Ayn Rand 1905–1982
Russian-born American novelist, nonfiction writer, dramatist, scriptwriter, and editor.
Rand is chiefly remembered for her controversial novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), which promote her philosophy of "objectivism." This extreme form of individualism has been defined by Rand as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Rand came to the United States in 1926, having witnessed the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia. Each of her four novels is a celebration of the individual versus collective society. We the Living (1936) is viewed as a polemic against totalitarianism and its disregard of the individual. Anthem (1938) is a science fiction novelette of a future primitive society in which the word "I" is forbidden. Rand's point in this work is that the individualism which had built a complex technological civilization has been smothered by collectivism.
These first two novels are considered lesser efforts than The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In these novels, Rand dramatizes her philosophy of objectivism in lengthy works designed to glorify characters who fulfill her ideals. Howard Roark of The Fountainhead is an architectural genius who refuses to bend to bureaucratic pressure. John Galt, Rand's spokesperson in Atlas Shrugged, leads a strike of society's most effective and creative producers in an effort to collapse the collectivist social system of the present to prepare the way for a new society based on Rand's ideals. In the closing sentence of a long oration, Galt presents the credo of objectivists: "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."
Critical and reader response to Rand's work has been sharply divided, with much of the disagreement focused on her philosophy. Inherent in her concept of the ego as the moving force behind all creative human endeavors is an unwavering advocacy of self-centeredness and its concomitant opposition to the altruism so important to Christian ethics. While some critics have praised Rand for writing novels of ideas, calling her a thoughtful spokesperson for laissez-faire capitalism, many others have found her work too simplistic and didactic. The arguments about her ideas continue today, although her influence has lessened since the 1960s and earlier, when her writings had a strong cult following. After writing Atlas Shrugged, Rand devoted her time to lecturing about her philosophy and defending it in several collections of essays. She also edited the Objectivist Newsletter, later renamed The Ayn Rand Letter.
(See also CLC, Vol. 3 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed., Vol. 105 [obituary].)
["We the Living"] is slavishly warped to the dictates of propaganda. Actually Miss Rand can command a good deal of narrative skill, and her novel moves with alacrity and vigor upon occasion. It is only the blind fervor with which she has dedicated herself to the annihilation of the Soviet Union that has led her to blunder into palpable improbabilities. We refer strictly to artistic probability; we cannot here hold in question the facts upon which Miss Rand's political attitude is based.
To the unwary "We the Living" will possess the semblance of impartiality, for it is the story of a girl who was loved by two men—by Leo, an aristocrat, and by Andrei, a Communist. But the dice are heavily loaded in the favor of Leo from the beginning, for Kira, the girl, is the daughter of a formerly wealthy factory owner; aside from Leo's greater physical attractiveness, her background has imbued her whole being...
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with a yearning for the gentility and individuality which he represents. Andrei, on the other hand, is a cog in the vast machinery of Soviet bureaucracy…. Kira is deeply attracted by him personally, but their political differences are too great ever to allow them peace….
Miss Rand spares no detail in her descriptions of diet, shelter, and the constant G. P. U. surveillance accorded former members of the upper classes. Nevertheless it is doubtful whether Kira would ever have turned to Andrei had not Leo been stricken with tuberculosis. In order to get Leo admitted to Crimean hospitals ordinarily open only to trade union members, Kira offers Andrei her body.
Leo is saved, but only at the cost of deception and intrigue by Kira. He returns in a cynical mood and plunges into forbidden speculation in foodstuffs, which he obtains by corrupting officials of the food trust. He is detected, however, and once more the good offices of Andrei are invoked. Andrei succeeds in clearing Leo only at the cost of his own party membership and eventually his suicide…. His sacrifice is in vain. Leo leaves Kira for another woman (as his individualism apparently entitles him to do) and we last see Kira making an inevitably fatal attempt to escape across the Latvian border from that Russia which had denied to her everything of meaning in life.
Harold Strauss, "Soviet Triangle," in The New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1936, p. 7.
[Ayn Rand] has written a novel ["We the Living"] to make it finally plain that the Soviet state, as far as she has been able to discover, is not only a farce on the face of it but is likewise fostering a race of "crippled, creeping, crawling, broken monstrosities." Miss Rand is determined that her readers shall have nothing less than the whole truth. Kira Argounova, her protagonist, speaks for her on at least one occasion: "For one insane second Kira wondered if she could tear through the crowd, rush up to that woman [a visiting English trade-union delegate] and yell to her, to England's workers, to the world, the truth that they were seeking." We are left to assume that "We the Living" is the answer. (p. 523)
From the very outset [Kira's] attitude toward the experiment in which she shares is one of contempt and ridicule; she "loathes their ideals but admires their methods"—which would conceivably make her a mystic. Not many chapters on, she offers herself to one Leo Kovalensky, a total stranger, a few moments after first laying eyes on him, because she "liked his face"; which, one is left to ponder, might in some way account for her "individualism." The remainder of the novel shuttles about aimlessly from bedroom to rostrum, with Kira playing the role of a patient Griselda to Leo's Don Juan. Much love-making occurs in the interim, and considerable speech-making, and one is bound to confess that the former is managed to vastly greater effect. Leo in due course of time is revealed in his true colors as a counter-revolutionary, a cad, and a gigolo; Kira dies in a snowdrift while attempting to cross the border; and, presumably, the myth of a communist state explodes to the sound of low, mocking laughter.
It is not the intention of this reviewer to quarrel with Miss Rand's politics except to point out in passing that her excessive theatricality invites suspicion. It may be, as we are asked to believe, that petty officials in Soviet Russia ride to the opera in foreign limousines while the worker goes wheatless and meatless; similarly it may be true that consumptives are denied asylum solely for the reason that they are not affiliated party members. Yet it must be said that if Miss Rand has indeed presented us with the facts, she has given us no reason to respect Kira as her spokesman. (pp. 523-24)
Ben Belitt, "The Red and the White," in The Nation, Vol. CXLII, No. 3964, April 22, 1936, pp. 522-24.∗
One often wishes that writers would yield a little more to their satirical inclinations, and that goes for Miss Ayn Rand. From internal evidence one would guess her to be a middle-class White or Whitish Russian living in exile in America, and We the Living (a title of no particular significance) is so frankly counter-revolutionary that it ought to annoy readers of Red or Reddish sympathies. Writing, often graphically, of life in Leningrad in the 'twenties she seems anxious to show the corruption of those newly raised to positions of authority…. Miss Rand's account of the social upset following the Revolution is detailed and likely enough; she makes a certain amount of rather bitter fun of the workings of the new bureaucracy and of the lapses of the new orthodox into such unorthodoxies as private trading. But towards Kira, who stands for individualism and those little things like scent and lipsticks which Mean So Much to a woman, Miss Rand is altogether too partial. If Kira had played the game with nice Red Andrei instead of nasty White Leo … we might have liked her better.
William Plomer, in a review of "We the Living," in The Spectator, Vol. 158, No. 5664, January 15, 1937, p. 98.
Ayn Rand is a writer of great power. She has a subtle and ingenious mind and the capacity of writing brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly. "The Fountainhead" … is a long but absorbing story of man's enduring battle with evil. It has drama …; it has poetry, sometimes a bit too lush; and it has a challenging conception. Good novels of ideas are rare at any time. This is the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I can recall.
The background is architecture, a field relatively new to the fiction writer, and admirably adapted to the presentation of "the creator" and "the secondhander." Howard Roark is the creator, a tough guy who works cheerfully in the quarries if he is not allowed to build in his own way…. Against him is the charming lad who went to school with him and won all the prizes. Peter Keating continues to win all the prizes, to use his good looks, his personality and his lack of morals to make a rapid and fraudulent success. Against him, too, is Dominque Francon, because she loves him and fears and hates the corrupting, engulfing world.
