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.
Hey pub, don’t be so down. I don’t always post, but I read every week and think over the topics. You guys are doing a great job.
“Nobody calls me Lebowski, I’m the dude, man!”
It also tore cities asunder, but that wasn't intentional.
Before the civil rights revolution of the Sixties, black neighborhoods in American cities had black doctors, lawyers, morticians and other successful businessmen. These people functioned as role models for black children.
When laws outlawing job discrimination were passed, urban blacks joined the middle class and moved to the suburbs. (Added to this, the term "urban renewal" was simply a code word for "Negro removal".) Those who stayed behind in the cities formed an underclass with its own set of values built around victimization, dependency and Afrocentrism. The only role models available were drug dealers and pimps.
Before the Great Society programs, 90% of blacks lived below the poverty line. Afterward, only one-third lived below the poverty line, but they concentrated in the cities, changing them for the worse.
It's the law of unintended consequences.
I keep forgetting to say thanks. I read every one of your analyses of the chapters and enjoy them very much.
Chapter 27, now, that one's a real head-cracker. I'm hoping folks stick with us at least until we reach that one, "This Is John Galt Speaking," because there we have to comprehend 60 very dense pages before we can even begin to debate Rand's philosophy. Publius and I are going to try to make that a little more accessible, and I'm hoping we don't ruin it in the process. Or ourselves. ;-)
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I haven’t missed a week. I tend not to want to post unless I have something interesting to say, which isn’t always the case. Your work, and Bill’s are always appreciated thought.
Oh gosh. (blush blush) Thanks.
I liked Cherryl, a lot, and when her character was first introduced, I was confident she'd figure out the game eventually. Rand seemed to hint broadly at that in some of the things Cherryl said to Jim and to Dagny. I was hoping for a better end for her though. Maybe matched up with Rearden after being dumped by Dagny or a second tier but honest player like Eddie. Oh well, you can't always get what you want. ;-)
To the first and second questions, James Taggart is running out of things to destroy. A man unaware of the nature of John Galt’s plan would believe that he won. He wrecked Hank Rearden’s greatest successes, in his business and in his personal life. He has just destroyed D’Anconia Copper. The other railroads are collapsing under the burden of James Taggart’s schemes.
The story begins with James Taggart as the envious brat among Dagny, Francisco, and Eddie Willers. Francisco makes a fool of him with the speedboat and Dagny and Eddie ignore him. In a monarchy, James would be the acknowledged leader by virtue of his birthright. In a meritocracy, James is the bottom rung of the children's hierarchy. It made me wonder how the Taggart family could raise two children of such disparate abilities and attitudes. It was New York, therefore Mrs. Taggart was secretly banging the proto Eliot Spitzer. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
James never had to destroy Eddie Willers because Eddie wasn't a threat to his ego. He attacked his own sister through the theft of Rearden Metal. A blow to Rearden was a blow to Dagny. His friends will steal everything Francisco has. Now what can he do? Destroying little people has no meaning for him. He considers them insignificant. They were never more than objects to be used in his schemes.
The beggar serves several purposes. He is the antithesis of Franciso’s money speech. Francisco praised money as a tool to enable trade between men of minds and men of labor. He said that the value of money was not in the gold it represented but in its ability to allow men to establish an objective value and trade to each others’ benefit. James gives a hundred dollar bill to a bum, similar to perhaps a few thousand dollars today. Neither man even acknowledges the gift. They have nothing to offer each other. As a consequence, the money is meaningless.
Now James is confronted with the effects of his public speeches about the evil of money and his hypocritical actions in accumulating it. He is now profoundly wealthy. But his wealth came by destroying people like Wyatt, Rearden, and D’Anconia. Who now is worthy of destruction? James convinced the world that money had no value, making sure to acquire it on the sly. His schemes have concluded. He convinced everyone that money has no value. His own money has no value. He doesn't care. He realizes that he was destroying men for the sake of destroying them, not for personal gain.
Cheryl identifies him. James Taggart is a killer for the sake of killing. That fogbound alley, a staple of monsters and murders in the days of black and white films, is the place where the killer reveals his true identity when he destroys people who lived by trust. The headlight is the light shone by the men who pursue the killer, whether townspeople with torches or police in patrol cars, when they finally realize what they are fighting. Rand's cinematic background shows through.
Ding ding!! Best line of the thread!!
I wondered too how Jim and Dagny could be the same blood, but it happens all the time.
Or maybe summer has finally arrived and some of us spent the day outdoors and away from computers and now we’re getting around to tuning in. But a day in the great outdoors with beer flowing freely makes one very sleepy. Too tired to write.
Both you and Bill have given us a lot to think about. Cheryl deserved so much better.
I actually know exactly where they went, but I can’t tell you. :)
I hear “Dude,” and think “Dud.”
On the money, FRiend. You nailed that one.
