Chapter III — Part II

February 2, 2016

“It was not a sudden decision, but only the final seal of words upon something she had known long ago. In unspoken understanding, as if bound by a vow it had never been necessary to take, she and Eddie Willers had given themselves to the railroad from the first conscious days of childhood”                                                                                                                

And so Ms. Rand steps us back to see how we got here, returning to a Dagny who is nine years old. Her young heart resonates with the proud tracks cutting through the old woods, gleaming in the sunlight as some alien triumph of will, skill and achievement. We learn of how alone Dagny felt among people to whom she did not feel she could even try to explain her passions and ambitions; her longing and expectation that she would someday be among those who build great things. We are told that the only subject she liked in school was math; of her admiration for those who were sharp enough to create the discipline, and her arrogant joy in effortlessly advancing through increasingly difficult levels of problem solving.

We are further told that from a very young age Dagny was labeled as conceited and selfish, and that clear explanation for these accusations was never given. Are we to assume that’s because she doesn’t share the interests of those around her? That those who accuse are equally guilty of having no interest in hers? That, perhaps, because they are the “dull” majority, her needs as a human being are discounted entirely? Or does she actually treat others poorly, with a disdain that is not as “patiently borne” as we are told? We only know for sure that she seems to be Hank Rearden’s kindred spirit.

Dagny is 12 when she states matter of factly to Eddie Willers that she would run the railroad. Now, this was published in 1957 so we should remember that the proverbial ceiling here is made of tougher stuff than glass. At 15 she realizes that her dream is not acceptable women’s work. She ends that thought with a prompt dismissal of such nonsense. At 16 she goes to work in a small country station, working nights while going to engineering college during the day.

“Her father permitted it: He was amused and a little curious.”

Thirteen years later, her father dies. All we are told about his final days is that his last words, given to her with a look that “had the quality of a salute and of compassion,” are that “there has always been a Taggart to run the railroad.

He says this to her and then effectively leaves the interest to her older brother Jim, who started working at the same time she did, when he was 21. His starting place was the PR department. Dagny moves swiftly through the operational ranks, uncontested if not actually supported. Jim, who is apparently good at building relationships and getting favors in Washington, if nothing else, is elected President of the organization with a standing ovation.

Dagny doesn’t understand and, for that matter, can’t be bothered to care. In an odd combination of humility and hubris she believes Jim can take the vaunted position and that she can prevent him from ruining things through her control of Operations. The old railroad men, whom it is said revile Jim, seem to recognize her as their true leader, offering the same helpless moral support that her father did.

Boy, I know that feeling. God, it sucks.

She longs for ability, for spark, for drive. A worthy rival, even. Given what we are reading, perhaps she could use some courageous support. We hear no mention of any gratitude for or recognition of Eddie’s dogged loyalty, but we don’t know if that’s because he’s taken fully for granted or if we’re to understand that he’s simply insufficient…What we do learn is that good men are hard to find and that the adversary that thwarts her is incompetence, indecision, and a general dearth of backbone, “a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way.”

Early on, when first realizing that adulthood is not going to offer her expected Camelot of brilliant lights, Dagny has fits of tortured longing. Initially baffled at the situation, she then stubbornly refuses to let it get to her. There’s work to be done. If she’s to do it alone, so be it.

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