Chapter II — Part III

January 29, 2016

At this point in the book, we meet Philip Larkin, a visitor who apparently clings to Hank in hope that his success will rub off. Philip warns Hank of the need for a better man in Washington, “I just…I just hope you don’t run into trouble.”

“What trouble?”

The response is ominous yet weak…“Oh, I don’t know…the way things are nowadays, there’s people who…but how can we tell?….anything can happen…”

There is some back and forth…Hank wants people to value the metal. Larkin stresses the importance of the public valuing him. Larkin then presents the public’s case against him: That he is out to individually control and profit from his endeavors. “They” think he’s “Intractable, that you’re ruthless. That you won’t allow anyone any voice in the running of your mills. That your only goal is to make steel and to make money.”

However, Rand is not painting the picture of a guy who makes profit at all costs. Rather, the character appears to be wrongfully maligned for having offered a critically important innovation that the rest of the world disdains for no good reason. He is resented for pursuing his dream, making things work, and seeking rightful payment for his product. He is not accused of any real abuses, human, environmental, or otherwise. People hate him simply because he is focused and works hard, because he wants control over his product and processes, because he seeks fair pay, and because he proudly plasters his name on everything he has built.

We are to forgive Hank’s emotional absence. We are to believe that he somehow miraculously created this material despite the worthlessness of everyone else around him. We are to cheer Hank on for not caring what “they” think. We are to recognize his humanity in his gift of cash to Philip, despite the insult of his refusing a check emblazoned with his name; a name that Hank has invested his life in making valuable.

Hank, apparently, just wants Philip to be happy. We are to find it tragic that the sentiment is not returned.

Chapter II – Part II

January 28, 2016

Hank, while willing to indulge his family with resources, neither understands them nor seems particularly interested in trying. They all live in his house and he seems, for his part, to hold a live and let live philosophy. His passion consumes him and is for him a source of boundless joy. It’s his purpose; his meaning. He vaguely wonders why his relations don’t have that; why they seem to leach to him…One suspects he’s not a jealous man; that if his wife came to him and said she had to seek God in the desert, or study chimpanzees in the jungle, or become President, he might not share her passion but he’d enjoy that she had one. He seems neither jealous nor dictatorial. His wife seems free.

His wife speaks as though she has more compassion for her husband’s narrowly focused and otherwise absent-minded ways than his mother. These words drip of insincerity. Hank made something for her today. This bracelet made of Rearden Metal was the first thing cast. It might parallel to a child’s heartfelt homemade craft in another story. Here, though, it is for “an abstraction called ‘his wife’ – not of the woman to whom he was married.  He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a wave of self-reproach for the regret”

We can see why the gift may be more trouble than it’s worth, as his lack of interest in understanding their feelings is clearly returned. His wife and mother see no value or heart in the gift, and intimate that it is merely a symbol of the chains with which he holds them. Whether or not he considers them to be chattel, they feel that they are. Perhaps the inclusion of this trinket is intended to bring us to the conclusion that those who feel they are treated as property are really empty drains on their supposed captors’ souls; that these people are only trapped because they themselves are worthless.

The brother, Philip, is painted as Hank’s opposite: a man for whom rising is an unwelcome chore. He tells Hank, “You ought to have some fun…Otherwise you’ll become dull and narrow”

The irony presented is that Hank is the vibrant one; infused with passion for the work that has defined his life — his self-made industrial empire. One is brought to picture him as lit from within by fires of a similar illumination and power to those that melt his ore. Philip, on the other hand, is listless, dull, and shapeless. He is exhausted from a day of fundraising for some exceptionally vague movement or charity from people he doesn’t seem to have any respect for. Beyond disdaining his donors, Philip claims no personal care for the effort he’s working on. In fact, he seems to espouse that gaining personal satisfaction from the effort is somehow akin to skimming off the top of the donation.

