“Motive power  — thought Dagny, looking up at the Taggart Building in the twilight. – was its first need;  motive power, to keep that building standing; movement to keep it immovable. It did not rest on piles driven into granite; it rested on the engines that rolled across a continent.”

Dagny has returned from a personal visit to those who should have provided those locomotives some year or so ago. The man spoke for two hours, seemed to find direct questions a sign of ill breeding, and in return had no clear answers to offer. Dagny shudders at the sight of precision machinery left to rot…the type of thing capable of magnificent works that it seems no one is any longer capable of taking care of, let alone producing.

She returns to the office to find a shaken Eddie who has more bad news: McNamara, the man who was to lay the Rio Norte’s tracks, is gone. With contracts left unfulfilled, the best contractor in the country has disappeared. No explanation. He just up and quit. Dagny is desperate to scream, but retains her composure. She’ll figure something out.

Hours later, she leaves the office. Normally satisfied to be the architect of her own satisfaction, this day has left her starving to see something of merit that someone other than she has created. The streets of New York offer nothing…screeching noise called a symphony, a book called “The Vulture is Molting”  about the depravity of corporate greed (which we are to believe is pure slander out to trash noble ones like her), a mindless movie, and a young woman with her dress hanging too low…not in daring but in disarray, the young man holding her arm not to romance her but “out to write obscenities on fences”.

She retreats to her apartment and the Fourth Concerto of Richard Halley. Through this art, Rand speaks her anguish:

“The Concerto was a great cry of rebellion,. It was a ‘No’ flung at some vast process of torture, a denial of suffering, a denial that held the agony of the struggle to break free. The sounds were like a voice saying: ‘There is no necessity for pain – why, then, is the worst pain reserved for those who will not accept its necessity? – we, who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?….The sounds of torture became defiance, the statement of agony became a hymn to a distant vision for whose sake anything “was worth enduring, even this. It was the song of rebellion – and of a desperate quest.”

…”The story of his life had been like a summary written to damn greatness by showing the price one pays for it. It had been a procession of years spent in garrets and basements, years that had taken the gray tinge of the walls imprisoning a man whose music overflowed with violent color. It had been the gray of a struggle against long flights of unlighted tenement stairs, against frozen plumbing, against the price of a sandwich in an ill-smelling delicatessen store, against the faces of men who listened to music, their eyes empty. It had been a struggle without the relief of violence, without the recognition of finding a conscious enemy, with only a deaf wall to batter, a wall of the most effective soundproofing: indifference, that swallowed blows, chords and screams – a battle of silence, for a man who could give to sounds a greater eloquence than they had ever carried – the silence of obscurity, of loneliness, of the nights when some rare orchestra played one of his works and he looked at the darkness, knowing that his soul went in trembling, widening circles from a radio tower through the air of the city, but there were no receivers tuned to hear it.

The critics, it seemed, thought his heroics and ecstasy passé.

His life had been a summary of the lives of all the men whose reward is a monument in a public park a hundred years after the time when a reward can matter.

However…Halley, it seems, lived to see a small taste glory. When he was 24, he wrote an opera. Phaethon. This was an adaptation of the myth where the reckless son of a permissive father did not crash and set the Earth afire, but succeeded. The booing and catcalls back then led to a depressing search for answers which he could not find.

At 43, however, a second opening night met a far different response. Dagny was there as the applause overtook the opera hall and spilled out into the streets. Halley stood there, with an odd and questioning look on his face. The next day critics credited his work “as the product and expression of the greatness of the people”. They say that it’s only right he should have suffered so long; that his suffering was proud and noble. Soon after, Halley quits, selling rights that could have ensured him a comfortable retirement for a modest sum and disappearing without a trace.

…Speaking of suffering, Dagny, lost in the brief ecstasy of this kindred composer, happens to glance at that paper she purchased. Francisco D’Anconia is coming to town. She tries to resist reading it, especially not to the music, but cannot. In it she reads that he says he’s coming for some hat check girl and a good liverwurst sandwich. He will grant an interview with the press, but has nothing to say about a divorce trial that he in the center of, having apparently been an attempted murderess’ lover and inspiration. The press is delighted. They thought he’d avoid this scandal. When asked about the allegations he says that he never denies anything, and adds one more reason for coming: “I want to witness the farce.”

