At a suspenseful point in the novel, Errol Flynn-Esque’s character comes crashing through a window to save the day. Rand was a screenwriter before (and even after) launching into a successful career as an author, but I wonder if her screenplays had the same Hollywood dramatics as a few moments in “Atlas Shrugged”.
I had to raise an eyebrow at the actions of this misplaced pirate in her novel, along with a few other scenes that left me unintentionally amused.
Some of them include: the heroine falling madly in love, becoming mistress to a man’s values it couldn’t have been the man himself could it? I’ll leave this vague for the sake of those who haven’t read the book), the countless references to characters exchanging glances loaded with emotionlessness (do Rand’s heroes feel anything?), and the smug attitude of her heroes when they are leaving New York City at one point in the novel, confident that because they are leaving there is no one else of value left behind.
“Atlas Shrugged” can be critiqued through the lens of a novel or a philosophical work. Continuing with the former, I felt the elitist attitudes of the characters (as a result of Rand’s philosophy) were difficult to swallow. The character’s attitude about leaving the people of New York behind, as mentioned above, is written within the context of the story. But because it is within the context of the story, as part of the author’s premise, I had big problems with it.
Egoism is extolled as a virtue for Rand. But the characters I read about with their unfounded conceit (except Hank Rearden and maybe one or two others) made me say out loud: Please…
As characters in a novel go, Rand’s falls flat. The men and women of “Shrugged” are either for her (Rand) or against her. Without hyperbole, the characters are either a bumbling, fearful, unctuous idiot or a courageous, idealistic, intelligent, beautiful, and emotionless amalgam of stereotypical wonder. In Dagny Taggart’s persona, Rand seems to put herself on the page. Needless to say, the characters often come across as either larger than life (which could be ok) to unbelievable (which hurts the story).
Her style of describing the fools as “fat” and “toady” is blatant and manipulative. I would have loved to see John Galt (Rand’s “perfect man”) have at least one vice to his character. Or even better-one intelligent character, who is not a doomed fool, openly challenges John Galt’s movement.
“Atlas Shrugged” is too long. At the two-thirds stage (still only 650 pages into the book!) I had more than gotten the gist of the story, the essence of Rand’s philosophy, how great Rand, Galt, and Senator McCarthy are in that order), and knew exactly what Galt had been doing in NYC well before Rand decides to cash in on her many hints to finally reveal his occupation. I did enjoy watching to see just what it took to sway Rearden to Galt’s point of view. And enough “set-ups” and “pay-offs” are created to establish suspense. However, Rand loves her ideas to the point of excess. At worst she is writing a diatribe. At best she rambles ad nauseam. (See Galt’s continuous stream of consciousness– 50 pages plus!).
Concerning her philosophy, Objectivism, I don’t mean to say her ideas are bunk. I don’t believe that. Long live capitalism. For personal application, the basic tenet of Randism is for a person to cherish individualism and pursue happiness as the highest goal. Good. Fine. No problem. Be productive, seek value in one’s work, and assume responsibility for one’s place and progress in life. Great. Why not? But the notion of Objectivism abhorring any form of altruism as evil seems like an excuse and misunderstanding of selflessness. This philosophical notion, personified in the character leaving NYC behind, strikes me as “spooky”.
I have taken an unofficial, unscientific, poll of what people think about “Atlas Shrugged”. In the first place, I think this book continues to be read because it is like a book that makes its way onto a Banned Book List. These kinds of books make people interested to find out for themselves “what all the fuss” is about. “Shrugged” seems to generate buzz for itself one generation after another in just this way. My crude polling data seems to say that a lot of people concerned with business, engineering, and money, (and those feeling a lack of appreciation for whatever) love the philosophy. And I admit I didn’t mind the discussion about money as a worthy (but not the only) motivation. For many of those who approach the novel–as a novel– opinions range from outright dismissal to mockery.
I had long planned to read this book; it has been on my “To Read” list since high school. Now, a year out of college, I gladly will cross “Atlas Shrugged” off the list. My secret was to keep plowing through the monolithic monologues and knowing just when I could skip down to a different part, certain that I wouldn’t miss anything I hadn’t read before.