Above all, Mr. Ellsworth Toohey … is Roark's enemy. Ellsworth Toohey is a brilliant personification of a modern devil. Aiming at a society that shall be "an average drawn upon zeros," he knows exactly why he corrupts Peter Keating and explains his methods to the ruined and desolate young man in a passage that is a pyrotechnical display of the fascist mind at its best and its worst: the use of the ideal of altruism to destroy personal integrity, the use of humor and tolerance to destroy all standards, the use of sacrifice to enslave. (p. 7)
You will not be able to read the masterful work without … thinking through some of the basic concepts of our times. Miss Rand has taken her stand against collectivism, "the rule of the second-hander, the ancient monster" which has brought men "to a level of intellectual indecency never equaled on earth." She has written a hymn in praise of the individual and has said things worth saying in these days. Whether her antithesis between altruism and selfishness is logically correct or not, she has written a powerful indictment.
All her characters are amazingly literate: they all speak with her voice, expressing in dynamic fashion the counterpoint of her argument. She uses mockery, irony, savagery, to portray her second-raters. Her characters are romanticized, larger than life as representations of good and evil. But nothing she has to say is said in a second-rate fashion. (pp. 7, 18)
Lorine Pruette "Battle against Evil," in The New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1943, pp. 7, 18.
["The Fountainhead"] tells of exciting events and colorful characters. It is daring, not offensive. Its style would satisfy the most exacting professor, yet it has the vim and snap of the best journalese. It is frankly intellectual, and fearlessly discusses life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it never sinks to the highbrow….
The central character is an architect, or, if you prefer, it is Architecture. But the novel is not a technical study in fictional form…. The real subject—a boldly general one—is The Genius, or Superman, vs. the Rabble of "Second-handers."
The characters are hard to visualize, but they talk in human words: indeed, the presentation, all the way through, displays amazing competence. The heroes move dramatically, with a swift, fantastic logic. They are strangely transparent; what we see under their skin is neither sawdust nor flesh and bone: it is an elementary formula, as in the old morality plays. Ayn Rand believes that a man, like a building, embodies one central idea, one single truth, one single purpose. Nature fails to agree with the beautiful simplicity of this conception….
Ayn Rand is not to blame if her characters are not human beings. She is discussing ideas: a man of flesh and blood is no argument, because he is complex and unique. It might be better then to deal frankly with abstractions, and call the hero Art rather than Roark. But the result would be a treatise instead of a novel, and there is no market for treatises.
So the thesis is set forth in the personal relations of [the] principal characters, who ultimately realize what they represent and in the course of the action must express their motives and meaning in explicit terms. As Roark is the positive element, the others are attracted to him in spite of themselves. Paradoxically, all of them wish to destroy him….
The fundamental problem is that of the individual; but it gets entangled with the totally different problem of the genius. The genius, a Messiah bringing a new revelation, refuses to submit, to conform, to co-operate. He bids for absolute power: he must rule or be broken….
All this carried me back to my vanished youth. Nietzscheism was fresh and joyous in those days, with its violent denunciation of slave morality, its extolling of ruthlessness, its paeans to the superman. Ayn Rand's argument justifies [Friedrich Wilhelm] Nietzsche. Howard Roark's thought soars and swoops bewilderingly from Nietzsche through [Herbert] Spencer to Albert Jay Nock and Mr. [Herbert] Hoover. "Now, observe the results of a society built on the principle of individualism. This, our country. The noblest in the history of men. The country of greatest achievement, greatest prosperity, greatest freedom." As the whole book is a satire on American civilization, this sudden outburst of orthodox pride comes as a shock. I feel the same pride in American achievement. But I have a different explanation to offer: the Jeffersonian conception of equality. It is not because of the tyranny of a few supermen that America has become great, but through opportunity offered to all men, and the willing co-operation of all men….
The book haughtily denounces the herd—and every member of the herd secretly singles himself out as a potential superman. It scorns the Profit Motive, and also praises American Prosperity. It is the acme of sophistication, and derides Greenwich village. As Brahma is the slayer and the slain, so is Ayn Rand the hare and the hounds….
It is manifestly unsafe to judge an author by a single book. If "The Fountainhead" is a first step, something to be transcended, it is a magnificent promise. If it is a mature achievement, with which the author is fully satisfied, it is … marvelously clever. I am eager to give Ayn Rand the full benefit of the doubt.
Albert Guerard, "Novel on Architectural Genius," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, May 30, 1943, p. 2.
["Atlas Shrugged"] is a work of fiction, a piece of inspired and thoroughly exciting story-telling that drags only in some of the lengthier speeches which tend to recapitulate points already established by the action. But it is so much more than a mere novel….
"Atlas Shrugged" will satisfy many readers on many separate planes of satisfaction. It has its Buck Rogers flavor—and pace—for those who delight in science fiction. It can be taken as a philosophical detective story…. It can be read as a Socratic dialogue on ethics, or as a profound political parable. Or, as Miss Rand would herself prefer, it can be accepted as a poetic celebration of man as an heroic being, "with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
It is as a political parable that "Atlas Shrugged" has its most immediate application…. Miss Rand believes that whenever a goverment interferes with men in their voluntary pursuit of productive or creative activity it puts a drag upon the "world's motor." (The nature of that motor—the ego, the "I will it," of the individual—Miss Rand has already endeavored to explain in her best-seller of a decade ago, "The Fountainhead.") The drag upon the motor necessarily becomes worse with every increase in the activity of what modern political scientists have misnamed the "positive State." And the lesson, in the parable of "Atlas Shrugged," is that the motor must stop completely when private property relations disappear and men are bound to work under compulsion for one employer, the government.
To enforce her parable, Miss Rand divides humanity into two classes of people, the looters and the non-looters. But her looters are not the "robber barons" of old, they are the modern politicians—and those who keep them in office in order to "pressure" them into seizing and redistributing the product of such capital and labor as remain uncoerced. The fact that men can vote their own expropriation, their own chains, is immaterial: Miss Rand's point is that any coercion of producers winds up in the same place whether it is imposed by a dictator or by a vote of the majority. The world cannot survive administration by power hunters and place holders in league with the incompetent. (p. 1)
[What] would happen if the creative and productive people of the world were to go on strike? In "Atlas Shrugged" a farseeing inventor, John Galt, does just that…. A messiah in spite of himself, John Galt undertakes a crusade to persuade all the other creative individuals of his time and country to lay down their tools—which happen to be their brains…. [Eventually] all of the creative individuals of the country quit and go into hiding. The "looters" and their incompetent camp followers are left with everything—and of course, the "everything" soon turns out to be nothing. (pp. 1, 9)
This is the skeleton of a vibrant and powerful novel of ideas which happens to have all the qualities of a thunderously successful melodrama. The characters are not of this world—they are intensified and purified beyond human measure for the purpose of allegory. Nevertheless, they are entirely consistent with Miss Rand's purpose, which is to combine first-rate pedagogy with first-rate entertainment. They carry conviction as [Alfred] Tennyson's Sir Galahad or Elaine the Lily Maid carried conviction, which is sufficent for the purposes of the fable.
The only place where Miss Rand's spell ceases to hold the reader is when the inventor, John Galt, offers his concept of ethics. It is wrong, he says, to "help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the ground of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need, as a claim." This is a pagan, not a Christian, view of charity. To the Christian, every man, no matter how lost he may seem, is potentially redeemable. The note of ethical hardness may very possibly repel the very reader who has the most need of Miss Rand's political and social message—which is that charity, whether Christian or pagan, must be voluntary if the gift is not to hurt both giver and receiver alike. To be charitable with other people's substance which is seized at the point of the politican's gun is to poison the very well-springs of goodness. Miss Rand should have left it at that without trying to rewrite the Sermon on the Mount. (p. 9)
John Chamberlain, "Ayn Rand's Political Parable and Thundering Melodrama," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, October 6, 1957, pp. 1, 9.