Apparently, while neither the crumbling railroad nor her crippling solitude in competence can break our heroine, this guy can. Dagny collapses into silent, shaking tears.

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Chapter III — Part VI

February 19, 2016

Getting, one supposes, to the bottom of things, Ms. Rand brings us back to Eddie Willers. Like Dagny, he prefers those places and things that feel like they are part of the railroad to any kind of executive trappings. As such, you can find him taking his dinner in the basement cafeteria; a place that shines in white light, glass and chromium…a poetic inverse to the dingy penthouse bar where Jim took his liquored lunch.

Eddie has a friend there, of sorts, though he knows neither his name nor what he actually does at the railroad other than ask questions about Dagny. Eddie likes his face and his interest in the company. This is enough for Eddie to make him his most trusted confidant.

Eddie talks about Dagny, her greatness, and how it’s impossible to get in earlier than she does even if Eddie does sometimes manage to stay later…how she’ll save the company by prioritizing repair of the Rio Norte line. Eddie, he’s a simply guy who reckons he’ll just go down with the rail…not that he can really fathom the company ever actually going under. They talk about the unreported number of accidents, including a head-on collision, as well as how they’ve been waiting more than two years for new locomotives.

Motive power – you can’t imagine how important that is. That’s the heart of everything…What are you smiling at?”

Eddie reveals to this man the name of the one competent contractor left, McNamara, who finished the San Sebastian and who will lay the Rio Norte tracks. He also shares that all Dagny does at night is listen to Richard Halley records; that they are the only thing she loves, other than the train…

Chapter III — Part V

February 16, 2016

As much as she resents physical limitations, Dagny is tired and must leave work. The author notes that one more employee remains – Eddie. She nods at him, and exits.

As in the train, Dagny is not the type for elevators or private ways…she prefers to take the main concourse of Taggart Transcontinental and pay homage to the illustrious founder of the railway, Nat Taggart. We learn that Dagny would prefer he wasn’t her ancestor, as blood seems to imply some unearned obligation that she disdains. He is, regardless, her one revered idol. The statue captures him as a young man ready to take on the world. It is a posture with which Dagny resonates and in which she finds her deepest joy.

Here, Nat’s rags to riches biography is offered. Like Hank, he is much maligned, though Rand asserts that “no penny of his wealth had been obtained by force or fraud.” We are to understand that Taggart spoke in no grand terms about “public good”. Rather, he offered a service for a price and let no one stand in his way. It is suggested that he did possibly murder a legislator for trying to revoke a covenant and short sell his stock. Indicted but not found guilty, the act apparently solved that kind of problem. He did also once throw a government man down three flights stairs for offering him a loan. Seems a bit much…are we to assume the entity was applying force in trying to make this deal? Given Rand’s trust in government, we might…

Clearly Nat suffered no handouts, nor governmental favors nor, she says, loans. One imagines, then, that the bankers whose doors he knocked on were offered more straight forward investment opportunities…but…what’s the difference beyond semantics and accounting nuances, really, assuming there’s a return either way? His confidence? Perhaps, or maybe he just didn’t like “evil” government opportunities. It’s certainly hard to imagine how a man who came from nothing could alone amass the fortune and more needed to build a transcontinental transportation network.

Nat did find himself in a tight spot where he needed a loan once. After throwing the government man down the stairs for the crime of offering assistance, he offered his wife up as collateral to his apparently more worthy arch enemy of a millionaire. With her consent. As an heiress who had already been disowned for marrying Nat when he was still a poor young upstart, apparently this kind of adventure turned her on.

An admiring Dagny grants herself the great, restful luxury of looking up briefly at the stature.

She then goes to buy a pack of smokes from a cultured man who used to produce cigarettes but went bankrupt and has since stood in his stand, no living family but his pride. A connoisseur of tobacco products, he collects them worldwide. When Dagny asks how his collections growing, however, we learn the market has dried considerably. Businesses are folding.

“People aren’t making anything new anymore.”

