Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, Anti-Life
Posted on 06/27/2009 7:38:16 AM PDT by Publius
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FReeper Book Club: Introduction to Atlas Shrugged
Part I, Chapter I: The Theme
Part I, Chapter II: The Chain
Part I, Chapter III: The Top and the Bottom
Part I, Chapter IV: The Immovable Movers
Part I, Chapter V: The Climax of the dAnconias
Part I, Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Part I, Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited
Part I, Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Part I, Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane
Part I, Chapter X: Wyatts Torch
Part II, Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Part II, Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Part II, Chapter III: White Blackmail
Part II, Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Part II, Chapter V: Account Overdrawn
Part II, Chapter VI: Miracle Metal
Part II, Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Part II, Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Part II, Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt
Part II, Chapter X: The Sign of the Dollar
Part III, Chapter I: Atlantis
Part III, Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed
Part III, Chapter III: Anti-Greed
I can’t wait to see what the club comes up with for answers to the first 3 questions. Where is everybody?!
Chapter 24 this week, entitled Anti-Life, a title that has several shades of meaning. I prefer to call it Cherryls Chapter, after the young lady for whom at last we have heard the other shoe drop, a shoe that has been suspended since she met Jim Taggart in Chapter 9 and married him three chapters later. She is one of two characters in Atlas Shrugged whose moral standards are admirable on Rands terms and whose lives will be blighted and eventually forfeited as a consequence, their own lives circumstances placing them in positions of vulnerability and without the strength to fight back. The other shall remain nameless for now.
Jim returns home after sealing quite a deal, really, and he made it all by himself, or so he tells his wife. Orren Boyles fingers are in this, along with a mysterious figure from Chile with a wife who knows how to deal, but Cherryl need not be bothered with the details. Its a betrayal as well, and James wants to toast it with champagne.
But something has changed with Cherryl. She is asking questions she wouldnt have asked before and its making Jim very nervous. She knows something she didnt before. And the tenor of the questions hints that she suspects that he isnt the railroad magnate she worshipped after all. We know it was Dagny, but does Cherryl? And if so, how did she find out?
She doesnt appear all that impressed with Jims coup. He is party to an agreement under which various governments intend to nationalize dAnconia Copper, and he has a lot of money riding on the theft, although precisely how isnt specified. The looters are finally moving on Francisco.
Theyve already moved on Bertram Scudder, the poison-tongued polemicist on whose program Dagny made a mockery of blackmail by declaring her affair with Rearden. The program is no more as a consequence. We do not mourn Scudder and neither does Cherryl but she does wonder aloud why Jim, in whose circle Scudder resided, didnt save him. An odd question that makes us realize that Cherryl is now judging her husband on her own terms and has found him wanting.
Cherryl has done some research of her own, some simple inquiries that led her to the office of Eddie Willers. It was Eddie who told her the whole truth. Everything she thought she married in Jim resides, in fact, in Dagny.
Thank you, Mr. Willers, was all she said when he finished.
And because Cherryl is, when all is said and done, as scrupulous about her personal honor as anyone in the novel, she looks up Dagny and apologizes. It is interesting that we have not really seen Dagny in interaction with other women to this point, except for the contemptible Lillian Rearden. Cherryl is Lillians opposite in every respect. Dagny understands that she has met something clean and brave and struggling to live.
Dagny, how did you do it? How did you manage to remain unmangled?
By holding to just one rule to place nothing nothing above the verdict of my own mind.
What held you through it?
The knowledge that my life is the highest of values, too high to give up without a fight.
The reason I ask is because somehow, people always made me feel as if they thought it was a sin
That is anti-life as Rand has come to make us understand it. Ones life is not ones own, but someone else has the ultimate claim on it. It is that proposition that Galts oath defies.
Meanwhile, Lillian Rearden has come to her own crisis of confidence. She is to be made destitute by a divorce that to her dismay, she cannot stop, even with the sort of connections she thought she had made by presenting her husband and his lifes work to the looters. She has come to Jim for help, and he hasnt any to offer. They do, however, enjoy a mutual resentment of the productive and a hatred for their superiority. It is sufficient for a quick and exquisitely seedy sexual encounter.
They did not speak. They knew each others motive. Only two words were pronounced between them. Mrs. Rearden, he said Afterward, it did not disappoint him that what he had possessed was an inanimate body without resistance or response. It was not a woman that he had wanted to possess. It was not an act in celebration of life that he had wanted to perform, but an act in celebration of the triumph of impotence.
Anti-life in another sense. In a third, the matter of procreation, Rand is once again silent and perhaps well so. But this notion of sex as possession is not restricted to those for whom its expression is toward an inanimate object Rands term for Lillian, and we believe it but, in fact permeates her descriptions of the actual terms of sex between the ubermenschen as well. It explains Dagnys serial monogamy, surely. But it risks the conclusion that ones self is not only ones own most precious possession, but may be given to another unreservedly, at least for the time, and yet is a commitment that may be withdrawn at a whim, just as Dagnys was from Rearden. She had certainly given herself to him to the degree that when he discovered her antecedents with Francisco, she resigned herself literally to being beaten to death by him. That is a very peculiar frame of mind for someone who considers her own life her highest value. And yet when Galt comes along that commitment evaporates as if it had never been.
One may, of course, choose to regard this behavior as an aberration from the ideal that someone under stress and with less than true moral enlightenment is prone to make, and that once it is all resolved Dagny will be better adjusted. I dont think that at all. I think Rand was tapping a deep appreciation of human sexuality that does not correlate very well to her ethical theories and describing it accurately, and that in doing so Dagny becomes something more than a pasteboard figure behind which Rands mouth is moving, but in a literary sense her own person.
