Monday, May 2, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Readalong Post 3:

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Welcome to the third and final post for Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The first post was made on March 19, and the second post was up on April 8.

I am not sure how many people who began this monster have finished just yet. This is truly a daunting title and if you decide to read it, you need to go into it knowing that you will be constantly challenged by some aspect of it.

After my post on April 8, I set the book aside. I was getting a little angry with Rand on the few occasions I tried to pick it back up. But when last Sunday came around and I knew that I needed to finish the last 426 pages for this post, I picked the book back up and was completely lost. I had lost the grasp on the story. I went back a chapter and tried to pick up the story partway through. It didn't work. I went back another chapter. THAT didn't work. I went back to the beginning of the second part and tried to start there. And then, in a fit that can only be attributed to some unconscious need for self-harm, I restarted the book last Sunday, giving myself 6 days to finish the thing. I don't know what I was thinking, but I had to do it.

During the first read of the first 600+ pages, I found myself getting really angry with Rand. I was upset by the way she treated her readers, I was sick of hearing her philosophy shoved down my throat, and I was sick of the nagging voice in my head telling me to hate the book. When I restarted it, I told myself to ignore what I knew and hated about Rand and to just read the story. THAT is how I got through 1080 pages of rambles in less than a week.

It is obvious why there are two camps about this book. Those who love it, and those who feel like Rand is absolutely crazy. I can see both sides, and I can understand both sides now that I have read the thing 1 1/2 times. There is so much that I can discuss that I have to break it apart into the things I liked and the things I didn't like.

Let's start with what didn't work for me.

First, Rand was a woman who was full of contradictions. As a person, I don't like her. Some of the choices she made in her life, some of her beliefs, are so contrary to my own that it was only after I separated her from her book that I could stomach getting through it. Once I separated the person from the product, I was okay (I should point out that there is a whole school of criticism and theory that focuses on that technique).

Another huge problem for me was the dialogue. The characters never talk to each other. They give long speeches. And they drone on and on about the same things. The infamous John Galt speech near the very end of the book goes on for over 50 pages. I struggled through it on Saturday night. But I told myself that if I was going to read the other 1030 pages, I had to make it through the 50 pages of his speech. So I did. And it was torture. Imagine 50 pages of ONE CHARACTER rambling on...and on...and on. I kept flipping the pages hoping for a break, but none came.

There was also the issue of Dagny and her love triangle. I find it hard to believe, even in the world that Rand knew, that there would be only 1 successful woman in industry, and one woman worth fighting for on part of our three male leads (Francisco, Reardan, and John Galt). The fact that each of those men were attracted to her, and found her as a person they loved, was pretty unbelievable. I couldn't believe that both Reardan and Francisco were willing to let her go.

Obviously, there is also the issue of her philosophy and length. The book was her way of explaining her philosophy and it shows on every page. The book is WAY too long. Rand was in need of a sane editor who would tell her where to edit. John Galt's speech is a perfect example of something that needed to be cut down. 50 pages? Really?

I will say that once I began to ignore the shoving of her ideals down my throat, I could handle the story as a story. In that second read of the first 600 pages, I noticed more things that I liked.

So what worked?

First, I want to say that I can see why her ideas are interesting and appealing. For Rand, who pretty much escaped from the Soviet Union, I can see why she went this other direction-such an extremist viewpoint. I get it. And I get why certain individuals would gravitate towards it. And there are small pieces that I even like. Let me explain...

In the book, the big, high-powered industrialists gradually disappear, taking with them their minds. There is argument over what it more important-serving the need of the people at the cost of profit vs taking away the hard-earned ideas and progress made by those who worked for those advancements. When Hank Reardan tells his brother that he doesn't have a job for him because his brother hasn't earned the right to work (based on the fact that he was a freeloader during the course of the whole book), I got it. I believe that people need to work for their success. And if you prefer to loaf around and be lazy rather than work and earn your place, well, I don't really feel all that bad for you. If you have the ability to be productive, why sit around? Obviously Rand takes this to an extreme, but that core belief I agree with.

That is what makes me like Hank so much. He is a character driven by success. I think many would find him cold-hearted, but I don't. He is a man driven by his own success. And why should he give up the patent to his metal, the epitome of his own success?

I was also a huge fan of Dagny. She is ruthless and inspired by her work. She is the true definition of a workaholic, something that I can relate to (I am sure you have noticed that by now). She is driven to succeed, especially when the odds are against her. I find that admirable. She doesn't give up, even when others have, and she continually pushes forward.

And I will admit it, but the time I closed the book, I liked the premise. That someday things may go too far and that things will collapse. I suppose it depends on your political views, but I can understand Rand's view of the future.

This was an undertaking, and my copy of the book is beaten and bent. The spine is broken in multiple places (you should know that I NEVER break the spines on my books). I suppose the book's physical condition really shows how I battled my way through it. I am glad I read it (1 1/2 times), and I am glad that I can cross this monster off my list and set it aside. But I know, that no matter how I really feel about it-the fact that I really don't respect Ayn Rand as a person, even with such a grand scheme of a story-I will be thinking about this one for a long time. It is as heavy as the world on Atlas' shoulders, no matter how you feel about it.

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?"

I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?"

To shrug."

If you finished this as part of the readalong, make sure to pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. Then please leave a link to your post so I can link it here!


  1. Hey Allie!
    Wow, ATLAS SHRUGGED - the only reason I even finished this book is because I was in a lit class and the prof basically read it to us. But those gosh. Great point.
    Rand interesting person, to say the least. Contradictory is a good word to use to describe her.
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one! My favorite Rand book is ANTHEM, which I think is a little easier to read (even though the pronouns in there are so weird). Have you read that one?

  2. I agree with most of your points. I enjoyed the story and many of the characters, but the constant speeches were wearing on me. I feel like she didn't trust her readers to understand her point without spelling it out over and over.

    I Rand makes some valid points, but I think she takes it a little too far. I'm really glad I read it though.

    Rather than just post about part 3, I just did a review of the whole book.

  3. I can honestly say that I have no desire to read sounds painful, especially those speeches.

  4. I read once that the hammering speeches were a deliberate choice on Rand's part. She wanted this work to be uncompromising and aggressive. Even her stunted characters was a targeted choice. While I don't agree with all of her points (and there are even more of her personal opinions not in this book that I REALLY don't agree with), I definitely see truth in some of the broader/more general ideas.

  5. I would have to be paid ---real money to read this book. So I guess I fall in the "hate it" camp without having actually read the book. And I don't usually pre-judge books in that way. But Atlas Shrugged . . .