Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, In the Name of the Best Within US
Posted on 08/08/2009 7:34:27 AM PDT by Publius
Dagny tries to out-think a rather unintelligent guard who knows who she is, knows she is a friend of Head of State Thompson, but refuses to admit her to the Project F building because Dr. Ferris has ordered that no one be admitted. She trumps by pulling out a gun. The guard is caught between two masters, the Head of State and the Executive Director, and he cant decide which one to follow. She puts him out of his misery by firing a bullet from the silenced gun into his heart.
Francisco, Hank and Ragnar Danneskjøld join her after killing one guard and binding and gagging three others. Francisco takes the key, unlocks the door and goes in alone. He is immediately challenged by two guards whom he engages in a battle of wits until one guard goes for his gun; Francisco blows it out of his hand. Dagny, Hank and Ragnar come down the stairs and bind and gag the wounded guard. The remaining guard gives Francisco the layout of the building, the number and location of guards, and the location of the prisoner. Dr. Ferris and his entourage have left the building.
Hank goes up the stairs and finds six guards playing poker and only two guarding the room containing the prisoner. Another battle of wits ensues as Hank tries to convince the chief guard and his men that their information is out of date; the prisoner is to be delivered to Hank immediately. The chief knows that the prisoners presence is a secret, thus the chief shouldnt know anything about him; therefore, Hank has to be lying. He picks up the phone and finds that it is dead. Hank now orders him to deliver the prisoner, lest he be reported for insubordination. John Galt has joined the government, and the deserters are all returning. One guard is elated to hear this, but the chief shuts him up. Realizing his men are not going to back him up, the chief fires at Hank, hitting him in the shoulder. Francisco shoots the gun out of his hand. The chief tries to hold his team together, but several drop their guns and bolt, and the chief tries to kill one of them. Ragnar crashes through the window, and the guards drop their guns, except for one who kills the chief.
Francisco rousts the guard from the door to the room where Galt is being held, and they break down the door. Galt is pleased to see his troops and takes brandy and a cigarette; he is none the worse for wear. They dress him and walk to a field just off the Institutes grounds where their plane has been hidden. With Ragnar at the controls, they take off while Francisco patches Hanks wound.
As they fly over New York, they see a city in chaos as everybody seeks to escape at the same time. Then the lights of New York go out as the power dies. Their job is done. Its the end but its also the beginning.
Eddie Willers has fixed the problem in San Francisco, obtaining immunity for the railroad from three different factions in the civil war tearing California apart. Without warning, the eastbound Comet stops abruptly in the middle of the Arizona desert as the locomotive fails. Eddie queries the conductor, who says the engineer is looking into it. Eddie asks the fireman to contact division headquarters via phone box and get a mechanic sent to the train, but the division doesnt answer. Eddie asks the conductor to check if there is an electrical engineer among the passengers. Then he goes to the locomotive cab to see if he can do anything to fix the problem, but this isnt what he was trained for. The engineer is about to give up, and Eddie desperately tries not to.
To everyones shock, a train of covered wagons appears out of the night. It had left Californias Imperial Valley due to the civil war and the seizure of crops, and had headed east by night to avoid the governments minions. The wagon master offers to take the trains passengers on board for a fee and informs Eddie that the bridge over the Mississippi is gone. Eddie watches as the trains passengers and crew leave the Comet for the wagon train. The engineer asks Eddie to come, but Eddie cant. Thinking of Dagny, Eddie tries to start the locomotive but to no avail. Leaving the engine, he sits on the tracks, sobbing in the night.
At Galts Gulch, Richard Halley plays his Fifth Concerto, Midas Mulligan plots his future investments, Ragnar Dannkeskjøld reads Aristotle while wife Kay checks her stage makeup, Judge Narragansett rewrites the Constitution, and Francisco, Hank and Ellis Wyatt plan the future manufacturing of railroad locomotives using Galts motor. John and Dagny walk through the mountains as John decides it is time for him and his apostles to go back to the world. He makes the Sign of the Dollar in the air as a benediction.