She says it’s only temporary and he looks at her. He talks of how he relishes the idea of fire, captured and held between a man’s fingers, romanticizing the quality of thought fostered by meditating over curling smoke. He sees the spot of light as symbolizing the flame of ideas,

“Do they ever think?”…Dagny recoils at the horror of this involuntary utterance; her great fear. He catches her start, but doesn’t call her on it (apparently, for these things, it’s okay not to look one in the eye)…but shares a parallel thought about an unpleasant change in humanity:

“’I’ve watched them here for twenty years and I’ve seen the change. They used to rush through here and it was wonderful to watch, it was the hurry of men who knew where they were going and were eager to get there. Now they’re hurrying because they’re afraid. It’s not a purpose that drives them, it’s fear. They’re not going anywhere, they’re escaping. And I don’t think they know what it is they want to escape. They don’t look at one another. They jerk when brushed against. They smile too much, but it’s an ugly kind of smiling: it’s not joy, it’s pleading. I don’t know what it is that’s happening to the world.’ He shrugged, ‘Oh, well. who is John Galt?’”

Dagny recoils at the phrase, both for its lack of clear meaning, and for what people seem to mean when they say it.

Chapter III — Part IV

February 9, 2016

Not all of the Taggart Transcontinental Directors share Dagny’s stubborn loyalty. Two Directors and the Vice President of Operations immediately resign. The latter is replaced by a crony of Jim’s.

The juxtaposition comes to life: A beautiful rail line is laid through Mexican desert, while the Rio Norte line is left in increasingly dangerous and debilitating disrepair. After a fiery accident caused by a split rail that Jim labels an “Act of God” Ellis Wyatt, the man who somehow made oil spew where everyone thought things dry, abandons Taggart Transcontinental for the Phoenix Durango. This rival is a small, but apparently far more sensible rail line.

After three years of struggling in vain to keep things running under Jim’s indecisive, ineffective man, Dagny demands that they credit the work she’s done against all odds with a proper title and authority as head of Operations, or she’s gone. Jim protests — She is a woman! Dagny doesn’t understand why, but the Board of Directors votes unanimously to keep her.

At this point, the San Sebastian line is three years in and one third complete with the budget spent. Dagny fires the cronies, finds a decent contractor, and gets the job done in less than a year. Meanwhile, Francisco D’Anconia, claims his mines are still in development. There is nothing else to feed that rail.

Now we are in the novel’s present. The hemorrhage continues, but at least Dagny can now focus on the puzzle of saving the system. If she can save the Rio Norte, she can redeem the rest. Rather than focusing on the folly, she turns to innovation and makes a phone call:

“Hank, can you save us? Can you give us rail on the shortest notice and the longest credit possible?”

This man we were told is known as ruthless answers, “Sure.” Should we be fearing that he will take the greatest advantage to exploit the opportunity? Apparently, not. Rather, “There was one thing, at least, that could be counted upon not to crumble when needed.”

[Okay…so…here we are and I need to comment. I feel for our heroes deeply, and loath those who are sucking their souls. At the same time, I feel like I’m being led to believe one thing, when I’m actually seeing another.

On one hand, I agree with Rand that we should observe people carefully: Yes, this is what they say, but watch what they actually do. We’re supposed to recognize that Hank is not really ruthless. If he was, his familial deadbeats would be out on their ass, his wife would be replaced with a new trophy, and there would be a list of abuses suffered by his employees and the environment. At this vulnerable moment in the story, he would likely smell Dagny’s desperation and demand a little bit of her soul. I mean, yeah it’s his first sale, but this guy is clearly not written to be the cruel, opportunistic psychopath that we are told is his reputation. Neither does Dagny seem particularly selfish …well, yeah, maybe she’s a little bit conceited and doesn’t particularly care to know, help or understand anyone else. I’m already wishing she seemed to appreciate Eddie more. I suppose it also seems highly unlikely that anyone could build what Hank has all by his lonesome. He must be overlooking some credit where it’s due…So, perhaps these characters deserve more of what they’re getting than is made obvious. Still, I think Rand wants us to accept that they’re wrongfully maligned because they are noble, competent  and focused. At the very least, they clearly work their asses off to provide useful products and services to the world, with Dagny herself more or less happy to toil away in the unappreciated shadows until she just can’t take the futility of that anymore.