In a statement published as a postscript to "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand has defined her philosophy, "in essence," as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
"Atlas Shrugged" is [a] … polemic inadequately disguised as a novel and designed to dramatize these views. The result is an astonishing mixture of anti-Communist manifesto, superman, and the lush lady novelist Ethel M. Dell—a novel that does its own purpose a disservice through caricature and over-simplification.
Miss Rand postulates an America in a time of waning strength and production. The government is being delivered into the hands of the "looters," despicable men whose plundering is rationalized by mouthing the concept that the fruits of the strong belong to the weak: from every man according to his ability, to every man according to his need….
As the looters perpetrate increasingly repressive and senseless measures on the economy, chaos grows and the able men, frustrated at every turn, take to deserting their jobs and disappearing. Their establishment of a Shangri-la in the Colorado mountains is a neat but unconvincing aspect of a story that already has too little contact with reality.
For one tries in vain to project the world of "Atlas Shrugged" from the familiar world of contemporary America. There is no connecting link. On what grounds, for example, does Miss Rand postulate a failing economy?—the American economy today is booming. She does not say.
To be sure, her two types are familiar minorities at either end of the political scale, neither one of them as important as the great middle ground between. American political history is the history of struggle between individualism and the collective good, yet Miss Rand would, at the stroke of her wand, eliminate the whole area of working compromise, make an absolute of either extreme, and pit them against each other. It takes the heart out of her story.
Miss Rand properly condemns the whining mentality which demands handouts as its natural right. But she minimizes the philanthropv that is not a gesture of moral weakness but of strength; and she completely ignores the fact that brilliant intelligence and achievement may not always be accompanied by conscience, that the figures of the past whom she most admires have been called by others—and with reason—robber barons….
Had Rearden and the other men of integrity in the book exercised their political responsibilities with the devotion which they gave to their jobs, whether industry, philosophy, or science, the looters would not have taken over. This is the drama that Miss Rand's melodramatic fabrications lack.
Ruth Chapin Blackman, "Controversial Books by Ayn Rand and Caitlin Thomas: 'Atlas Shrugged'," in The Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 1957, p. 13.
["Atlas Shrugged"] comes among us as a demonstrative act rather than as a literary work. Its size seems an expression of the author's determination to crush the enemies of truth—her truth, of course—as a battering ram demolishes the walls of a hostile city. Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is an earnest one, belligerent and unremitting in its earnestness. It howls in the reader's ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page. It has only two moods, the melodramatic and the didactic, and in both it knows no bounds. (p. 4)
It would be pointless to discuss either the logic or the feasibility of the program Miss Rand so vehemently puts forth. What is important is the spirit in which the book is written. Like "The Fountainhead," "Atlas Shrugged" is a defense of and a tribute to the superior individual, who is, in Miss Rand's view, superior in every way—in body as well as mind and especially in his capacity for life. Its spirit, regardless of the specific doctrines it preaches, is calculated to appeal to those who feel that life could and should have more meaning than they have experienced.
Yet, loudly as Miss Rand proclaims her love of life, it seems clear that the book is written out of hate. (p. 5)
Granville Hicks "A Parable of Buried Talents," in The New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1957, pp. 4-5.
["Atlas Shrugged"] is the equivalent of a fifteenth-century morality play. Everyman, personified by Dagny Taggert, the strong-minded lady Operating Vice President of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, and by her lover, Hank Rearden, the steel tycoon, struggles against the forces of evil as represented by the bureaucrats, the scientists who sell their minds to the bureaucrats, and the craven businessmen who string along for fear of honest competition. What Hank and Dagny do not realize is that Evil seeks to destroy them precisely because they are strong and fearless. To outwit Evil the half-legendary hero John Galt cooks up an apocalyptic conspiracy, a "strike of the men of the mind." Hank and Dagny are saved, but not until by their own will they accept salvation.
The author challenges not only the concept of the welfare state but the whole Christian ethic of concern by the strong for the weak—challenges it, what's more, on the score of immorality and its tendency to sap the strong and corrode the human urge toward freedom. For readers willing to go the distance, to re-examine their own convictions, and to put up with the incidental tripe, "Atlas Shrugged" may well be worth wading through. There is no denying that it leaves a powerful, disturbing impression.
But as the shopwindow mannequin exists to display the mink stole, so the stylized vice-and-virtue characters of "Atlas Shrugged" serve as dummies on which to drape the author's ideas….
Miss Rand also throws away her considerable gifts for writing by fixing her reader with a glittering eye and remorselessly impressing upon him her convictions. These range from a hatred of Robin Hood as "the most immoral and the most contemptible" of all human symbols to a belief in a kind of chrome-plated laissez faire. Much of it is persuasive. It is good to be reminded that achievement is more valuable than "adjustment"; that men have free will and rational minds; that they don't have to be ciphers or slatterns…. But Miss Rand is undone by her prolixity and her incontinence. She sets up one of the finest assortments of straw men ever demolished in print, and she cannot refrain from making her points over and over….
The book is shot through with hatred. Miss Rand hates moralists and mystics and income taxes and the people who think that billboards deface scenery. She hates professors, "the soft, safe assassins of college classrooms," and evangelists who preach love and self-sacrifice. She hates Communism and (though she does not name it) Christianity…. She particularly hates altruists and bureaucrats; in fact, she envisions nothing less than the Armageddon of businessman and bureaucrat. (Interestingly enough her solution for the country's problems, pending Armageddon, is just such a solution as a nineteenth-century altruist would have doted on: a small, controlled utopia.) Altogether this is a strange, overwrought book. Take away the philosophical furbelows and what have you got? Something of a mystery, something of a thriller, but basically a great big non-stop day-dream….
Helen Beal Woodward, "Non-Stop Daydream," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XL, No. 41, October 21, 1957, p. 25.
Purporting to be a novel, Atlas Shrugged is a cumbersome, lumbering vehicle in which characterization, plot and reality are subordinated to the author's expression of a personal philosophy. The book is a point of view stated and restated so often that even one who agreed with it would tire long before the book was completed.
Ayn Rand, whose last novel, The Fountainhead, was widely read fourteen years ago and was greeted with mixed reception from the critics, envisages a not-too-distant future in which society crumbles under the impact of the welfare state. Miss Rand, whose private obsession is private enterprise, has woven a story around this supposed disintegration. Several of her heroes, believing the society in which they live is a burden to them, systematically set out to help it destroy itself, thereby aiding the villains of the piece who by their insistence on government controls of business and welfare legislation are destroying it anyway. (pp. 155-56)
Miss Rand interrupts her story constantly to make speeches. (There is one which continues for sixty pages.) However, if one can stomach the speeches, there is a certain fascination in watching the author gleefully destroy the world. It is, to be sure, a morbid fascination, because whatever power Miss Rand has as a writer is expressed in an immense hostility, a real malevolence that takes joy in the sight of destruction.
Miss Rand's book is hardly acceptable as a novel and her premise proceeds from hate. She deplores the idea of Original Sin and considers "pity" immoral. Nowhere does she use the word "compassion." She envisages reward completely on the basis of merit, and this merit is judged only by intelligence and ability…. It is dispiriting to think of an outpouring of hate on this scale on any audience. (p. 156)
Patricia Donegan, "A Point of View, in Commonweal, Vol. LXVII, No. 6, November 8, 1957, pp. 155-56.
[The following essay was originally published in Esquire, July, 1961.]
Ayn Rand is a rhetorician who writes novels I have never been able to read. (p. 261)
This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self-interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the "freedom is slavery" sort…. She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the welfare state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you're dumb or incompetent that's your lookout.