The Cruel Kiss-Off of Eddie Willers
Hollywood treatments of Victor Hugos The Hunchback of Notre Dame, from Lon Chaney to Disney, have always sugar-coated the story. In the book, Esmerelda is hanged, and the captain of the guard rides away, blissfully unaware. The hanging is botched, so two men grab Esmereldas legs to hasten her death. Quasimodo visits her body at the charnel house where it is deposited and dies there. Centuries later, their bones are found intermingled.
So it is with Rand and Eddie Willers. He held the railroad together and proved his management skills and his mettle. He kept things going while Dagny ran a project in Colorado, dropped out in the Berkshires, and then spent a month at Galts Gulch. He put up with brother Jim, which deserves a medal in itself. In military parlance, Eddie has earned his stripes. Various people at the railroad and Rearden Steel have been admitted to Valhalla over the years, and yet Eddie Willers is left sobbing on the tracks. John Galt could have wrecked Taggart Transcontinental early on by simply recruiting Eddie away from the railroad, but he needed Eddie as a spy. Eddie Willers has been badly used by the characters in the novel and by Rand herself.
Would it have been too much to have the plane drop down and rescue Eddie from the frozen train? Does Dagny even think of him? Could he be admitted to Galts Gulch? What does it take to get inside that valley? Will Eddie have a role in the reconstruction of the world?
The end of the novel leaves too many questions for comfort.
The Sign of the Dollar
Catholics and Orthodox Christians cross themselves at the beginning of prayer in a ritual known as the Sign of the Cross, dedicating their prayers to the three persons of God. The Cross is the preeminent symbol of all branches of Christianity.
So it is with Rand. The Sign of the Dollar appears on their cigarettes. It appears in solid gold at Galts Gulch. It is scrawled by guerilla warriors on government buildings as America frays and falls apart. At the very end, John Galt, as pope of the new religion of Objectivism, makes the Sign of the Dollar as a benediction as he prepares with his saints to return to earth in a second coming.
For an atheist, Rand is certainly layering on the religious symbolism.
If you read the book when it was published, Galt’s Gulch was plausible. Reading it now, the scenario where you take a small group of producers and completely hide yourself where no one in the rest of society can find you is too far fetched.
If they really do make this a movie, it will have to be categorized as sci fi and not a thriller.
Today the violent anarchists are still on the Left, but the gentrified and intellectual version (Ron Paul) resides on the Right.
In the first chapter of Part 3, I pointed out that the modern surveillance state makes Galt’s Gulch impossible unless you locate it off American soil.
Ping! The thread is up.
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
Part III, Chapter IV: Anti-Life
Part III, Chapter V: Their Brothers Keepers
Part III, Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance
Part III, Chapter VII: This is John Galt Speaking
Part III, Chapter VIII: The Egoist
Part III, Chapter IX: The Generator
Eddie remindes me of me more than any other character in the book, a loyal follower, not a leader. Able to see through the muck of the Thompsons, et al, but unable to lead, so to speak.
As implausible as it is, I like to think that Eddie eventually joins Dagney, and the rest at Galt's Gulch.
We have arrived! Did you think wed reach this, the penultimate chapter of Rands Atlas Shrugged, when you began this thing some seven months ago? It seemed such a long time from that far viewpoint; in fact, it has proven barely time enough.
As we noted in the previous chapter, the philosophizing is over and Rand the Hollywood scriptwriter has taken over to bring her narrative crashing to a conclusion. It will become apparent that the skill set of a Hollywood scriptwriter is not quite the same as that required for an action novelist, leaving us with a few uncomfortable and unintentionally comedic moments. It may be pea gravel at the end of a mile-long drive but the bumps are there.
Dr. Ferris has not made good on his promise to have Galt singing like a captive bird in the space of three hours, the consequence of an unforeseen casualty to his elaborate instrument of electrical torture to which our hero remains firmly affixed, the leather cushions soaked with his perspiration and the trickly droplets of Rands salivating over his state of undress.
Dagny arrives at the gates of this fortified camp, silencer-equipped automatic in hand, and when she cannot bully her way past the guard who, when he cannot manage to decide between the Scylla of Dr. Ferris authority and the Charybdis of Mr. Thompsons, she dispatches coldly on a count of three.
Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.
