Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Chain
Posted on 01/24/2009 12:15:04 PM PST by Publius
Hank Rearden watches the first heat of steel for Rearden Metal poured at his mill. Then he walks home, fingering a chain of Rearden Metal in his pocket.
At home he is greeted by his mother, his wife Lillian, his brother Philip and his friend Paul Larkin. The group makes fun of the fact that his mind is back at the steel mill and complains that all he cares about is money. Lillian, in a catty way, asks Hank to set aside December 10 for a party for their wedding anniversary.. Hank tries to tell them about the big event at the mill, but they dont care. He gives Lillian the chain, a bracelet, which is the very first thing made from that heat of Rearden Metal, while his mother makes fun of him. (The bracelet is to become a major plot point.)
Larkin takes Hank aside and tells him what a fine product he has but hints that there might be trouble. Hank has a bad press, is only interested in his steel and mills, and doesnt care about public opinion. Larkin hints that there may be a problem with Hanks lobbyist in DC but doesnt go into detail. (This is Wesley Mouch, but he is not identified by name.)
Philip Rearden says he is spending his time raising money for the Friends of Global Progress, and he is upset that rich people have no social conscience. Hank tells Philip to go down to the mill tomorrow and pick up a check for ten thousand dollars. Philip barely thanks him and actually reproaches him for not truly caring about the underprivileged. Hank says he doesnt care and was only giving the money to Philip to make him happy. Philip says that he has no selfish interest in the money but he wants the money in cash so that Hank Reardens tainted name cannot be attached to it.
Larkin tells Hank that he shouldnt have given the money to Philip, and Lillian sees the act as a display of Hanks vanity. She likens the bracelet of Rearden Metal to a chain of bondage.
Hank Reardens Living Hell
The first chapter gives the reader a view into the lives of Dagny, Jim, Eddie and Taggart Transcontinental, while the purpose of the second chapter is to introduce Hank Rearden, his mill, his history and the nest of vipers he calls a family. One searches in vain for redeeming qualities, and one wishes that Hank had thrown the whole lot out on the street before the first page. The parasites who live off his wealth have no respect for the man who keeps them in food and gives them a roof over their heads. A highly successful man is an object of pity and contempt precisely because of his success.
The Real Life Rearden Steel Plant
In my youth, I recall a family outing to Pennsbury Manor, the ancestral home of William Penn and family near Morrisville, PA. Along the way, near the Pennsylvania Railroads (now Amtraks) Northeast Corridor rail line, I recall a large steel mill owned by US Steel. I dont know if its still in operation, but its position with respect to Philadelphia is close to where Hank Reardens steel mill is located in the book.
Some Discussion Topics
This is really great that you’re doing this. I missed the initial post. Are you doing this weekly? I haven’t read the book in years, but was planning to pick it up again since it seems very timely right now.
Ping! The thread has been posted.
Our vote on posting frequency has gone as follows:
Voting is still open.
Post #3 has all the info you need. I’ve added you to the ping list.
I had not before considered that aspect of the bracelet.
I am thinking now that I likely rushed my way through the book last year. I'll make it a point to reread and attempt to stay with the threads.
I didn't get a notice and had to search for the thread by your name.
You get a glimpse of Reardon’s mom, brother and wife but have no clue about his father.
You just don't get grit, determination and that inner sense of accomplishment from no where. It didn't come from dear old Mom.
You are left wondering if Hank came through the ranks of “the school of hard knocks”, he was working in a mine at age 14... or if his family had previously been in the ranks of the moneyed elite.
Brother Phil and Mom certainly act as if they were reared in the laps of unearned luxury.
My goal in this book club is to get people to look beneath the surface to all the things going on at the different levels of the book. For all the problems with Rand’s prose style, this is a wonderful, thickly textured book.
I have your name on the ping list, and I copied and pasted everyone into the little “To:” box. I wonder if there are limitations as to how many people you can ping at one time.
Please add me to the ping list.
Bravo! An introduction to John Galt is a timely project in these trying times.
Please add me to the ping list. Thanx.
Probably nothing more than a glitch, I’m assuming every one is having the same issue with slowness in the system.
Timing for me is acting like dial up instead of bb.
Please Ping me.
I’m going to run a test this afternoon to see if the copy-and-paste brings everyone over. Because the post displays “...” after a certain number of characters, I don’t know if there is a way to make sure everyone is pinged when one hits the “Post” button.
Can you please add me to your ping list for this?
When I first read about Hank Rearden it motivated me to read a book first published by B.C.Forbes in 1917, “Men Who Are Making America Great”
Here are the first ten names in the Table of Contents:
George F. Baker
Alexander Graham Bell
James B. Duke
T. Coleman DuPont
How many of us today can even recognize these great men and what they accomplished? I read the book and I can't even remember without looking. And not a politician among them. Do our schools teach anything about them ? Ha!