She is fighting two battles. The first is against the idea of the state's being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other's money openly. She is in legitimate company here. But it is Miss Rand's second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on [Karl] Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and of philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon "I" is difficult to contain, but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. The dictionary definition of "moral" is "concerned with the distinction between right and wrong" as in "moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform." Though Miss Rand's grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that of make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case it was through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Ayn Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all. (pp. 262-64)
Gore Vidal, "Two Immoralists: Orville Prescott and Ayn Rand," in his Rocking the Boat, Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1963, pp. 257-64.∗
The projection of "things as they might be and ought to be" names the essence of Ayn Rand's concept of literature. In the wave of Naturalism that has engulfed the literature of the twentieth century, her novels are an outstanding exception. They are at once a continuation of the Romantic tradition and a significant departure from the mainstream of that tradition: she is a Romantic Realist. "Romantic"—because her work is concerned with values, with the essential, the abstract, the universal in human life, and with the projection of man as a heroic being. "Realist"—because the values she selects pertain to this earth and to man's actual nature, and because the issues with which she deals are the crucial and fundamental ones of our age. Her novels do not represent a flight into mystical fantasy or the historical past or into concerns that have little if any bearing on man's actual existence. Her heroes are not knights, gladiators or adventurers in some impossible kingdom, but engineers, scientists, industrialists, men who belong on earth, men who function in modern society. As a philosopher, she has brought ethics into the context of reason, reality and man's life on earth; as a novelist, she has brought the dramatic, the exciting, the heroic, the stylized into the same context.
Just as in philosophy she rejects every version of the mystics' soul-body dichotomy: theory versus practice, thought versus action, morality versus happiness—so in literature she rejects the expression of this same dichotomy: the belief that a profound novel cannot be entertaining, and that an entertaining novel cannot be profound, that a serious, philosophical novel cannot have a dramatic plot, and that a dramatic plot-novel cannot possibly be serious or philosophical.
Atlas Shrugged—the greatest of her novels—is an action story on a grand scale, but it is a consciously philosophical action story, just as its heroes are consciously philosophical men of action. To those who subscribe to the soul-body dichotomy in literature. Atlas Shrugged is a mystifying anomaly that defies classification by conventional standards. It moves effortlessly and ingeniously from economics to epistemology to morality to metaphysics to psychology to the theory of sex, on the one hand—and, on the other, it has a chapter that ends with the heroine hurtling toward the earth in an airplane with a dead motor, it has playboy crusader who blows up a multi-billion-dollar industry, a philosopher-turned-pirate who attacks government relief ships, and a climax that involves the rescue of the hero from a torture chamber. Notwithstanding the austere solemnity of its abstract theme, her novel—as a work of art—projects the laughing, extravagantly imaginative virtuosity of a mind who has never heard that "one is not supposed" to combine such elements as these in a single book. (pp. 88-9)
[Each of Rand's four novels] has a major philosophical theme. Yet they are not "propaganda novels." The primary purpose for which these books were written was not the philosophical conversion of their readers. The primary purpose was to project and make real the characters who are the books' heroes. This is the motive that unites the artist and the moralist. The desire to project the ideal man, led to the writing of novels. The necessity of defining the premises that make an ideal man possible, led to the formulating of the philosophical content of those novels. (p. 89)
In the novels of Ayn Rand, the sense of life projected is conscious, deliberate, explicit and philosophically implemented. It is as unique and unprecedented in literature as the premises from which it proceeds. It is a sense of life untouched by tragedy, untouched by any implication of metaphysical catastrophe or doom. Its essence is an unclouded and exaltedly benevolent view of existence, the sense of a universe in which man belongs, a universe in which triumph, enjoyment and fulfillment are possible—although not guaranteed—to man, and are to be achieved by the efficacy of his own effort.
No matter how terrible their struggle, no matter how difficult the obstacles they encounter, the basic sense of life of Ayn Rand's heroes—as of the novels—is indestructibly affirmative and triumphant. Whether the characters achieve victory or, as in We the Living, suffer defeat, they do not regard pain and disaster as the normal, as the inevitable, but always as the abnormal, the exceptional, the unnatural.
Ayn Rand shares with the Romantic novelists of the nineteenth century the view of man as a being of free will, a being who is moved and whose course is determined, not by fate or the gods or the irresistible power of "tragic flaws," but by the values he has chosen. (pp. 92-3)
Romanticism was a literary school whose authors discarded the role of transcriber and assumed the role of creator. For the first time in literary history, a sharp line was drawn between fiction and journalism, between artistic creation and historical reporting. The Romantic novelists did not make it their goal to record that which had happened, but to project that which ought to happen. They did not take the things man had done as the given, as the unalterable material of existence, like facts of physical nature, but undertook to project the things that men should choose to do. (p. 94)
Naturalism—the literary counter-revolution against Romanticism—was a regression to a pre-Romantic view of man, to a view lower than that against which the Romanticists had rebelled. It was Naturalism that reintroduced the "fate" motif into literature, and once more presented man as the helpless plaything of irresistible forces. (p. 95)
Today, the Romantic method of writing has been all but forgotten. Many commentators speak as if it were an axiom that all fiction is to be judged by the canons of Naturalism, as if no other school had ever existed. In their view—and by their sense of life—to project man as a being moved by his chosen values, and to show him at his heroic potential, is "unrealistic." Only the helpless, the passive, the sordid, the depraved are "real."
If Romanticism was defeated by the fact that its values were removed from this world, the alternative offered by Naturalism was to remove values from literature. The result today is an esthetic vacuum, left by the historical implication that men's only choice is between artistic projections of near-fantasy—or Sunday supplement exposés, gossip columns and psychological case-histories parading as novels.
It is against the background of the despair, the exhausted cynicism and the unremitting drabness that have settled over contemporary literature, that the novels of Ayn Rand have appeared.
Ayn Rand has brought values back to literature—and back to this earth. She has chosen to write about the most fundamental and urgent issues of our age, and to use them as the material of Romantic art. In her novels, the ruling values are applicable to reality, they can be practiced, they can serve as man's guide to success and happiness. As a result, her heroes predominantly win their battles, they achieve their goals, they succeed practically and in their own lives. Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged do not end with heroic death, but with heroic victory. (p. 97)
[Ayn Rand] does not face man with the camera of a photographer as her tool, but with the chisel of a sculptor. Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, Francisco d'Anconia and John Galt are not statistical composites of men "as they are." They are projections of man as he might be and ought to be; they are projections of the human potential. (p. 98)
Whether she is presenting a Howard Roark or a Peter Keating, a John Galt or a Wesley Mouch, the principle of characterization is the same: to present a character by means of essentials, that is, to focus on the actions and attributes which reflect the character's basic values and premises—the values and premises that motivate him and direct his crucial choices. A successful characterization is one which makes a man distinguishable from all other men, and makes the causes of his actions intelligible. To characterize by essentials is to focus on the universal—to omit the accidental, the irrelevant, the trivial, the contingent…. (pp. 98-9)
To write and to characterize by means of essentials requires that one know what is essential and what is derivative, what is a cause and what is a consequence. It is by identifying causes that one arrives at basic principles. No such understanding is required by the Naturalist method of characterization. (p. 101)
Once, after having delivered an address to members of the publishing profession, Ayn Rand was asked: "What are the three most important elements in a novel?" She answered: "Plot—plot—and plot." The most beautifully written novel that lacks a plot, she has remarked, is like a superbly outfitted automobile that lacks a motor.
