forests that exist across the land, covering the cities of the Unmentionable Times. He thinks of the Script Fire in which the books of the Evil ones were burned, and he wonders about the secrets of the Evil Ones that have been lost to the world.
In his experiments, Equality 7-2521 discovers electricity. He uses it, after much effort, to create an electric light. He thinks that this light can be used to light the cities of the world. He will wait and show it to them, and they will know how best to employ it for the good of society. He will be welcomed among them as one of the Scholars.