Then there are the jerks these guys are surrounded by…Yes, people are often not what they seem. Many get what they selfishly want by giving reasons they know folks want to hear. They make excuses and shirk responsibility. People can be hypocritical, deceitful, sometimes plain old foolish. Politics can be petty and corrupt. Some people are adept at climbing ladders without merit, and others reward people for their own selfish reasons while ignoring entirely the actual responsibility that is their job. Power gets abused. All of this often comes at great cost to others. We should take care to avoid rewarding poor behavior, and look to notice those who deserve merit. Yes. I agree.

Are we to believe, however, that all captains of industry who are criticized are wrongfully maligned? That all those who claim to be thinking about more than themselves are actually selfish and irresponsible? Really? I feel like that’s the conclusion I’m being asked to jump to…It’s quite a leap! Anyway, let’s keep reading…]

So, now James comes, swaggering up after the bar, only to lose his mojo when he reaches Dagny’s desk. He asks about how she expects the Mexicans to develop with the relics she’s got running on the San Sebastian line. She says she doesn’t expect them to do anything, much less support what she’s got on there, warning that they will just take the line over for themselves whenever they think they can steal the most from it. She further explains that if he’d read any of her reports he wouldn’t have had to find out about how she equips the San Sebastian line from Boyle. Jim demands she change it. Dagny demands that he tell her what line she should take the requested resources from. He says she’s turning things around on him. She calmly explains that she’s awaiting orders. Jim, in what promises to be characteristic instant hypocrisy, then threatens to bring her before the board for overstepping her authority. We can imagine her rolling her eyes. Go for it, she offers. “I’ll answer for it”

We learn something, too…Dagny didn’t always think Francisco was a bum…Not at all…

Chapter III — Part III

February 8, 2016

Jim’s first act as President of Taggart Transcontinental was to gain approval of that San Sebastian line that is sucking the lifeblood out of the entire railroad. Many hands went into that, but one man rises above in Dagny’s eyes: Francisco D’Anconia, who inherited a great fortune at 23, as well as a Midas touch of the financial genius that likely made his family among the most noble in Argentina. He’s also apparently a lazy playboy whom Dagny sees as a horrid waste of life – both hers and his.

Jim and his buddies apparently don’t like him either, for different reasons. We are to smirk at the hypocrisy that they were so quick to beg to become the biggest shareholders of the vast swaths of mountains in Mexico that D’Anconia bought and named the San Sebastian Mines. There’s no evidence that there’s anything in those depths, by the way, only speculation based on the mogul’s reputation.

Some objected when Jim proposed running the San Sebastian line down from Texas. The Rio Norte line was already in need of major investment. Dagny fought, but at the time was only an assistant in Operating. Jim got approval and then obtained a contract promising property rights for two hundred years in the People’s State of Mexico, a land that in this story has no such rights. This is the same promise that was extended to D’Anconio.

Supporting Board Members talk of benefiting from the wealth of copper that no one’s seen proof of, and a moral obligation to put people above profits and assist the underprivileged Mexican nation in achieving industrialization. They say that, “the old theory of economic self-sufficiency has been exploded long ago. It is impossible for one country to prosper in the midst of a starving world”

However, this “moral” obligation is not something the system can afford. The railroad is not prospering. Those statements are juxtaposed with Dagny’s reflections on abandoned lines, dangerous maintenance deficiencies – including an abandoned engine wreck — and their failure to adequately serve the paying customer, Wyatt, whom she sees as a source of lifeblood to the economy. Not being selfish here apparently means choosing the Mexican’s interests over a desperate need to invest everything into healing Taggart Transcontinental’s own starving system…which we understand would sensibly include investing in Ellis Wyatt’s much more clearly demonstrable movements to breathe life into the US Midwest.

The Taggart Transcontinental board would rather focus on lauding the Mexican Government for “discipline” and “efficiency” in its complete control of everything, and on its potential as a sharp competitor in the future. Jim speaks in “unfinished sentences” about how his ominously unnamed government friends are encouraging this line as a matter of international diplomacy. We are to understand there’s more that Dagny senses but doesn’t understand, left unsaid.