Plot … is central and basic to the Romantic novel; it proceeds from the concept of man as a being of free will who must choose his values and struggle to achieve them…. Either a man achieves his values and goals or he is defeated; in a novel, the manner in which this issue is resolved constitutes the climax. Thus, plot is not, as the Naturalists have contended, an "artificial contrivance" that belies the actual facts of reality and the nature of human life. Plot is the abstraction of man's relation to existence. (pp. 105-06)
Purpose is the ruling principle in [Ayn Rand's] novels, in two basic respects. First, all the characters are motivated by their purposes, by the goals they are seeking to achieve, and the events of the novel dramatize the conflicts of these purposes. Second, the author is purposeful, that is, every event, every character and every adjective is selected by the standard of the logical requirements of the novel; nothing is accidental and nothing is included for reasons extrinsic to the needs of the plot and the theme. (p. 106)
In contradistinction to the typical philosophical novel, such as, for instance, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, the characters in Ayn Rand's books who hold opposing views do not merely sit on verandas or on mountain tops and debate or argue their theoretical convictions, while all action is suspended. Every idea, every issue and every intellectual conflict in these novels is dramatized—that is, presented in terms of action, in terms of the practical consequences to which it leads. (p. 107)
The ingenuity and artistry of Ayn Rand as a plot-writer lie in the nature of the situations she creates, in her sense of drama and conflict, and in her matchless integration of philosophy and action.
Consider the basic plot-situation in We the Living. In order to obtain money to send Leo Kovalensky, the man she loves, to a tuberculosis sanitarium, Kira Argounova becomes the mistress of Andrei Taganov, an idealistic communist. Neither man knows of Kira's relationship with the other; and both men hate each other; Leo is an aristocrat—Andrei, a member of the Soviet secret police.
Now, the situation of a woman forced to sleep with a man she does not love, in order to save the life of the man she does love, is not new…. The originality of Ayn Rand's treatment of the subject—from the point of view of plot—is in the way she intensifies the conflict and makes it more complex…. [In] We the Living, Andrei is not a villain; he is profoundly in love with Kira and believes that she is in love with him; he does not know of her love for Leo. And Kira does not despise him; increasingly she comes to respect him. At the start of their affair, she had acted in desperation, knowing this was her only chance to save Leo and knowing that Andrei had helped to establish the system that forced such an action upon her; but as their relationship progresses, as Andrei finds the first happiness he has ever known, he begins to understand the importance of an individual life—and begins to doubt the ideals for which he has fought. And thus the conflicts involved—and the suspense about what will happen when the two men find out about each other—are brought to the highest intensity. (pp. 108-09)
In presenting the evil of dictatorship, Ayn Rand does not focus primarily on the aspect of physical brutality and horror—on the concentration camps, the executions without trial, the firing squads and the torture chambers. These elements are present in We the Living only in the background. Had these horrors been the primary focus, the impact would be less profound—because violence and bloodshed necessarily suggest a state of emergency, of the temporary. Ayn Rand achieves a far more devastating indictment of dictatorship by focusing on the "normal" daily conditions of existence…. (p. 109)
Another crucial element contributing to the power of Ayn Rand's indictment of collectivism is the fact that she presents Andrei sympathetically; he is not the worst representative of the system, but the best—the most idealistic and sincere. And that is why—as the events of the novel demonstrate with inexorable logic—he is as inevitably doomed to destruction as Kira and Leo. It is his virtues that make his survival impossible. (p. 110)
One of the most impressive examples of Ayn Rand's power as a plot-writer is the climax of The Fountainhead. (p. 113)
Roark's dynamiting of Cortlandt, and the events to which this leads, integrate the conflicts of the leading characters into a final focus of violent intensity, maximizing the philosophical values and issues at stake. The climax involves each of these characters intimately and, in accordance with the logic of the basic course the characters have chosen, brings each of them to victory or defeat.
Philosophically, the climax dramatizes the central theme of the book: individualism versus collectivism—the rights of the individual versus the claims of the collective. It dramatizes the role of the creator in human society and the manner in which the morality of altruism victimizes him. It dramatizes the fact that human survival is made possible by the men who think and produce, not by those who imitate and borrow—by the creators, not the second-handers—by the Roarks, not the Keatings. (p. 116)
When one reads Ayn Rand's novels in the order in which they were written, one is struck by the enormous artistic and philosophical growth from novel to novel. All the basic elements of her literary method are present from the beginning in We the Living, as are, implicitly, the basic elements of her philosophy. But each work is a richer and fuller expression of those elements, a more accomplished implementation, in a startlingly new and different form.
Just as, within each novel, the climax sums up and dramatizes the meaning of all the preceding events, raised to the highest peak of emotional and intellectual intensity—so, as a total work, Atlas Shrugged is the artistic and philosophical climax of all of Ayn Rand's novels, bringing the full of her dramatic, stylistic and intellectual power to its most consummate expression.
Ayn Rand has proudly referred to Atlas Shrugged as a "stunt novel"—proudly, because she has made the word "stunt" applicable on so high a level. By the standard of sheer originality, the idea of a novel about the minds of the world going on strike is as magnificent a plot-theme as any that could be conceived. If Ayn Rand has scorned the Naturalists who write about the people and events next door, if she has declared that the purpose of art is to project, not the usual, but the unusual, not the boring and the conventional, but the exciting, the dramatic, the unexpected, the rationally desirable yet the astonishingly new—then she is, pre-eminently, a writer who practices what she preaches.
Atlas Shrugged is a mystery story, "not about the murder of a man's body, but about the murder—and rebirth—of man's spirit." The reader is presented with a series of events that, in the beginning, appear incomprehensible: the world seems to be moving toward destruction, in a manner no one can identify, and for reasons no one can understand. (pp. 118-19)
There are no "red herrings" in the story, no false clues. But the mystery is to be solved by philosophical detection—by identifying the philosophical implications of the evidence that is presented. When the reader is finally led to the solution, the meaning and inescapable necessity of all the things he has been shown seems, in retrospect, simple and self-evident.
It is epistemologically significant that Atlas Shrugged is written in the form of a mystery. This is consistent with the philosophy it propounds. The reader is not given arbitrary assertions to be taken on faith. He is given the facts and the evidence; his own mind is challenged to interpret that evidence; he is placed, in effect, in the position of the people in the novel, who observe the events around them, struggle to understand their cause and meaning, and are told the full truth only when they have seen sufficient evidence to form a reasoned judgment.
The most impressive feature of Atlas Shrugged is its integration. The novel presents the essentials of an entire philosophical system: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics (and psychology). It shows the interrelation of these subjects in business, in a man's attitude toward his work, in love, in family relationships, in the press, in the universities, in economics, in art, in foreign relations, in science, in government, in sex. It presents a unified and comprehensive view of man and of man's relationship to existence. If one were to consider the ideas alone, apart from the novel in which they appear, the integration of so complex a philosophical system would be an extraordinarily impressive achievement. But when one considers that all of these philosophical issues are dramatized through a logically connected series of events involving a whole society, the feat of integration is breathtaking.
If one were told that an author proposed to dramatize, in a novel, the importance of recognizing the ontological status of the law of identity—one could not be blamed for being skeptical. But it is of such startling dramatizations that the virtuosity of Atlas Shrugged is made. (pp. 119-20)
Tremendously complex in its structure, presenting the collapse of an entire society, the novel involves the lives, actions and goals of dozens of characters…. Yet every character, action and event has a dramatic and philosophical purpose, all are tied to the central situation and all are integrated with one another; nothing is superfluous, nothing is arbitrary and nothing is accidental; as the story moves forward, it projects, above all, the quality of the implacably, the irresistibly logical. (p. 121)
The climax of Atlas Shrugged is singularly typical of the spirit of the novel as a whole: the integration of the unexpected and the utterly logical—of that which starts by appearing shocking and ends by appearing self-evident. One reader has described Atlas Shrugged as having the quality of "cosmic humor." It is written from the perspective of a mind that has discarded the conventional categories, standards and frame of reference—and has looked at reality with a fresh glance. (p. 126)
No other climax could sum up so eloquently the thesis and the meaning of Atlas Shrugged. The men of ability have all gone on strike, the world is in ruins, and the government officials make a last grotesque effort to preserve their system: they torture Galt to force him to join them and save their system somehow. They order him to think. They command him to take control. Naked force—seeking to compel a mind to function. And then the ultimate absurdity of their position is thrown in the torturers' faces: they are using an electric machine to torture Galt, and its generator breaks down; the brute who is operating the machine does not know how to repair it; neither do the officials; Galt lifts his head and contemptuously tells them how to repair it.
