1,200 Words on 1,200 Pages

Wow!

Quite a ride. Great book, although the romantic aspects of this baby leave something to be desired. As far as drama goes, I don’t know. She has some good dramatic spins in the book. But tends to crush her own efforts under the weight of her prose.

Anyway, Lots of thoughts to cram into 1200 (or so) words. Let’s go.

The Characters

One thing for sure, Ayn Rand was no master of character development. Rather than crafting them to struggle with rising conflicts in the plot, something a reader can identify and sympathize with, she uses them more like blunt objects to beat her readers over the head with her philosophical perspective.

Even the ones for whom she creates some back story: Francisco, Hank and especially Dagny. We get all the formative years stuff, but it’s just history for how they became the paragons of industry that they are. Which is also largely one dimensional. They have inner conflicts (except, of course for the mighty John Galt,) but those conflicts largely about giving up their passion of production.

The scene in Chapter VI with Hank and the wet nurse shows a twist of character. Going from sterile business, to emotionally appreciative of the WN’s transformation. It’s a respect for the belief, but also an admiration for a person’s ability to embrace it, regardless of their productive ability.

But in general, none of them really change at the end. With a few exceptions, they’re mostly there just to drive home Rand’s philosophical point.

Actually, there was one character I liked a lot.

Villains can make or break a story. And to that end, Jimmy Taggart was a great villain. Certainly the most complex.

He’s a compulsive sinner in search of continual absolution. Certainly not the most virtuous. Maybe not the most evil. By far the most interesting.

On his road to insanity he battles between rationalizing his lootin’ ways while grappling with an ever-increasing awareness that what he’s doing is wrong. All the while dealing with a growing realization that no matter what, he’d never be the half the “man” his sister was – an unworthy heir to the Taggart throne.

At points, Rand’s depiction of his cunning is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a great development.

There were others I had some empathy for. We feel for Cherryl, but only because she’s been horribly used and fucked over by him. She is innocence without resolve. She and Eddie are actually two peas in a pod.

Eddie is resolve without vision. Neither could come to grips with the reality which had evolved before them.

But Jim’s also probably the most *identifiable* character. Let’s face it, Francisco, Dagny, Hank, John Galt are all moral prototypes. Nobody’s like that in real life. Well, nearly nobody. Most of us aim high, morally and stumble, and trip up and make bad decisions and occasionally take a short cut. When were any of these guys ever WRONG in the book? When did they ever make a mistake? Miscalculate. Make a bad decision? Never.

But maybe saying we’re all like Jimmy-boy is a bit unfair. We’re probably all more like Eddie Willers, the human version of any of them. But we only get a couple small peeks into Eddie’s life. Jim is a much bigger presence.

And what about Eddie? In the end, Eddie appears to have an awful flaw as he lays dying in front of the Comet. What was it? He had all the right motives throughout the book. He was a Rand moral-prototype. He didn’t have the cash the others did (Of course John Galt was on the poorer scale as well.) What about him caused Rand to leave him where she did?

Was it his inability to quit? I can’t imagine. He’d been talking to JG at the cafeteria for years. Certainly, Galt knew what kind of guy he was. Why didn’t he invite him to leave? Maybe he knew Eddie wouldn’t go. Maybe Eddie had the wrong priorities. What would they be?

A willingness to drop out? To place the ideal of the value of man’s mind above the value of actual production? Understanding that production under the wrong motivations is a sin on its own? A worse sin than even not using your God-given abilities. Putting your God-given abilities to use for the wrong purpose. To serve the “devil?” (For an atheist, she sure has a lot of biblical allegories.) Maybe Eddie represents what would have happened to them all had they not dropped out? Maybe…

The Message

I think anyone who’s read this book is either in complete agreement or thinks it’s a load of crap. It’s not a book that leaves a lot of room for middle ground. At least on the theoretical level.

What was her message? Money is great above all else? Nah. Rand’s point, and I think I’ve made it several times in my blogging, has consistently been that the ability to produce value is the greatest gift, skill, value… Producing it, expressly, for anyone other than yourself is the sin.

Not giving it away. When you produce it, you are free to do whatever you want with it. Maybe that’s where those who would be her middle-ground detractors part company? The book is not about selfish greed. Or maybe it was. The looters were selfishly greedy.

Reality is the book was more about giving. About producing value for (giving value to) society. The sin is demanding value without producing. Demanding more than you produce. More than you can afford.

Today, I think we’re all a little guilty of that. Banks and the G have seduced us all with credit. The ability to spend and consume based on future value. With no guarantee that that value will ever be realized. They’ve sucked the capacity (motivation) to produce right out of us. (Now they’re looking for some way to put it back.) Those who take out second and third mortgages are consuming now based on the expected future value of their home. That assumption, of course is fostered by the powers that be.

Made to think we’re all richer than we are, the G can loot us at will. Only by realizing that the means to production (man’s mind) is the real source of wealth – not the ability to spend and consume – are we truly free. Every man is an entity of his own. Independent of everyone else. And he is able to create, or not, to his own ability. Those who can only create modestly, must live modestly. Unless they can find a way to produce more value.

In this book, you rise to the level of your capability. Period. If you’re able to build an oil company, you’re president of Wyatt Oil. If all you’re able to do is pick up the trash…

Those who can create only modestly, yet demand the ability to consume more value than that, are the true sinners.

The End

What about the wrap up, the close? There were some loose ends. It left some questions open for me.

She tied the book up pretty quickly. The harmonizer thing was well thought, though I don’t think it was used as effectively as it could have been at the end. Still, gave her a credible out for Dr. S. and some associated looters.

Eddie? I guess he’s coyote kibble in the desert. Shameful waste we are to think.

And what about the looter royalty?

Jimmy Taggart in an insane asylum, no doubt. Phillip and mother Rearden? I’m going to guess they wound up on some social program that quickly failed and are living in a shelter somewhere. Lillian? Probably with them (or maybe suicide?)

Mr Thompson and the rest? I’m going with overrun by mobs and jailed or killed.

Who’s left?

What about that mob?

Ravi Batra explained a cycle of civilizations. Laborers to military to intellectual to entrepreneurial. Apparently they’d be back at the “laborer” stage — one of self-serving chaos. Which is only disrupted by an external threat that creates order behind a military power. So what the hell happens next?

Maybe she wasn’t as visionary as I mentioned in the beginning of all this. If she was, she’d have envisioned the path to rebuild…

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