It does seem a bit harsh, actually, inasmuch as the other three of the four guards are tied and gagged in the nearby bushes, courtesy of Franciscos raiding party. Nor does Francisco need to kill the next guard who challenges them, drawing his own silenced pistol and shooting the guards gun out of his hand like a hero in a 40s Hollywood Western. The firearms-familiar reader now risks ocular damage from rolling his eyes, but the worst of it is still before us.
Hank Rearden joins them, and once again they attempt to talk their way past guards who are as befuddled as the reader at the vision of three industrialists they do recognize them attempting to bludgeon them with logic. The guards are no match for the brilliant repartee of our heroes but unfortunately the latter are no closer to their goal despite a clear rhetorical victory. In the ensuing gunplay force guided by reason prevails, aided by the third of the Four Musketeers, Ragnar Danneskjold, swinging like the buccaneer he is on a rope tied to a conveniently-sited tree limb, crashing through a nearby window and shooting one of the guards as another shoots his own chief. In the melee Rearden has received a bullet to his shoulder that is bleeding heroically but it is, in the event what else would it be? only a scratch.
This is, to modern sensibilities, painful to read. If there is a single mid-century Hollywood cliché that Rand has kept out of this weird, bloodlessly homicidal scene it is probably because it consists of a singing cowboy and a dancing horse. To recapitulate: we have, despite the presence of a small army of armed men waiting outside, four philosopher-generals with sidearms executing an armed raid on a fortified enemy camp, whose occupants unaccountably decline to treat their hostage as a hostage or at least to put a merciful bullet into his recumbent figure.
For Galt is unharmed, more or less, and Rand has one last opportunity to remind the reader that he is naked before they dress him. And off he goes, assisted by Francisco and Dagny, to the refuge of Franciscos airplane, which takes its place in a formation of airplanes, Galts rescuing army, roughly half the male population of the valley, all headed back to Colorado with their chief safely in hand.
Galt saw the thin red trickle running from Reardens shoulder down his chest.
Thank you, Hank, he said.
Rearden smiled. I will repeat what you said when I thanked you on our first meeting: If you understand that I acted for my own sake, you will know that no gratitude is required.
I will repeat, said Galt, the answer you gave me: That is why I thank you.
This is, to be blunt, mind-numbingly awful writing. In simple point of fact Rand the author is out of her element and it shows, reparable had the hard-minded editor she did not employ sent it back red-penciled with a peremptory demand for a rewrite. That did not happen, and certain readers already skeptical of Rands work are left with a comfortably bad taste in their mouths that is unjustified by the preceding 1100 pages of strong and occasionally brilliant writing.
Fortunately, we are not done, lest this difficult interlude threaten to drag the entire novel down with it. They speak of a time of peace to come. Danneskjold has hidden his warship, which is to be converted into an ocean liner when circumstances permit, stating that this was the last act of violence he will ever be forced to commit. His men are building homes in Galts Gulch, where they will wait out the oncoming storm. For a storm there will be, and all is a very long way yet from the utopia to come.
There were not many lights on the earth below. The countryside was an empty black sheet, with a few occasional flickers in the windows of some government structures, and the trembling glow of candles in the windows of thriftless homes. Most of the rural population had long since been reduced to the life of those ages when artificial light was an exorbitant luxury, and a sunset put an end to human activity. The towns were like scattered puddles, left behind by a receding tide, still holding some precious drops of electricity, but drying out in a desert of rations, quotas, controls, and power-conservation rules.
Suddenly Rands writing is not merely competent once more but prescient. It is a vision of our own sustainable future under our own looters and moochers.
It took them a moment to realize that the panic had reached the power stations and that the lights of New York had gone out.
Dagny gasped. Dont look down! Galt ordered sharply.
She turned to Galt. He was watching her face, as if he had been following her thoughts. She saw the reflection of her smile in his. Its the end, she said. Its the beginning, he answered.
Had Rand written The End at that point no one would have faulted her. It is closure of a sort, the logical end to the logic of the narrative, a finish and the promise of a new beginning. But it isnt going to be quite that easy. There is one more thing, one final tying of a loose thread that saves the consummation of the novel from treacly embarrassment and re-ignites the philosophical and emotional struggle she has taken so much trouble to stir in the minds of her readers. There is, at the last, not exactly an answer to the question we posed so many chapters ago concerning whether there are innocent victims in the act of Atlas shrugging, but an image that suggests an answer. There is, remaining, the fate of Eddie Willers.