The brute runs away in horror—at the realization that they need Galt's help even to torture him. The officials flee the cellar also—"the cellar where the living generator was left tied by the side of the dead one." (pp. 126-27)
There are persons to whom clarity and precision are the enemies of poetry and emotion; they equate the artistic with the fuzzy, the vague and the diffuse. Seeking in art the reflection and confirmation of their sense of life, they are psychologically and esthetically at home only with the blurred and the indeterminate: that which is sharply in focus, clashes with their own mental state. In such persons, Ayn Rand's literary style will invoke a feeling of disquietude and resentment; Ayn Rand's use of language is best characterized by a line concerning Dagny Taggart: "she had regarded language as a tool of honor, always to be used as if one were under oath—an oath of allegiance to reality and to respect for human beings." Because her writing is lucid, such persons will tell themselves that it is crude; because her writing conveys an unequivocal meaning, and does not suggest a "mobile" to be interpreted by the subjective whim of any reader, they will tell themselves that it lacks poetry; because her writing demands that they be conscious when they read it, they will tell themselves that it is not art.
But the specific trademark of her literary style is its power vividly to re-create sensory reality and inner psychological states, to induce the most intense emotions—and to accomplish this by means of the most calculated selection of words, images and events, giving to logic a poetry it had never had before, and to poetry a logic it had never had before. (p. 129)
In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has created more than a great novel. By any rational, objective literary standard—from the standpoint of plot-structure, suspense, drama, imaginativeness, characterization, evocative and communicative use of language, originality, scope of theme and subject, psychological profundity and philosophical richness—Atlas Shrugged is the climax of the novel form, carrying that form to unprecedented heights of intellectual and artistic power. (p. 140)
Just as in philosophy Ayn Rand has challenged the modern doctrines of neo-mysticism and epistemological agnosticism, so in literature she has challenged the view of man as an impotent zombie without intellect, efficacy or self-esteem. Just as she has opposed the fashionable philosophical dogmas of fatalism, determinism and man's metaphysical passivity, so she has opposed the fashionable literary projections of man as a stuporous puppet manipulated by instinct and socio-economic status. Just as she has rejected the mystics' theories of Original Sin, of man's depravity and the misery of life on earth, so she has rejected the presentations of unfocused, whim-worshipping neurotics staggering along a trail of hysterical destruction to the abyss of whimpering defeat. Just as she has rescued philosophy from the cult of the anti-mind and the anti-man, so she has rescued literature from the cult of the anti-novel and the anti-hero. As an artist, she has brought men a new sense of life. As a philosopher, she has brought them the intellectual implementation of that sense of life: she has shown what it depends upon and how it is to be earned.
When one considers the quality of enraptured idealism that dominates her work, and the affirmative view of the human potential that she projects, the most morally corrupt of the attacks leveled against her—and the most psychologically revealing—is the assertion that she is "motivated by a hatred of humanity."
It is culturally significant that writers who present dope addicts and psychopaths as their image of human nature, are not accused of "hatred for humanity"—but a writer who presents men of integrity and genius as her image of human nature, is.
In Ayn Rand's novels, the heroes, the men of outstanding moral character and intellectual ability, are exalted; the men of conscientious honesty and average ability are treated with respect and sympathy—a far more profound respect and sympathy, it is worth adding, than they have ever been accorded in any "humanitarian" novel. There is only one class of men who receive moral condemnation: the men who demand any form of the unearned, in matter or in spirit; who propose to treat other men as sacrificial animals; who claim the right to rule others by physical force. Is it her implacable sense of justice—her loyalty to those who are not evil—her concern for the morally innocent and her contempt for the morally guilty—that makes Ayn Rand a "hater of humanity?" If those who charge Ayn Rand with "hatred," feeling themselves to be its object, choose to identify and classify themselves with the men she condemns—doubtless they know best. But then it is not Ayn Rand—or humanity—whom they have damned. (pp. 141-42)
The most tragic victims of the man-degrading nature of contemporary literature are the young. They have watched the progression from the boredom of conventional Naturalism to the horror of nightmare Symbolism—the progression from stories about the folks next door to stories about the dipsomaniac next door, the crippled dwarf next door, the axe-murderer next door, the psychotic next door. This, they are now informed, is what life is "really" like.
In projecting the artist's view of man's metaphysical relationship to existence, art explicitly or implicitly holds up to man the value-goals of life: it shows him what is possible and what is worth striving for. It can tell him that he is doomed and that nothing is worth striving for—or it can show him the life of a Howard Roark or a John Galt. It is particularly when one is young, when one is still forming one's soul, that one desperately needs—as example, as inspiration, as fuel, as antidote to the sight of the world around one—the vision of life as it might and ought to be, the vision of heroes fighting for values worth achieving in a universe where achievement is possible. It is not descriptions of the people next door that a young person requires, but an escape from the people next door—to a wider view of the human potentiality. This is what the young have found in the novels of Ayn Rand—and that is the key to the enormous popularity of her novels. (pp. 143-44)
Nathaniel Branden, in his Who Is Ayn Rand?: An Analysis of the Novels of Ayn Rand, Random House, 1962, 239 p.
Miss Rand is a profoundly poor writer. To say that her plots are absurdly tendentious, her characters no more than wooden puppets, and her diction utterly without grace or beauty (all of which is quite true) is to give no real idea of the quality of her novels. They are completely bad, from conception to expression.
All her writing might quite properly be called fantastic. It is not simply that two of her four novels deal with the future,… but rather an atmosphere common to all which is so charged with unreality that it reminds us of nothing quite so much as the dream world of a child….
[Her] opinion of contemporary fiction is so low … that she clearly feels herself uninfluenced by it. And quite rightly, too. Her own writing seems totally free of any realization of the terrifying complexity of the individual soul and the world in which it exists. Such realization, when truly achieved, has rendered many of our finest writers all but mute. Where others falter, more or less intimidated by what they perceive in and around them, Miss Rand forges ahead, bursting with rhetoric and brimming with assurance. To read Ayn Rand and compare her with even the better American writers is to be rather painfully reminded of [William Butler] Yeats's description of our predicament where: "The best lack of conviction while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." (p. 122)
My point here is that the literary quality of her work can be discussed intelligently and in about the same way that we might any other writer's—but only until we open a book of hers and begin to read…. Apart from the obvious and dreary sameness of the language in which [she describes three of her heroes] … (her prose strikes as precarious balance between fake-biblical and Faith Baldwin), there is an almost identical similarity in the conception of these three. Each of them—Howard Roark of The Fountainhead, Leo Kovalensky of We the Living, and John Galt in Atlas Shrugged—is idealized and exalted to the point where he simply does not exist on a recognizably human level.
What she has created are fantasy men, just the sort she dreamed of as a twelve-year-old, men with qualities and abilities no real man could ever possess. Their function in the Rand cosmos is to provide suitably fantastic solutions to [the] crucial and fundamental issues of our age mentioned by Mr. Branden [see essay above]. Such simplicity and forthrightness as Miss Rand's Objectivist heroes show does, of course, have a certain appeal, but it is an appeal to the ignorant, to those who may not yet have learned, or who may be unwilling to recognize, the complexity of life.