This is a wonderful thing to discover in a novel, and it puts Rand the story-teller in opposition to Rand the theoretician. It pits the inner logic of her narrative against the inner logic of her philosophy. Both are strong enough to make their case, and its up to the reader to reconcile them or to choose between them. This is one reason why despite its many failings Atlas Shrugged is a novel that must be taken very seriously indeed.
Cherryl comes home in time to find the unmistakable signs of Jims betrayal, and extracts from him an admission that their marriage was always a matter of his desperate need to find someone to whom he could feel superior. The balls at which he paraded her, incorrectly dressed and fumbling, the social affairs at which he smirked in the background as others smirked at her in the foreground, the entire elevation of a lower middle-class girl into the social heights for the purpose of degradation and humiliation, all of that was his highest expression of being. It is, to say the least, a shattering revelation.
The cover has been torn off of Jim and what we see underneath are the writhing worms of mental and emotional pathology. He has married Cherryl because he felt both that she was worthless and that she was committed to a hopeless struggle to find worth. It was the hopelessness on which Jim was feeding, an image that is disturbing because it rings so very true. This too is anti-life, and Jim is Rands dark psychological masterpiece.
Cherryl flees the sordidness of their apartment for the sordidness of the street, now rejected in low society for what her clothing makes her appear just as she was rejected by high society for what she actually was, and by both for what she was trying to become.
Why are you doing it to me? she cried soundlessly to the darkness around her. Because youre good some enormous laughter seemed to be answering from the roof tops and from the sewers.
We are reminded here of something that a women of hard-bitten experience told her on her wedding day:
Listen, kid, the sob sister said to her You think that if one gets hurt in life, its through ones own sins and thats true, in the long run. But there are people wholl try to hurt you through the good they see in you knowing that its the good, needing it and punishing you for it. Dont let it break you when you discover that.
But it does break her. And Cherryl now thinks she has nowhere to turn more accurately, she forgets that she does. She forgets her promise to Dagny to come and see her, the only person she knows who might have the strength to pour into the wreckage of her life. She forgets everything but flight.
Then she ran, ran by the sudden propulsion of a burst of power, the power of a creature running for its life, she ran straight down the street that ended at the river and in a single streak of speed, with no break, no moment of doubt, with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation, she kept running till the parapet barred her way and, not stopping, went over into space.
A creature running for its life that kills itself out of a sense of self-preservation it is the contradiction that is anti-life. It is death by cognitive dissonance. It is also a tacit recognition of soul, for what other aspect of self could Cherryl possibly hope to preserve at the cost of her life? Rands philosophy might not be leading us there, but her narrative is.
Have a great week, Publius!
Thanks for the analysis and insight.
Always appreciated here.
After the “Atlantis” chapter, readership dropped by half. I suspect a lot of people rushed to the end of the novel and decided they didn’t need to participate any longer.
I found it to be very readable, as timely now as is Atlas Shrugged, and a key character is ... Henry M. Galt!
I don’t like the non-linear answers that I’m coming up with. I hope that when everyone else has participated, you’ll furnish them ;-) Thanks for thinking them up. They’re too complex for me and I appreciate the exercise.
Billthedrill located that book, and we reference it in the final version we’re preparing for publication.
Non-linear answers are good. Billthedrill and I don't provide answers because we want people to think outside the box. Besides, Rand would have been furious at anyone who had the temerity to provide answers when she wanted people to think hard enough to sweat.
We're trying to write a book that could be used as a textbook for courses on Atlas Shrugged, and we're trying to write the toughest exam questions we can come up with.
Students of the future may hate us for it, but in the long run, they'll thank us.
Et tu, Publius?
September 2 gets covered next week. It’s the day the fertilizer hits the ventilator.
Besides, anybody who uses the term "Dude" needs to be made to think -- or write 100 times "I will never use the word Dude."
Next week that date becomes very significant and memorable.
The whole Jim and Cherryl saga of AS is perhaps the most tragic piece in the book. It also illustrates owr own society.
The way I see Cherryl is an illustration of the way the underclass, particularly racial minorities have been rendered asunder by the Great Society programs. The poor helpless blacks, latinos, indians needed the governments help to rise, not so much because of discrimination, but because many of the left felt they really were inferior (who’s the real racist). The result is decades of welfare dependence, the destruction of the family, and whole generations of people who feel a sense of entitlement to yours and mine success. Cherryl is one that woke up, saw the welfare state for what is, what it really thinks of the poor. We see her in the various minority voices that come out and denounce these changes (think Bill Cosby). We saw this in the Prop 8 results. We see this anytime we see someone who was firmly in the democratic party coalition come to the realization the liberals really don’t care about them in the long run.
Here is an example from here in CA. Paul Rodriguez campaigned for all of the democratic office holders, raised money for all of the high level officials from Feinstein, Boxer, Pelosi, and Obama. So what did he get for his efforts? Thrown over the side, traded for the environmentalist faction. He’s has sided up with “the wealthy white growers”, the traditional enemy of the latino farmworkers to get the water back running to the west side farmers. He realized he was betrayed.
Jim, now here is a work of art. I see him as the person with such a sense of worthlessness of himself that instead of working to build him self up, he found it necessary to find someone he deemed more worthless then himself. The result is he thinks he will look good by comparison. The heart breaking truth is that Cherryl was far and away his superior. I liked Cherryl. She exemplified the pull up by the bootstrap ethos that is the only true remedy to poverty. Her sad end is truly a bummer for me.