A civilization is ending, the lights of New York darkened, the people fleeing from the dead cities by foot or using the last drops of gasoline in their empty tanks, to abandon the useless hulks of industrial civilization as they gasp their last at the side of the road, and re-enter the pre-industrial world that is the penance men must pay for permitting the parasites to ruin them. Galt and Francisco were right and Dagny, wrong she and Rearden did not, in the end, hold out to the last wheel and the last syllogism.
But Eddie Willers did. While the others were experiencing moral epiphanies and waving firearms around like magic wands, Eddie was plugging away doggedly at keeping Taggart Transcontinental, the artery of the country, pulsing feebly. Now he sits on a dead train in the middle of Arizona, headed back to New York over a bridge that he is horrified to learn no longer exists. Its over. The artery is severed and the continent with it. And yet, unbelievably, courageously, Eddie will not give up.
It was not for [the passengers] sake that he struggled; he could not say for whose. Two phrases stood as the answer in his mind, driving with the vagueness of a prayer and the scalding force of an absolute. One was: From Ocean to Ocean, forever the other was: Dont let it go!
It is clear that Eddie renders homage to achievement just as Dagny did. And so, when a passing train of covered wagons takes the passengers and the crew out of their own useless hulk, Eddie remains behind. His last prayer is to Dagny herself:
Dagny! he was crying to a twelve-year-old girl in a sunlit clearing of the woods in the name of the best within us, I must now start this train!
When he found that he had collapsed on the floor of the cab and knew that there was nothing he could do here any longer, he rose and he climbed down the ladder He stood still and, in the enormous silence, he heard the rustle of tumbleweeds stirring in the darkness, like the chuckle of an invisible army made free to move when the Comet was not. He heard a sharper rustle close by and he saw the small gray shape of a rabbit rise on its haunches to sniff at the steps of a car of the Taggart Comet. With a jolt of murderous fury, he lunged in the direction of the rabbit, as if he could defeat the advance of the enemy in the person of that tiny gray form. The rabbit darted off into the darkness but he knew that the advance was not to be defeated.
Then he collapsed across the rail and lay sobbing at the foot of the engine, with the beam of a motionless headlight above him going off into a limitless night.
Yes, this piece of lyrical, desolate beauty is from the same pen that thrashed so clumsily in the beginning of the chapter. That is all we know of the fate of Eddie Willers.
At the collapse of dAnconia Copper Francisco took his best people off to Galts Gulch. At the end of Rearden Steel, Hank did the same. Ragnar Danneskjolds crew are building their own homes there in the shelter of the valley. But Dagnys very best lies abandoned on the rails in the Arizona desert. It is a jarring, tragic, and enigmatic image, and its place here as the final chords of this monolithic novel crash through our ears is very far from accidental. Eddies last, desperate cry is, after all, the title of Rands final chapter.
What are we to make of this? The more romantic among us must hope for that speck on the horizon that grows steadily into the shape of Dagnys airplane, touching down on the sand to lift her loyal and loving childhood friend to safety, to that place down at the second table in Valhalla that he has earned in blood. For the sound of that distant engine we wait in vain. And we think the less of Dagny and yes, of Rand herself, for the silence.
There is a coda to this as there is to all works of such a titanic construction. It is in the echoes of Richard Halleys Fifth Concerto, the Concerto of Deliverance, through the winter landscape of Galts Gulch.
The lights of the valley fell in glowing patches on the snow still covering the ground. There were shelves of snow on the granite ledges and on the heavy limbs of the pines. But the naked branches of the birch trees had a faintly upward thrust, as if in confident promise of the coming leaves of spring.