No less a product of her childhood fantasies than the heroes she created, her philosophy seeks to remove all limits and checks which may be put upon the exceptional individual by society and government. As presented in her novels Objectivism seems to be a sort of Nietzscheism-gone-rabid. Her heroes struggle mightily against every sort of restraint—morality, public opinion, the law. Whatever impedes them in their drive toward self-realization must be swept aside…. They will, Miss Rand makes it clear, stop at nothing to have their way. Their motto is the oath administered by Galt to all his followers: "I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Just how much freedom does Ayn Rand seek for her Objectivist heroes? What may look like a moral question is just as much a political and economic one, for, as it happens, most of her heroes are businessmen of one kind or another. And the freedom she urges—or rather, demands—for them she tends to equate with the freedom to earn…. [We] see that in spite of her own contempt for religion and all things "mystical," she herself regards Objectivism as a sort of religion of finance. And this faith that she expounds with such missionary zeal, the one that has lately attracted so many converts, is really nothing more than a religion for the godless. Far from frightening adherents away, it is because of its religious quality in particular that Objectivism has had so wide an appeal. (pp. 122-24)
Ayn Rand makes a very broad and very effective appeal. What she sets before [her followers] is a religion of self-love and self-advancement. It is mystique which may ultimately prove more attractive than that tired old Norse paganism revived by Paul Joseph Goebbels.
Ayn Rand has already been called a "New Messiah"…, but the role of propagandist and evangelist in which she has cast herself seems less that of Messiah than of a John the Baptist. The woman keeps howling and bleating for One to Come. God forbid that she should find her Promised One. (p. 124)
Bruce Cook, "Ayn Rand: A Voice in the Wilderness," in Catholic World, Vol. 201, No. 1202, May, 1965, pp. 119-24.
A surprising favorite among the high-school taste-makers is Ayn Rand's "Anthem" …, which is set in the far distant future and is remarkably free of its author's murky economics. Written nearly 30 years ago and published in hard cover about 10 years later, it enlarges upon ideas which are expressed in [H. G. Wells's] "The Time Machine" and implied in [Aldous Huxley's] "Brave New World"; it might almost be an extrapolation of [George Orwell's] "1984"—say, into 2084. The final scene depicts the hero, who has escaped from a deteriorated ant-like culture, vowing to restore the vanished technical civilization of our times and adopting as his motto the one word "Ego." This is somewhat more attractive than Miss Rand's current philosophy, which she expresses with the lapel emblem of a dollar sign. (p. 16)
Gerald Raftery, "High-School Favorites," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II, February 27, 1966, pp. 14, 16.∗
Throughout her long career as popular author and philosophizer, Ayn Rand has concentrated on her individualist-heroes to formulate from their absolute dedication to their own self-interests the model for all mankind. In contrast to those who have seen in the economic crises of the twentieth century the waste of capitalism, Rand, obsessed with the fear of collectivist association, has seen universal salvation possible only through even more intensive laissez-faire capitalism. In so far as exposing Rand's politics to a more enlightened historical awareness would be like smashing a pea with a hammer, this brief study suggests instead some intersections of Rand's fiction-tracts and popular culture in an attempt to explain the nature of her enormous appeal. While providing an ever-increasing audience with the soothing rationalization of self-primacy, all of Rand's works, but particularly The Fountainhead (1943) expose the sharpness of the familiar line drawn between self and other; and thus she challenges us to recognize that the society which does not encourage individualism invites a tyranny of bland mediocrity. (p. 701)
In the thirties, when American capitalism's breakdown was so conspicuous and its breakup so urgent, Rand's overwhelming fear of anything collective harmonized with the American myth of rugged individualism, and her fiction assumed a prophetic air. In her second novel, Anthem (1938), Rand created a science-fictional scenario of "total collectivism with all of its ultimate consequences; men have relapsed into primitive savagery and stagnation; the word I has vanished from the human language, there are no singular pronouns, a man refers to himself as we and to another man as they." To combat that absolute lack of individuality, Rand's new heroes operate with an absolute lack of flexibility. Crucial discoveries, of man and nature, can only be made by "a man of intransigent mind," whose theme, to be sung in Rand's subsequent novels of "rational self-interest," is typically simplistic: "Many words have been granted to me," Anthem's hero proclaims, "and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: 'I will it.'" Rand's sacred word is unmistakably "EGO." (pp. 701-02)
Rand has steadfastly avoided psychological terminology and formulations, offering instead the "philosophy of rational selfinterest" as a prescription for the individualist in twentieth-century America…. Rand argues for a purely competitive world in which the best would always rise to the top. Indeed, it seems un-American to doubt the notion, "why not the best?" But, of course, under every individual capitalist's success lies the exploited working class—a state of relations which can only increase mutual hostility, even if sublimated in liberal rhetoric and rationalistic narcissim falsely promising equal opportunity. Not coincidentally, in constructing her idealized heroes, Rand has tapped the traditional justification of bourgeois individualism and, hence, of hostility toward all others: they're out to get you. (p. 702)
Rand's reductive, linear absolutism taps the popular mind anxious to live mythically, in black and white polarities, ignorant of the contradictions inherent in the worship of old possibilities and ahistorical directions.
In her major work, The Fountainhead, Rand dramatizes the struggle of an individual to maintain his integrity and not to give in to others' interests…. Beginning with her early works, Rand has been consistent in her commitment to the primacy of self, "that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor others to himself." Rand makes Howard Roark, protagonist of The Fountainhead, an architect whose profession perfectly blends individual artistic creation with social utilization. To be constructed and used, Roark's buildings must depend on others besides himself. Although he acknowledges the importance of the ultimate occupation of his buildings, his exclusive concern is with his individual creative act and its product…. Roark does not mention the needs of the occupier, nor does his sense of aesthetics involve taking notice of the shape of the community. In addition to organizing the building materials, the architect organizes the inhabitants' lives within the structures, as well as organizing their perspectives on the world outside.
These are very definitely not the concerns of Rand when she isolates Roark in a shell of introverted self-expression, and provides him with a rationalization called "integrity."… Rand's use of "integrity" is surely based on the second definition in the Oxford English Dictionary: unimpaired or uncorrupted state, original perfect condition; and perhaps even the obsolete usage meaning sinlessness. No wonder the boundaries must be fenced, reinforced, and patrolled. If the behemoth's condition is threatened by the corrupt "hordes of envious mediocrities"—then Rand condones Any protective action, whatever the cost. When his own housing project is about to be completed with some modifications he does not approve, Roark destroys his creation—better purity in others' homelessness than corruption of his aesthetics.
Violence, as strong action, finds ample rationalization. Never mind that a basic principle of Rand's Objectivist philosophy is the prohibition of the initial use of physical force against others: to the ideal man, any attempt to thwart his will justifies any response. (pp. 703-04)
[Rather] than conceive of reason as a historical tool, one which helps clarify the intricate relationships between individuals and society, Rand emphasizes reason as the justification and expression of the pure pursuit of individualist domination. Like many other moral systematists, Rand believes arrogantly in her own infallibility. Is it a surprise that her favorite modern novelist is Mickey Spillane, whose hero, Mike Hammer, never requiring proof beyond his own personal judgment, metes out justice immediately, lethally and illegally?
