“By the essence and nature of existence, contradictions cannot exist.”
She called it her magnum opus. How very like her.
A disclaimer to anyone wishing to take on this whale of a book: do not expect anything to be sugar dusted. It is a wholehearted, shameless promotion and celebration of capitalism and its virtuosity.
There are significant stances on which I would wholly disagree with Ayn Rand, but to concede to her her worthy due, the woman sure knows how to build an argument. For centuries, men have sought to sway crowds and build armies, cashing on their oratory abilities and lavishly endowed bank accounts for glamorous philanthropy, essentially overlooking the most effective tool.
Congratulations, Ms. Rand, on your magnificent (and obscenely practical) use of art.
‘Atlas Shrugged’ is about as direct as you get with a two-word title.
“Mr. Rearden,” said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, “if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood… his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”
“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?
Atlas, the Greek god, carrying the world on his shoulders, being asked to release himself from the responsibility and shrug. That is the book in a nutshell; a crude one certainly, but if there is one thing that Atlas Shrugged does not denounce, it is crude.
First off, this novel does not fit cleanly into the fiction shelf. Her characters are not so much people, as they are the personification of philosophies. The readers can root and cheer for her heroes but remain painfully aware throughout how unlikely it is for a real person in the real world to embody an ideal so perfectly, let alone let it swallow them whole, to the point where their body is but an extension of their unwavering stance. At its core, the book is an essay, written with the bitter awareness that no one reads essays anymore.
The story also has an element of mystery with its ‘immortal query’- Who is John Galt? I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it yet, but the resolution is a little disappointing. Kind of like a Diwali treat where you expect a sparkly shooting firecracker, and get a phuljhari.
But this is easily forgiven.
She redeems herself and earns her keep and your time.
Rand tells her story in the most unconventional way possible, switching between settings, points of view and time periods. It’s refreshing to never be sure who the protagonists are. The only person who steadily remains a pivotal character is Dagny Taggart. She is Vice President and co-owner of the biggest railroad in the country and is straightforward, to the point of rude, sexual to the point of masochistic, unapologetic in its most extreme variant, and an unfeeling workaholic. Throughout the novel, she is incessantly surrounded by a bunch of ‘socially conscious’ dunderheads, whose only job seem to be to get on your nerves with their babble, while she gets the job done.
“I never believed that story. I thought by the time the sun was exhausted, men would find a substitute.”
The book covers several themes that add up to Rand’s baby- Objectivism; the value of choice, truth, and human endeavor. The narrative rebels against the proletariat perception of happiness, love, power, and fear. But it is not a haphazard rebellion of self-righteous fools (which we daren’t forget, and we won’t, Ms. Rand; you may rest in peace). It is an intrepid band of prodigies, courting pleasurable the repercussions of mass disapproval, outnumbered by the snobby popular crowd (the Mean Girls), but never outsmarted.
Regardless of your personal view of this philosophy, the emphasis on earning over endowments is admirable and inspiring. To read lead characters who are not embarrassed by their wealth, but have power by their own means and choose to acknowledge it, who the reader is never driven to feel sorry for, but always, inevitably proud is reinvigorating and fresh.
“He knew no weapons but to pay for what he wanted, to give value, to ask nothing of nature without trading his effort in return, to ask nothing of men without trading the product of his effort.”
Because let’s face it: they don’t write them this flawless anymore. It’s immoral. And gosh, what will the people think.