In the stories, Anthem, by Ayn Rand, and By the Waters of Babylon, by Stephen Vincent Benet, each of the main characters posses a desire deep within themselves to discover things that they do not already know about. Equality and John both live in societies where almost all knowledge of the past has been forgotten. These communities are enveloped in superstition, which causes them to fear the unknown. The desire within Equality and John, however, brings them past these fears and leads them to learn many new things about the “old times.” Anthem starts off with Equality feeling as though he sinned for thinking of learning and discovering new things. He stumbled upon a tunnel one night, something that he immediately knew was from the unmentionable times.
This tunnel provided a place where Equality could experiment and think as an individual. It was here that he discovered electricity. Although he was aware that the scholars would be upset at him for disobeying the laws and performing experiments on his own, Equality was so excited about his invention that he wanted nothing more than to share it with his people. He felt that it would help their society tremendously. The scholars were angry because he challenged their ways of thinking and tried to alter the system that they had created.
They talked of destroying his invention and Equality listened no more. He ran away from the city to the uncharted forest, where it was said that no man ever survived. Waking up in the forest unharmed, Equality finds that he is more happy than he has even been. He learns that it is possible to survive on his own without the help and structure of his society.
When Equality meets up with his love, the Golden One, they journey deeper into the woods together and find a house left from the unmentionable times. In it they find that there are many lamps that use the same kind of power that Equality invented. Their reflections become known to them due to mirrors which weren’t objects included in the life that they used to know. Books provided Equality with a new understanding of the way that life was in the unmentionable times, the complete opposite from what his elders had taught him.
He discovers a new type of happiness that he never could have felt trapped in his old community. Equality finds that the beliefs of his people were wrong and that the unmentionable times were in fact a time of much greater knowledge than anyone in his city would ever know. Just as Equality did in Anthem, John in By the Waters of Babylon discovered that many of the things believed by his people were not true. John had many dreams about traveling to the East and going in search of the land of the gods. There was the belief however, that no man could travel to the land of the gods and come back alive. It was said that it was almost impossible to cross the waters and also that if one made it to the land, that as soon as it was touched, the land would scorch whatever walked upon it.
The urgency to follow his dreams and find out the truth pushed John to embark on a journey across the Ou-dis-sun. He prayed on his way across the water, the whole way feeling as though the bitter waters would eat him up. When he successfully made it onto the land of the gods, he came upon many things that he had never seen before. He saw a statue of George Washington, to whom he prayed as a god. Entering a building, he found books, a sink, he saw an old man whose corpse had remained intact. This was when he got a vision which showed him a “fire falling from the sky”, or the end of the world as it had been.
He realized then that the whom he worshipped as gods were merely men like himself. The roads that he called god roads were merely paved roads that average men had walked upon. And the city that to him was the land of the gods, was merely New York City, a city where regular humans had lived.