The principals are in a similar state, Mulligan working on a plan of investments to make the phoenix rise from the ashes, Kay Ludlow contemplating a battered case of film makeup, Ragnar Danneskjold poring over his Aristotle, Francisco and Hank and Ellis Wyatt chortling over the prospect of bargaining with Dagny for transportation in the world to come. In his library, Judge Narragansett is amending the Constitution, excising those contradictions that had once been the cause of its destruction. And in their place he adds a new clause that might be the topic for a furious controversy:
Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade
It is a parting gift from Ayn Rand, a grateful immigrant, and were something like it to be enacted in reality, the world would indeed look very different. Rand, the radical, the rabble-rouser, the arrogant, difficult, infuriating author, has dropped one last little mind-bomb on us. And she has, to close, one last cheery expression of defiance.
They could not see the world beyond the mountains, there was only a void of darkness and rock, but the darkness was hiding the ruins of a continent But far in the distance, on the edge of the earth, a small flame was waving in the wind, the defiantly stubborn flame of Wyatts Torch, twisting, being torn and regaining its hold, not to be uprooted or extinguished
The road is cleared, said Galt. We are going back to the world.
He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.
Are they, then, headed back so soon? Is this the next winter or a dozen winters later? We do not know, and we are left to wonder just how bad it has gotten in the world beyond the mountains, and for how long, to make it possible for a world-wide renaissance to be born from a hidden valley in the mountains of Colorado. But seeds do turn into forests, after all. In fact, they are the only things that do. And these are just the people to plant them.
Have a great year, Publius!
This is the chapter where the story seems to turn into an action movie. Also, this is where my hatred of Rand’s protaganists is sealed forever. I did not like these people at all, especially with Dagny coldheartedly shooting the guard point blank then flying off with her three lovers. (I got the impression Rand was trying to justify her own choices in life.)
The abandonment of Eddie Willers bothered me, too, probably because I identified most with his character (dedicated, loyal to the end). But, the story couldn’t have ended any other way. It seems Rand wanted to teach a lesson with Eddie Willers: He didn’t put his own interests first, and in the end, he paid for that “sin”.
In reality, that is the way life works. In that way, maybe Rand is a realist. Those of us who have lived our lives like Eddie Willers might cringe at the thought, but it’s the way things really are.
I never thought of the dollar sign as a religious symbol, like the cross. Yes, come to think of it, you raise a good point: Rand does create her own religious symbolism and saints for Objectivism.
I wonder why the left thought so much of those books then and so little of them now.
I think that because for many "liberals" back then, they really WERE well meaning "liberals." They believed in the concepts of "I may not agree with your opinions, but I'll fight for your right to express them." Sadly, those days are long gone. Today's leftists are authoritarian maniacs, who seek to shut down not only opposing speech but thought as well, as "hate." "Diversity" is prized, as long as it's symbolic and only on the surface... Individual thought is to be suppressed, especially if certain individuals aren't thinking the "right way."
The reason that leftists today hate the books mentioned is because those books describe the current leftist movement far too well.
Thank you for doing this book thread. I’ve been running several chapters behind, but I’m glad the threads are there to read as I catch up. This is my 1st time reading it and it’s been helpful to read everyone’s comments. I hope we can do this again with another book in the future.
I always thought Eddie was supposed to be the character that most readers would identify with and his being left behind is Ayn's way of delivering a warning to the reader to be vigilant lest they find themselves left on an empty prairie
Very good bit of deduction. It might be the key to understanding what happened to Eddie.
Thank you both for all your hard work for all these months. Saturdays just won’t be the same without your threads.
Let me know when the next book gets under way.
I always assumed that they’d come looking for Eddie, and he’d eventually join Galt’s Gulch; he’s too central a character to be left behind. Galt likes him, Hank likes him, he’s Francisco’s and Dagny’s childhood friend. Besides, Dagny’s going to need him once she starts rebuilding her railroad.
In reading “Atlas Shrugged” I’m always reminded of the Dark Ages.
History does tend to repeat itself as civilization rise and fall throughout history.
How far our civilization can and will fall is an interesting question. When our civilization will fall is another.
I tend to think “Galts Gulch” will eventually happen. Heck, “Galts Gulch” is very much an allegory modeled the collapse of earlier civilizations.
As civilization crumbles and the infrastructure starts failing, there will be islands of technology and knowledge that will be the springboard of the next civilization.
Hopefully, when the new Dark Age hits, there won’t be a tremendous regression in regards to lost knowledge.
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