It seems that Ayn Rand believes all social progress movements are founded on the idea that the individual is valueless unto himself and should never seek any personal reward. But…who goes out on the limb of advocacy without some passion in their belly for it? If you eschew personal reward and are not seeking to escape personal threat, it’s the reward of knowing you’ve done something you believe in that drives. What’s the motivation otherwise? There is no gun here. Philip seems to enjoy no power. The character is presented as lacking any motivation at all.

Hank offers a large sum to Philip for his charity, motivated by his own sense of accomplishment and a desire to spread his joy. Philip refuses his check and asks for cash instead on the grounds that his movement does not wish to be associated with Hank Reardon. We still don’t really understand what Hank has actually done to earn such a bad reputation. No accusations of worker mistreatment or environmental abuse. Just undefined accusations of ruthlessness and arrogance that lead us to believe that people just don’t seem to like his competence or success.

Perhaps it’s an unintended irony that neither Rand nor her character understands Philip at all…Rand dismisses him out of hand. Hank shares her lack of interest in his brother’s motivations. He seems to simply support whatever it is he hopes will help Philip find his own personal drive. He feeds him, houses him and pays for his education, but is emotionally detached. Rand doesn’t care either, and would aver that Hank’s investment in his family is a patent waste of time.

His family, it seems, agrees: “You think if you pay the bill, that’s enough, don’t you? Money! That’s all you know. And all you give us is money. Have you ever given us any time?”

It is clearly not Rand’s intent, but one must wonder…would these people be healthier had they been given less money and more time?…

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We meet Hank Rearden, our proposed beacon of unappreciated light.

A nameless professor of economics muses, “Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?”

A journalist notes, “Hank Reardon is the kind of man who sticks his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Hank Reardon.”

We read that, “Ever since he could remember, he had been told that his face was ugly, because it was unyielding and cruel, because it was expressionless.”

Hank Rearden has lived a focused and driven life. He has sacrificed everything, overcome exhaustion, and accomplished much. He wants to be loved for his achievements; his building of an empire that produces steel where no-one else could, and his search for a newer, better material.

Today, he poured the first order of a new metal that everyone said was impossible to make, and then everyone apparently agreed never to use. He stood silently alone watching the metal pour, with apparently only one guy – still distant – who acknowledged his triumph with a silent salute.

We get the idea that he dutifully supports his family, including his mother and brother, and gets nothing in return. It is suggested that what they offer – human connection – would not be valued by Hank even if they didn’t seem so shallow and spiteful in their practice of it.

Outspoken in her resentment of his material focus, his mother nags that he’s a selfish, selfish man. At the very least, it seems, he has neglected to invest his time in their concerns. It seems that Hank might have conveniently forgotten dinner with this mother’s friend, more than got caught up in his triumph. This friend, we read, organizes underprivileged youth to learn craftsmanship. One wonders why he wouldn’t support that if he values people being put to some industry, particularly one that might use his metal. Perhaps their industry isn’t self-driven enough. Perhaps he feels the effort is a waste of time that is beyond his concern. We are generally asked to agree that his family’s interests – this woman and the children she teaches, his wife’s social engagements — are empty vanities compared to his substantive life. They, in turn, find his passion unsophisticated.

“…it’s just that a man of culture is bored with the alleged wonders of purely material ingenuity.”

Thus, we are offered an opposition: Those of material things, which Rand argues are all that matter; and those of human relations which, it is suggested, are baseless figments of value. His mother is mad because he broke a promise.  One gets the impression that he often says, “Yeah, sure. I’ll be there,” and then doesn’t. Based on the conversation with his wife who asks if he can possibly commit three months in advance to their wedding anniversary, it is possible that he consistently warns that he won’t commit and they just assume he should and hold him to it, anyway.

Perhaps a phone call was in order today. One might think that even a self-absorbed man would have made that call, just to allow himself the luxury of uttering the words of his accomplishment but, he didn’t. Instead, he walked leisurely home through the dark countryside savoring his feat.