Ditto here. I haven't been posting because I have nothing more to add; also, I tend to arrive too late to the discussion. But, I do read, enjoy, and appreciate each thread.
I plowed through the book at the beginning, and I looked forward to sharing thoughts with everyone here. Now, either I can't remember all of those thoughts, ;-) or they've already been covered by everyone else before I arrive. As time passes, I may be forgetting those comments I wanted to share after each chapter, but, on the other hand, with time the book's message seems more profound than it did when I was reading it.
The fact is, Atlas Shrugged sat on my bookshelf for years. If you hadn't started this freeperbookclub, I would've never found time to read it. Thank you again.
I will be looking forward to your analysis on Chapter 27.
I recommended AS to a friend of mine a while back and told him we he got to the Radio Address to just skim through it and then go back to read it later:-)
Maybe #27 would work as a 2 parter?
Oh BTW thanks for the weekly threads, it gives me something to look forward to, especially when I have to work on the weekends.
I’ll add my agreement. This whole discussion is a lot of fun and reminds me of things I forget today, that were more important years ago when I first read AS.
One great benefit has been my wife reading AS. She stalled for over thirty years, saying she would read it but not now. She finally started it while taking the train back and forth to work. Other passengers were appalled that my wife would read such trash, and the other was her comment to me that she wished she had read it years ago and it was one of the best books she has ever read. Nice comment from a woman with her masters in English. Of course, all I could say was “it’s about time” winning her scorn. LOL
Like Tired of Taxes, I enjoy reading the analysis and comments weekly. It’s been enjoyable, especially the parallels drawn to society and government today.
I was out of town for 2 weeks and we reviewed the threads over the last few weeks. I just got back in and we had to catch up last night by finishing this chapter. My wife is anxious to finish it now that we’re getting within sight of “The Speech”. :-)
I liked Cheryl, too, and was inwardly yelling to her to stay and spend the night with Dagny. It was tragic, and I felt like her journey of enlightenment was the bulk of society’s journey in microcosm. I hated to see her go.
I agree. I read it in 1992 and find it much more fascinating this go-around. Of course, your and Pub’s synopses and commentary certainly account for a significant portion of the improvement!
My wife is working it along with me and her fascination with it and her views of Rand have grown during the reading. I recall many times her bemoaning the repetition of themes earlier (with “I get it, can we move on?”), but now she is telling me how spot-on Rand’s observations are and sees reasons for the repetition and nuance among them. I’ve been trying to get my liberal brother to read it (or the Cliff Notes), but can’t get him to get beyond a gutteral “ugh” when mentioning it. Maybe some day...
Probably not. :-)
Finished it years ago, but this is fun!
In his autobiography, Eddie Rickenbacker relates an incident that happened to he and his wife in post WW1 Germany.
Mr. Rickenbacker and his wife were staying in a hotel in Germany. Rickenbacker tipped, if I remember correctly, the hotel maid and bellhop. Both maid and bellhop, according to Rickenbacker, treated the tips with something approaching disdain. But, Rickenbacker was chastised by his wife for being so overly generous.
Later, Rickenbacker did some checking and figuring, and realized he’d hardly given the two anything in the way of a tip, due to post war inflation and that he’d incorrectly figured the rate of exchange. So, Mr. Rickenbacker went back and tipped appropriately.
My thoughts on this Mr. Rickenbacker and the tipping incident have always been twofold: 1. He went back and did the right thing. But: 2. The pair should have accepted the original tip gracefully and not acted in such a snide manner.
I’ve often thought of the above when Ayn has the bum receive charity. Jim gives the money because he can, and the bum accepts the money, without even thanks, because he expects it.
It’s quite obvious society in AS has reached the point where those that have expect to support those who don’t. That bums like those pictured in this chapter have reached the point where living off of other people is a normal part of life.
Sorry I’m late to this again. Another trip out of town, this time to see the future in-laws.
Odd. Tips in Germany are included in the bill.
(Though I tip anyway - can’t bring myself not to).
My grandmother’s third husband was a genuinely good man and did a great job taking care of and providing for my grandmother.
When he got sick just before he died, and this was after 27 years of marriage, his adult children couldn’t be bothered to come and look after him. So, my mom, even though he was not a blood relative, took it upon herself to look after he and her mom.
But, those same “adults” sure found time to show up and contest the will, claiming that Jim had a lot of money, they deserved it, etc.
This was post WW1 Germany, Weimar Republic.
Your wife must ride the train with some very stupid people. They probably even think Obama is a good choice for President (or at least think that McCain would have been).
Dunno what the rules were then - I am old, but I ain’t that dang old.
If it’s built into the bill, it’s not a tip. It ceases to be a gift, for one thing, plus the amount will not vary with the quality of the service. Sounds like a bad deal for hard working wait staff and for the customer and a boon for the slackers.
Yes - but them are the rules.
Somebody here on FR said that she had been a ‘great’ fan of Farrah Fawcett and had wanted her for the role of Dagny Taggart.