And so we begin — With Chapter I

January 20, 2016

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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?”

 

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