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
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?
I’m thinking of an interleaved reading of the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers in chronological order.
I had my copy of the book with me when I was out the other day, a man I met said that he had read the book in the '70's and at the time he thought that it sounded like the present. I'm sure when Ann wrote the book in the 50's she thought it sounded like the present. Has it always been so?
I wonder how Rearden ever married this woman, when did he find the time to court, how did she attract him in the first place? No one has mentioned the word jealousy, do you think there is any in these "hangers on"? Why does Rearden put up with these people? Do they matter so little? Is it not worth the effort to make domestic changes? How do you put up with these people that so obviously care so little for him?
Whew! I thought Atlas Shrugged was a big undertaking!
BTW, I vote for once a week. Saturday works well.
Paul is weak, but seems to have some insight into how things work and some appreciation for Hank. Perhaps his use of the expression, along with his knowledge that the Powers That Be may be out to get Hank, is to show that, weak and inconsequential as Paul appears, he does have some life outside the family and has picked up information, as well as the phrase. A residual decency lurks below the surface in Paul. He is defeated, not only by his society, but also by the women in his life, Hank's wife and mother. He has some sense of solidarity with Hank against it all. Hank himself is almost oblivious to his milieu.
From the incident with the trainman whistling the concerto, it is obvious that the people who know about Galt’s Gulch are still out in the world. They must be the source of “Who is John Galt?” However, it has always puzzled me that this particular meme is ubiquitous in the society and is a synonym for “Who knows” or “What's the use.” Perhaps it is just a tortured device Rand is using to establish the unifying theme and pique interest in Galt. As far as we know in the universe of the novel, Galt is unknown and his resistance is still underground. How would his name come to be a common expression? The only answer I can come to is that the members of the Gulch who are still in the world have been spreading the expression. There is fertile ground for cynicism and irony in a failing society where some can still sense that the problems are all manufactured. There is an obvious resonance of the phrase among even the most depressed.
I lived through the period when Rand was writing this. I was 14 when the book was published. I do not recall a lot of ubiquitous and current political catch phrases back then. Rand may be drawing on her experience in the USSR, when information/commentary was passed from person to person, not only because of the lack of mass communication, but the personal insecurity of publishing critiques of society/government. The usage may be to show that there is still some connection between individuals, even in a dehumanizing environment. Everyone, so far, recognizes the subtext of the phrase.
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.
Philip Rearden's attitude of superiority can be equated to the liberal left winger elitist types.
Examples include the Kennedy's, Hollywood celebritards, the left wing media, most Ivy Leaguers, trust funders, etc.
Like Philip, they feel 'guilty' about their wealth and status, especially since they didn't do a damned thing to earn it, and think that by taking money from others to distribute to the 'needy' that they will sleep better at night.
However, even though they may feel guilty about living a life of luxury and privilege, they would scratch and claw to maintain their lifestyle, whatever it takes.
I think the decision about frequency of posting should be yours. But, if you’re asking for a preference...
My vote goes to:
“Posting a new thread when the last one has run out of steam”
Thank you again for this book club!
That's what I was thinking, too, in reading this chapter. So far, the heroes in this story each created something and/or worked to keep it all going - the railroad, steel, etc. - and provided people with services, products, and employment in the process.
Rand is given to overblown character portrayal, almost charictature.
I share your opinion. The conversations read like a 1950's-era stage play where all the characters overact. But, I guess her point does get across that way...
cafeexpress. They a a few different atlas shrugged designs.
I grew up in PA. I remember our local steel mill closing sometime in the '80's. Lots of families put food on the table working in the steel mill up to then.
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