In early 1945, Ayn Rand embarked on the work which would eventually be considered her literary masterpiece. With a working title of The Strike, she diligently filled numerous notebooks, detailing her characters, plot, and theme, amongst others. Not for an audience, “but strictly for herself–that is, for the clarity of her own understanding,” writes her literary executor, Leonard Peikoff.
“These journals are also a fascinating record of the step-by-step birth of an immortal work of art.”
The opening sentence is one of sheer brilliance. The question, “Who is John Galt?,” reels the reader in instantaneously, and is very reluctant to let up. The question really resonates. Partly due to its simplicity, Rand’s detail orientated, incredibly vivid prose kept me reading, completely in awe of her skillful way with with words. More importantly, the classic inquiry is voiced time and again, which serves to further elevate the overall mystery and suspense, without becoming tedious.
The novel is populated with several diverse, well-developed characters. One such individual, Dagny Taggart, is a personal favorite. Superficiality aside, I love her for her unwavering convictions and determination, despite the fact that her somewhat shady actions oftentimes prove detrimental to her reputation (not that she cares.) I truly admire her, not solely for her bravery, but also for her flaws.
According to Rand’s notes, “..the prime movers going on strike” is “the actual heart and center of the novel.” (Per her husband’s suggestion in 1956, she changed the title to Atlas Shrugged.) With that in mind, I wholeheartedly agree with her estimation. Its basic premise revolves around the industrialists, or ‘prime movers,’ and their stand against the nation’s greedy politicians.
Throughout my reading of Atlas Shrugged, I was consistently amazed by its relevance, even today, 56 years after publication. For instance, there’s an almost overwhelming darkness to Rand’s world. Much of that bleakness stems from a declining economic state. There are no middle-class; employment is scarce; only the elite can afford new automobiles (I don’t even think that new vehicles are in production.) All in all, a general sense of hopelessness. Despair. Fear.
With the discovery of a motor, dubbed “the motor of the world,” the story takes a drastic change in Part II, an essential change for the better, IMO.
Additional characters are introduced, older ones are further developed, and more intrigue abounds. Virtually every aspect seems to be in a perpetual downward spiral.
Then, in Part III, things grow increasingly worse, while coming full-circle all at once.
As captivating as that all sounds, Rand blatantly ignores the most basic rule of good writing: “Show, Don’t Tell.” She breaks the cardinal rule, on countless occasions. For the most part, this is done to inform the reader of the deteriorating state of her world. If she had “shown” every significant event happening throughout the U.S., the novel would have become bogged down, and as a result, drag on an additional 200 pages.
I am, however, a firm believer in summarization. She could have, perhaps should have, refrained from “telling” through dialogue. As interesting as said dialogue is, much of it should have been omitted.
A significantly less verbose prose would have resulted in an easier, smoother-flowing story, thus strengthened the novel drastically. I really wish she would have been less wordy, and by doing, incorporate additional, more telling scenes.
Particularly in Parts II and III, Rand is very didactic. This is also a big literary no-no. She uses multiple characters to express the author’s personal beliefs, commonly known as Objectivism. Essentially, she believed in selfishness as virtue.
Incredibly, her characters don’t read as caricatures to me. They are clearly voicing the author’s beliefs (as mentioned above,) but at the same time, they felt completely real. I cared about them, grieved alongside them, rooted for them. In essence, I joined their epic journey. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten to know such characters, in quite the same way.
Here’s a helpful link:
For further insight into Rand’s mind-set and philosophy, check out the complete Mike Wallace interview, conducted in 1959, two years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. Thank you, again, to my good friend, Jessa Caliver.
Now, prior to arriving at the denouement, I admittedly had my reservations in regards to a satisfying ending. This epic tome is wholly unpredictable, and so it really could have ended in a variety of ways. Fortunately, the final three chapters (90 pages) literally catapults everything into full disarray. There were even a few jaw-dropping moments. I wasn’t a bit disappointed.
I found the final section to be utterly breathtaking. Beautiful. It’s a very suiting ending, one I wouldn’t change for the life of me.
Just take a look at the first paragraph, and judge for yourself.
“The music of Richard Halley’s Fifth Concerto streamed from his keyboard, past the glass of the window, and spread through the air, over the lights of the valley. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that has ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance.”
Beautiful, isn’t it?
I’m kind of going through withdrawals, in a way that hasn’t saddened me in quite the same way before…. I miss the characters so very much..
It’s like severing a lifelong friendship…