Ayn Rand wasn’t merely writing novels, she was proposing a philosophy of life. Her hero is an ideal man, only she puts forward the theory that there isn’t something godly about this ideal. It is ideal because it is the only way of existence that is worth considering and makes sense. The only way man was intended to live. Create. Excel. Be a master and solely responsible for his own life.
“Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.”
She championed against a collective society. Also made it clear that the strong need not slow down and carry the burden of the weak who can’t keep up or contribute to the same extent. The doers and creators are what make the world run. Ayn Rand took most of these notions to the extremes. From sexuality to religion, Ayn Rand uses her novels as a constant edification. One might have thought this to be harsh or selfish, but reading Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead one can’t help but be convinced that it is most sensible to want to be an intelligent distinctive capable individual and not a nameless face lost in the mediocrity of society.
Atlas Shrugged is one of those books that can’t simply be categorized as an inspiring story, or an enjoyable exhilarating read. Atlas Shrugged is an experience that if you are lucky, you get to understand.
Okay enough of gushing, I’ll talk about the book and spare you my fanciful straying thoughts.
Who is John Galt?
For almost 2/3rds of the 1168 pages long book the protagonist is only referred to in a vague metaphorical question. John Galt is the unknown man, who rose from being one of us, a part of the crowd, to someone who is becoming a mythical legend. In this dystopian world where every famous industrialist is disappearing, it seems like John Galt’s threat to stop the motor of the world is coming true.
The book opens with a solitary woman on a train (and railways and train journeys forever changed for me). Dagny Taggart, one of the main characters of the book, is fighting to keep her grandfather’s legacy of the Taggart Railways alive. She is faced with corruption and ineptitude in different forms, but she is a fighter and survivor. The one who dares to dream and has the ability to turn them into reality.
“Never think of pain or danger or enemies a moment longer than is necessary to fight them.”
Hank Rearden is a self made industrialist who is loathed by his family and society for his love for his work and passion to succeed at it. Hardly anyone seems to understand how someone could be selfish to actually enjoy his work and not even pretend to have any altruist motivations. Hank bears it all without complain, but the precious few people who seem to understand him are slowly dropping off the face of the earth.
Then there is Francisco d’Anconia. Dagny’s lifelong friend. Noble blood runs in his veins and a love and aptitude for pure brilliance. But, something mysterious and terrible has happened, because he is turned into not only a philanderer, but worse, does not care about his legacy of copper mines. He is wasting away his fortune and his genius.
“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, 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 upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”
I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”
There are many more memorable characters. Ragnar Danneskjold, a pirate and a believer than the state of man is happiness and not misery. So there is no fear of failing as man is born to succeed. Ellis Wyatt, the one who sets his own oil fields ablaze and decides to bid the incompetent groveling world goodbye. Hugh Akston, the professor and mentor we would all wish to have.
There are innumerable moments and details I love about the book. A very important and brilliant group of friends chose to major in Physics and Philosophy. A thinking mind and a body of action. Like I said, brilliance!
The relationship between the characters is invigorating. Friendship and respect are put forth so perfectly in this story that they have made an everlasting impact on me. The dialogues are brilliant too. There is such an intensity in every moment that they don’t feel a bit like how mortal men would talk, but how gods would hold counsel. The irony is, Ayn Rand is telling us these are not gods. This level of intellect, talent and self assurance is exactly what man is made for.
“Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves-or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.”
To add to it all lies the promise of Atlantis, the home to a man who has no guilt in knowing he is the best at what he does. And he is free to do it for himself and not for others.
Though the book can daunt you with its size (at one point a central character has an uninterrupted 60 page long speech) and confound you with its views, it will surely amaze you with its premise and open your intellect to possibilities. My recommendation is to skip what feels boring the first time, because without fail, if you reach till the end, you will surely return to read this one again sometime during the course of your life.
And whenever you do read it or remember it, I’ll be here waiting to talk to you about it.