(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ayn Rand intended Atlas Shrugged as a more complete exposition of the principles and ideas espoused in her previous novel, The Fountainhead (1943). Both novels illustrate her philosophy of positive rational egoism, a morality based on self-interest rather than compassion for others. In Atlas Shrugged, she demonstrates the tremendous harm that could occur if compassion, rather than self-interest, became the ruling force of society.

The novel begins in a rich style, full of details of the characters’ actions and thoughts. Characters are clearly established in the opening sections. Soon, however, the novel degenerates into melodrama and speeches. The most obvious example is John Galt’s speech to the nation, which he delivers by somehow jamming all radio networks and preempting a speech by the president. Galt’s speech runs dozens of pages and is described as having taken three hours to deliver. In it, Galt states what is clearly Rand’s lecture on the virtues of selfishness and the immorality of compassion. The speech brings the story to a dead halt and serves no purpose other than didacticism. Throughout the book, characters appear willing to launch into philosophical debates, even at a slum diner.

The story is a morality play, with all characters drawn as clearly good or bad. Heroes take action and responsibility; they think. Villains shun responsibility and look to others to provide for them; they believe that things will be made right “somehow.” The...

(The entire section is 620 words.)