Today we look to the Barney Franks and B.Obamas to save us...we have become a pitiful people !
To me that is the great enduring value of this great book...to remind us that true heroes can still exist.....but only strong men and women can make it so.
Phillip and Hank's mother seem resentful possibly because they live in a society that is conflicted about success and wealth. They may have to do a lot of fund-raising and support for the *oppressed* in order to justify their existence among the elite of their society. They get to live well, but they have to make it clear that they didn't engage in selfish money-grubbing to get to their position. Phil and Mom are living in the lap of unearned luxury, are insecure because of this, conflicted, as said above and this makes them unbearably passive aggressive. Poor Hank. If only he could pretend to be sensitive to the lower classes, the family could be absolved of their angst.
Lillian is too arch and coy to be borne. She likely could be mollified if Hank spent time at benefits and was a patron of the arts and benefactor of the poor, but Hank is driven, something their society abhors. Evidently, it is all right to *have* wealth, it just isn't seemly to work hard to earn it and one must ostentatiously give back. Both the generationally wealthy and the newly successful struggle with *accomplishment guilt*.
Hank's father does seem absent or perhaps he died from overwork in the mines or a mill. I disagree that grit, et al doesn't arise without DNA, a mentor or example. IMO, these are inborn, but not necessarily inherited, traits. There are plenty of children of the motivated and successful who could not be less interested in emulating their parents or grandparents and others who arise out of mediocrity to attain great heights.
Rand is given to overblown character portrayal, almost charictature. People only sometimes speak normally. Much of the dialog is declamation and that includes the internal dialogues. I do appreciate her physical descriptions of surroundings and the bit players. It is very noir, an apt physical setting for the decline and decay of the society she is illustrating.
Ping to Chapter 2.
I just rec’d my “who is John Galt? tee shirt in the mail yesterday, can’t wait to see what conversations may develop when I wear it out.
There was no mention of George Westinghouse, so I assume he was dead by then.
Now that prompts a bit of thinking. Even today in British society, a gentleman is not a man who engages in trade -- that's so middle class, not upper class -- but a man who doesn't work for a living due to inherited wealth.
We haven't gotten that decadent yet, but in Rearden's family the British viewpoint seems dominant.
You are doing a great thing here, thank you! Please add me to your ping list.
I am the proud owner of a First Edition (1957 8th printing) hardback of “Atlas Shrugged”, excellent condition, no jacket. I paid a whole dollar for it at the SPCA second hand shop. What a find!
Please add me to the ping list. I first read a borrowed copy in 1975. Since buying my own copy in 1980, I’ve re-read it 3 more times (although, I confess, I skimmed the 90-page John Galt monologue on two of those occasions...)
Yes, Please add me to your ping list.
Thank you for taking the time to share all of this with us. I have read the book but it was many years ago. I’m sure that I didn’t understand all the ramifications of the work. It is great to be able to read the viewpoints of other Freepers.
I’d prefer once a week.
Once a week for me, too. I only have time for this on weekends.
Where do you get those?
I could use one if it has 3 pockets.
please add me to your ping list.
I only listed the first ten in the Table of Contents....but I just checked the book and sure enough Westinghouse is not listed....so you are probably correct that he was dead by 1917 in as much as Forbes says in the Intro. “....leaders of the present day...” But Westinghouse surely deserves to be ranked in any group of “Men who built America”
Thank you for the excellent work you are doing!
Thanks for the link....I’m on the Palin ping list but didn’t get this one.....F U B A R
"The air is as pure as the air above the Arctic. But you don't know how much longer you'll want to go on breathing it," Ayn Rand wrote in The Anti-Industrial Revolution, a collection of essays. The blue-collar industrial milieu had a vigor, a joy, a hopefulness. Immigrants were welcomed, and assimiliated through the medium of "Polock jokes." (My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Easter Europe.) That world is gone, and progress has been a mixed blessing.
That can't be good.
Thanks. Will try to get to the library Monday and get a copy. Is it online anywhere?
I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it.
The people who have not earned it and know that they have not earned it are the ones who are conflicted about their wealth. It's that way in the book, too.
Thanks again for setting this up.
I gave Atlas to my 91 year old, yellow dog democrat grandfather for Christmas. We’ve just started trading letters discussing the themes of the book. I will share anything good that comes up and will steal anything good off these threads to share with him.
Ours think they deserve a position in politics.
I was raised in a profoundly FDR democrat family.
My GF was president of state AFL CIO for years.
I read this book the summer I graduated from HS..It made all the difference.