“…he despised memories as a pointless indulgence. But then he understood that he thought of them tonight in honor of the piece of metal in his pocket. Then he permitted himself to look…”

We are offered a montage of empire building. We are brought to understand that this new innovation is apparently ultimately Hank Rearden’s alone…

“…the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure”

“ …the days when the young scientists of the small staff he had chosen to assist him waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging in the air: ‘Mr. Rearden, it can’t be done.’”

We are led to believe the accomplishment was all his; that he’s the only one of value here and that is why – even more than the passion and the joy of accomplishment and the self-identification that Hank has in his work – that is why his name should shine in giant letters above all his factories:

“He thought of the days behind him. He wished it were possible to light a neon sign above them saying: Rearden Life.”

 

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Chapter 1 – Part II

January 21, 2016

We then meet the “Dear Sister” – Dagny Taggert. She has sexy legs and a mousy, boyish rest of her. She also has a tight facial structure unlike, apparently, every other fool whose “loose muscles evade the responsibility of a shape“…Every other fool, it seems, except for this kid conductor who is whistling a new symphony from a composer who no longer writes. It is such a Godsend to Dagny that she can hear the entire orchestration in her head as she dreams. The conductor tells her it’s Hally’s Fifth Symphony. Once he realizes that she knows who the musician is and that she’s aware that he only ever wrote four symphonies, he clams up. All of a sudden he knows nothing…

Dagny ain’t sleeping. She hasn’t slept in two nights and is going for the third, as well as another cigarette…soon…She then passes out.

And then the train stops…..

It’s all due to a bum light that’s been stuck on “Stop” for 90 minutes. No one’s doing squat. They’re just waiting. The Comet’s never been late before, though. Won’t someone make a decision? Let’s assume, given that the book was published in 1957, that there’s limited communication capability. They’re erring on the side of doing nothing…

Dagny appears on the scene and says, “Go.” Was that a wise decision? Do you suppose anyone checked the schedule? This train itself was supposed to pass through 2 hours ago…

But anyway, they go. In this fictional land, it’s the winning decision of the hero who then goes back to her humble passenger car. All involved are left to look warmly after their lone ranger.

Unlike her brother, she’s the kind of leader who cares not for the pomp of a special car when duty calls. She won’t even wait for a sleeper car. Passenger rail is fine. She needs to get home and fix that Rio Norte line…

BACK AT JIM’S:
To heck with Jim’s warnings not to even mention Rearden Steel. Dagny’s already ordered the damn line. The Rio Norte’s getting fixed, priority by priority. She intends to work her company out of this hole.

Dagny lays out her assessment and plan, while Eddie takes relieved notes. Jim remains noncommittal. Understanding his character is apparently more about what he doesn’t say than what he ever does. This trait is echoed in his apparent crony, Orren Boyle who, when asked about the rail he was supposed to deliver, “Talked for a half hour and said nothing.” Jim whines a bit and Dagny almost dares to suspect that he resents Rearden’s competence. He doesn’t cancel the line shipment.

Now…no one seems to like that new metal, but Dagny says she’s got an engineering degree and that the stuff’s legit. Who’s saying it sucks? Is her education sufficient to judge? Shouldn’t there be some expert she can trust? Not in this story…

Apparently, she’s our Rock Star…

But she’s challenged because she seems to stand alone. She tried to hire Owen Kellogg…one of the few worth-a-penny folks she’s seen in a while. She thinks he needs to ripen more, but he’s all the talent she can find. Unfortunately, he tells her he’s out. No good reason. He’s just gone…

Who is John Galt?

 

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THE THEME

“It’s touching Eddie,” he said. “Your devotion to Taggart Transcontinental. If you don’t look out, you’ll turn into one of those real feudal serfs.”

“That’s what I am, Jim.”

“But may I ask whether it is your job to discuss these matters with me?”

“No, it isn’t”

“Then why don’t you learn that we have departments to take care of things? Why don’t you report all this to whoever’s concerned? Why don’t you cry on my dear sister’s shoulder?”