The company lays out $30 million for the project. All Dagny can think is “Get out…get out…get out”…words she can’t believe she is thinking…”She felt terror, not at the thought but at the question of what had made her think it.”

Again, she stubbornly refuses. Clearly, they now need her more than ever.

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.

We are set in a sky-high basement lounge, a penthouse bar that is dark, dank, shallow and fitting for powerful men of base intentions, where eye contact is avoided by design. Here we find Orren Boyle, James Taggart, Wesley Mouch and Philip Larkin.

The description of Boyle evokes images of well-fed swine. We are told he is a recent tycoon due to a massive government grant and small personal investment. This silver spoon enabled him to devour smaller companies, earning the public acclaim he gives as proof of his value. He complains about a natural exhaustion of the mines, worn down equipment, and other material and logistical shortages that hamper any actual achievement.

Phil Larkin – our clinging friend of Rearden’s from the last chapter – clarifies that a crumbling of the ore industry is having a domino effect on other business. We are to take Boyle’s complaints about the successful few as petulant whines and Larkin’s statement as partial logic that fails to seek an obvious remedy: Competence.  The idea that ore might actually be a limited natural resource is given no consideration.

The passage is littered with phrases intended to articulate these men’s philosophy, and to associate them as the “true” motivators of, not only socialism, but any proposed regulation of the market:

“Disunity,” drawled James Taggart, “seems to be the basic cause of all social problems”

“It’s my absolute opinion that in our complex industrial society, no business enterprise can succeed without sharing the burden of the problems of other enterprises”

“It’s generally conceded that the free economy is now on trial: Unless is proves its social value and assumes its social responsibilities, the people won’t stand for it. ”

“The only justification of private property,” said Orren Boyle, “is public service.”

It is hard to imagine that, for all their talk of the public, these men care for anyone but themselves.  We are offered classic Orwellian twists with an extra oomph that is intended to subsume the center as well as the extremes in communist fallacy. Boyle says he’s for the preservation of free enterprise, so long as free enterprise is slowed to his pace. Taggart, our patriarchal nepotite instists, “Since I hold purse strings, I expect to get my money’s worth and at my pleasure.”

The toxic cocktail offered is a partnership in slime. They complain about both monopolies and unbridled competition. Moderation is what they claim to advocate. However, it seems that any act of moderation is done to open a loophole either in their interest or as a favor.

They speak on the general rejection of Rearden Metal, claiming it a shame that one man be allowed to make irresponsible experiments on precious ore. They offer dogmatic refusal to believe that his composite could be so light and yet so strong. We read that there is a council devised to explore its danger.  We are to assume this council is purely political; that such demonizations of untested materials are never based in fact but only ever the self-interested propaganda of a small-minded status quo.

We are shown relationships being given value at the expense of reality. Taggart will lean on legislators for “progressive social policy”. Boyle will lean on the National Alliance of Railroads to hamper the Phoenix Durango that is competing with Taggart.  Larkin is asked to lean on his friends – presumably to betray Rearden via the previously mentioned, apparently pseudoscientific council. Larkin balks, weakly, and then submits.

Wesley Mouch is a man whom it is said no one listens to, but Larkin clearly fears. Is he alone? He seems to be the ominous part of Larkin’s patently weak threat to Rearden in the previous chapter. We are told, in the end, that Mouch is Rearden’s man in Washington. Clearly Hank has no sense when it comes to choosing relationships. These man do not share his interests or have his back as anything but a target.

They speak of the San Sebastian Mines in the People’s State of Mexico.  Their hypocrisy is evident, as is their stupidity. They are thrilled that the mines are a last bastion of private property in communist Mexico. Like the salesman who falls for every huckster he meets, Boyle assures them it will remain so with reports on dining with Mexican Ministers whom, the reader can clearly see, have every interest in swindling them .

Boyle notes that in addition to the sickening food meant as a literary clue to the reality in Mexico, the only other problem is that there aren’t many trains running there. Those that are, Boyle describes as archaic. Taggart is surprised. Concerned. Plying their primary trade, he sells them an excuse about an unavoidable lack of motive power, and hurries away.

Out of his sky-high dive and back into the sharp sunlight Jim goes, probably with a headache. He needs to return to the office.

 

bourbon

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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