If one simply considers just how many folks are involved in the purchase of a home between two parties, it ought to be evident that there are a whole lot of folks making a bunch of dough for contributing essentially nothing to the process.
Our Economy is a freaking mess, and there are a boatload of folks who have been getting wealthy for no valid reason.
"Money for nothing and your chicks for free."
please add me to your ping list.
I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement. Hank's mother says, “What would happen to Henry's vanity if he didn't have us to throw alms to? What would become of his strength if he didn't have weaker people to dominate? What would he do with himself if he didn't have us as dependents?” Of course, by now we know enough about Hank to see that this isn't the case at all. He's driven by the satisfaction of achievement, not an egotistic desire to dominate others. The lengthy description of how he has done nothing but work hard since boyhood to build and expand his business stands in stark contrast to the moochiness and entitlement displayed by his family. He doesn't need them, but they need him - and that makes them angry and resentful toward him. Instead of finding ways to contribute and make the relationship more equitable, they behave like “bewildered, unhappy children.”
I wonder if there isn't a parallel here to the class envy and and resentment we see in the world today. People who are not working hard to pay their own way and are instead relying on the hard work of others for their survival must feel insecure in this, and the insecurity must, on some level, lead to resentment. Those who have worked hard to get where they have are not evil villains who are just out to oppress their fellow man - but they are portrayed as such by the culture, confirming the idea that government is justified in taking away their profits and redistributing them to those who need the money more - but who should not be any more grateful for it than Hank's family is.
Look at how our culture vilifies the pharmaceutical industry, for example. People who would not be alive were it not for the years of research and development that went into their heart medicine will turn around and express outrage that the drug companies are making a profit and not just giving the drugs away for free. And when the companies DO give the drugs away for free, donate them to 3rd world countries, etc., no one celebrates them for it. It's akin to Philip's asking for the $10,000 donation in cash because it would look bad if they took the money from an evil capitalist like Hank. (But he still takes the money.)
I loved the symbolism of the chain - especially as it continues in the story. The chain represents for Hank his years of work, the obstacles he has had to overcome, as well as his hope for the future success of his business. He wants to give the chain to his “wife” - but he realizes that it is not Lillian with whom he wants to share his success - she could never understand the value of it to him and she sees the chain as nothing but a piece of junk.
Interesting question about the value of the individual and the collective accomplishments of society - well, without those individuals, the collective accomplishments wouldn't exist, would they? It's almost as if he's saying, if Thomas Edison hadn't invented the light bulb, someone else would have anyway, so Edison isn't so important. I wonder how Apple will fare without Steve Jobs...
Philip Rearden - from the first time I meet him in Atlas Shrugged I approach his character with an almost visceral hate and desperately wish he comes to a bad end.
Philip is a metaphor for today's typical man who lives upon the welfare of others. Philip has a sense of entitlement that is palpable. He has always been taken care of, he has never had to work, and sees no reason why his life will change. Instead of being grateful to the "Atlas" of his world, and making changes to reduce the load, he adds on to Hank's burden with an arrogance that mirrors those now who neither toil nor spin.
There is a family in a nearby neighborhood with 15 kids (yes, 15). All of the school age children have mentors. The house rent, heat, electricity is paid for courtesy of the tax payers. The food comes courtesy of WIC, food stamps, food bank (to which the mother is given a free taxi ride to and from) and welfare payments. The kids qualify for free and reduced lunch and breakfast, free tutoring, free membership at the county pool. Most of the school age children have IEP's and qualify for additional assistance. How has this family thanked the community? Well the 2 oldest sons are now in jail for a violent crime. The 2 oldest girls have 4 children between them (who also live in the house) and the family was featured in the paper recently as a family in need, with the mother commenting as to how hard it was to raise a family. So, this family mirrors Philip Reardon in that they add nothing, but they take everything they need - without an ounce of gratitude.
Where does the source of superiority come from? I suspect it comes from the power of guilt they these people are able to place on those around them. It comes from the long, ingrained generational welfare that leads the poor in New Orleans to demand more money as they are pictured sitting in front of a large screen TV. It comes from the hands that grasp and the mouths that plead to every person with two pennies to rub together to bestow more and more and more.
When Atlas does shrug, the Philip Reardon's of the world will be the first to go, and Atlas will have an easier job of it after that now won't he?
I would say there is. Hank Rearden's family seems to be a microcosm of the world in which Atlas Shrugged takes place (which bears an unfortunate resemblance to the world we live in today).
I don’t remember voting, but if I did, it was for one chapter a week.
If I didn’t, please count it....
(wait for it)
I vote for once a week.
Keep up the good work!
once a week is fine with me. Any ideas on what the next book club book will be?