“Look, Jim, I know it’s not my place to talk to you. But I can’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know what it is that your proper advisors tell you, or why they can’t make you understand. So I thought I’d try to tell you myself”

And so begins Ayn Rand’s, Atlas Shrugged…with Eddie Willers. He’s not able to put it all together, but he’s looking and his heart is pure.

Before going in to the office scene quoted above he meets a smart, cynical bum who’s already apparently said to hell with it all. Have you known the type? I have…Together they are in this city that, to Eddie’s eyes, has always been crumbling.

The bum opens the novel with its mantra,“Who is John Galt?” Eddie’s stiff response reveals his discomfort at the question. He tosses the bum a dime and moves on, pondering the vague dreadful apprehension he now regularly feels and that this bum seems to actually understand.

Eddie then sees a giant calendar that the mayor erected over the city last year, telling him that it’s September 2nd. He doesn’t like it for that same reason he can’t put his finger on. Some cliché comes nearly to mind but remains out of reach. He walks on to see some lace curtains, a well driven bus and a prosperous fifth avenue where only a quarter of the stores are vacant. He relishes these signs of pride and productivity, unsure of why they are reassuring. He instinctively wishes they were better protected.

And then he arrives at Jim. Old, furrowed and childishly petulant at the beginning of middle age, Jim can’t stand Eddie’s habit of looking people straight in the eye. Jim is the oldest born and the son, right? That’s why he’s President of this company?

It seems this place, Taggart Transcontinental, is like Eddie’s oak tree from childhood…The one we read about that seemed so majestic and eternal and strong until lighting struck and the rot within was revealed. It was, for Eddie, a trauma that surpassed any other early experience of pain or death. It was, to him, a deep betrayal that he failed to understand and never shared. Eddie doesn’t see why that memory comes to mind, though we are supposed to. He doesn’t care for the memory. He prefers to recall the sunshine of his childhood; the rays he still feels even now sometimes.

He thinks of a day, long ago: “That day, in the clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, “Whatever is right,” and added, “You ought to do something great…I mean, the two of us together.”

“What?” she asked. He said, “I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires or climbing mountains.” “What for?” she asked. He said, “The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us?” “I don’t know.” “We’ll have to find out.” She did not answer; she was looking away, up the railroad track.

These are the words and mission of a man we are led to see as good but naïve; a guy who just doesn’t quite get it. We are to see the analogy. Eddie just sees the building’s rising lines and unbroken windows.

It would always stand there, thought Eddie Willers.

He does perceive enough, apparently, to break rank and go to Jim’s office, where he stands looking at the San Sebastian line with revulsion. Jim, however, doesn’t seem concerned about lost shipping contracts, including the one from Ellis Wyatt that Eddie finds very important. Rather than take any responsibility, Jim resents that oilman for favoring the Phoenix Durango rail line over Taggart Transcontinental. Jim thinks Wyatt’s a selfish cutthroat idiot who has betrayed him. Eddie, on the other hand, sees a guy whose genius is inspired and whose efforts fuel cities…and the Phoenix Durango. He sees a guy who might also still fuel Taggart if Jim would just get the Rio Norte line back from the brink of utter disrepair.

That line remains weak and outright dangerous because of Owen Boyle, who is supposed to deliver the track needed to repair the line. This shipment has been delayed indefinitely for reasons no one seems willing to take responsibility for. Jim doesn’t take any responsibility for his failing lines either. To his mind, none of these failings are anyone’s fault. It’s a national thing, a temporary condition that no one can do anything about. He cuts off any suggestion of using Rearden Steel instead before Eddie can even mention it.

Our brave serf leaves in frustration. On his way out, he stops to talk with an old clerk named Pop Harper about typewriters that aren’t worth a damn anymore and undershirts that simply can’t be found. The old clerk was trying to fix the machine himself, frustrated from waiting three months the last time he sent it out. Frustrated further, he tells the machine, “Your days are numbered.”

Eddie is given pause. He can’t recall why he remembers seeking that particular cliché. Pop suggests he go home, find a hobby, and not worry about anything. Everything’s going to hell, anyway.

Who is John Galt?”