In creating her psychically stiff heroes, Rand presents nothing new with which to penetrate the legitimate and salient deliberation regarding connections of self to others. She has neither come to terms with Freud's tripartite scheme of id, ego, and super-ego (which might have helped in making a "rational" case of Roark) nor operated on the previous conflict-construct of conscious and unconscious mind…. Rand concedes that "man is born with certain physical and psychological needs, but he can neither discover them nor satisfy them without the use of his mind…. His so-called urges will not tell him what to do." (pp. 707-08)
Rand proposes that we need to create a society which will foster individualists of the Howard Roark strength and type…. Erecting starkly simplistic frameworks highly antagonistic to her own views, Rand winds the key in her heroes' backs, and then commands them in rigid opposition. In Anthem the futuristic world of self-denial prevails, and in The Fountainhead a collectivist rat-race locks everyone's focus into conformity with each other's image of each other. In either situation, Rand's solution is an amalgamation of a new capitalism and a new intellectualism, a program she develops more fully in her later novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957). (pp. 708-09)
Finally, let us consider how Rand occasionally tries to humanize her heroes, for example when Roark admits how difficult it is to be so great. Unintentionally, Rand has divulged here the essential flaw of her ideal, rational man: that to consider oneself so great, to be obsessed with one's individual substance, must entail being against others, and thus invites the conceit that, alas, no one else can be his equal. Self means division, and division means superiority-inferiority hierarchies. This is the junction at which all of Rand's roads—the reality principle, the violent interpersonal domination, the extroflection, and the "objective rationalization"—converge and lead to exactly what her hated collectivists propose as their final solution, a ruling elite. Seemingly antagonistic, Toohey, The Fountainhead's collectivist, and Roark, the individualist, in fact imply the same social, political, and intellectual control, just as the Soviet Union (increasingly) and the United States are both monopoly capitalistic societies, one through state collectivism and the other through private enterprise. These, among other glaring ironies, Ayn Rand does not seem to recognize. (p. 709)
Philip Gordon, "The Extroflective Hero: A Look at Ayn Rand," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. X, No. 4, Spring, 1977, pp. 701-10.
[Atlas Shrugged] is not generally considered to be philosophically feminist. In fact, it may not be on anyone's reading list for Women's Courses, except mine. But close analysis of the book's themes and theories will prove that it should be. Much that Rand says is relevant to feminist issues. Best of all, the novel has a protagonist who is a good example of a woman who is active, assertive, successful, and still retains the love and sexual admiration of three heroic men. Though the situation is highly romantic, and science fiction to boot, how refreshing it is to find a female protagonist in American Fiction who emerges triumphant. (p. 681)
The refrain of Atlas Shrugged is John Galt's oath, "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man [person] nor ask another man [person] to live for mine." (For purposes of this paper I will feminize or neuter all masculine nouns and pronouns. Though Ms. Rand refers to men and mankind, she obviously means humankind as evidenced in the rest of this study.) While the context of the oath is economic, the message is the same one advanced by feminists that no woman should live her life for or through others, as women have traditionally been encouraged to do. Typical of the studies that touch upon this issue is Edith de Rham's The Love Fraud. In her attack on "the staggering waste of education and talent among American Women," de Rham argues that by persuading women to concentrate their lives on men who in turn concentrate on work "Women become victims of a kind of fraud in which their love is exploited and in which they are somehow persuaded that they are involved in legitimate action." It is just this kind of exploitation that Ayn Rand deplores.
Whereas de Rham calls it The Love Fraud, Rand calls it self-sacrifice or altruism. Rand's attack on altruism, which is defined as an ethical principle that "holds that one must make the welfare of others one's primary moral concern and must place their interests above one's own … that service to others is the moral justification of one's existence, that self-sacrifice is one's foremost duty and highest virtue" is especially relevant to women because they have been the chief internalizers of this concept. This concept of self-sacrifice has encouraged women to view themselves as sacrificial animals whose desires and talents are forfeited for the good of children, family and society. This negative behavior produces looters, moochers, leeches, and parasites in Rand's vernacular. Women have been socialized to feel guilty if they fail to carry out the practice of sacrificing their careers for the advancement of others, whether it be husband, family or simply a matter of vacating a position to a more needy male. And this sacrificing of a woman's abilities and potential is not viewed with horror or outrage, but rather with acceptance, while a similar male sacrifice is seen as a great tragedy or waste. Of course, Rand rejects any sacrifice as negative because she sees it as the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or for the sake of a nonvalue. (pp. 682-83)
Galt, Rand's spokesperson, does not believe happiness is to be achieved through the sacrifice of one's values; he believes instead that "Woman has to be woman, she has to hold her life as a value, she has to learn to sustain it, she has to discover the values it requires and practice her virtues…. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values." What could be more relevant to feminism?
The nature of male/female relationships is another important area of philosophical exploration for Rand. Through Dagny's associations with Francisco D'Anconia, Hank Rearden and John Galt, Rand illustrates what a relationship between two self-actualized, equal human beings can be. In such relationships, Rand denies the existence of a split between the physical and the mental, the desires of the flesh and the longings of the spirit. (pp. 683-84)
According to [Rand's] philosophy, the object of a person's desires is a reflection of one's image of self. In the novel, Dagny—our positive protagonist—uses this fact as a standard of measuring others. Since Hank Rearden is capable of wanting her, he must be worthy of her. As she puts it, "I feel that others live up to me, if they want me."… In this context, also, if one desires a person, one also prizes everything that person is and stands for…. Within this framework, the act of sexual intercourse possesses special meaning. It is a joyous affirmation of one's life, of one's beliefs, of all that one is. Dagny realizes this after her first sexual encounter with Francisco…. Dagny picks sexual partners who affirm her and affirm life. (p. 684)
Though Rand stresses the primacy of individual action and responsibility, she does not exclude the importance of sisterhood. It is simply that Rand sees the development of individual strength as primary. When Cherryl Taggart, in desperation, turns to Dagny for help, Dagny's response to Cherryl's uncertain approach is the affirmative. "We're sisters, aren't we?"… Dagny stresses the fact that her offer of help is not a charitable act, but a recognition of Cherryl's essential worth. She invites Cherryl to stay with her and even elicits a promise that Cherryl will return. Still, though the sisterhood is warming, it is not enough to save Cherryl, for she has not developed enough strength to cope with the horror of her situation.
The Utopia of the novel, Galt's Gulch, is inhabited by people whose behavior and ideals Ayn Rand admires. They are people who are engaged in positive and productive endeavors and the woman who chooses motherhood is deliberately included. Dagny reflects on the joyous results of such choice, two eager and friendly children.
But domestic duties are not solely the realm of women in Galt's Gulch. Various of the male inhabitants are seen cooking, cleaning, and serving. When Dagny does housework, she is paid for her contribution.
In full honesty, there are attitudes toward women and femininity in the novel that are offensive, but they are few and are heavily outweighed by the positive aspects. Most significantly, for our purposes, Dagny Taggart is an affirmative role model. She is the head of a railroad. She has sexual relationships with three men and retains their love and respect. She is not demeaned or punished for her emancipation, sexual or professional. She has no intention of giving up her railroad for the man she loves. She retains them both. She behaves according to her code of ethics and is not punished by God or society. She is that rarity in American fiction—a heroine who not only survives, but prevails. (p. 685)
Mimi R. Gladstein, "Ayn Rand and Feminism: An Unlikely Alliance," in College English, Vol. 39, No. 6, February, 1978, pp. 680-85.
The Fountainhead (1943), railed against the dragon forces of boorish "collectivisim" and conventional aesthetic standards in this country as concerned citizen Rand determined to save America from "dying."… (p. 325)
Howard Roark, an architect-genius, persists in designing great buildings without sacrificing an inch of his integrity to the inevitably compromising demands of professional peers, opinion-makers, the public taste, and his clients…. Throughout the book he is implicitly compared with pusillanimous Peter Keating, college roommate and then fellow architect, whose overriding desire for commercial success makes him willing to accommodate anyone who promises to further his career.
The general principle upon which the book is based—that the mass of mankind is talentless, without creativity or originality, and bitterly jealous of those few who are different—is manifested most strongly in the character of Ellsworth Toohey…, an architectural critic for a mammoth newspaper chain. Through his highly influential intellectual position, Toohey hypocritically manipulates public opinion in the direction of "selflessness," which, through Ayn Rand's inverted rhetoric, becomes a kind of meek mindless drift toward that ideological archvillain, "collectivism." (pp. 325-26)
The first premise of Rand's philosophy—that everyone is ultimately selfish—is demonstrated in all three figures (Toohey, Keating, and Roark); but only one, Roark, also has "character," and the author's endorsement of his values places him far from the middling crowd, separating him from the spineless Keating and pitting him against the traitorous Toohey. The dialectic battle between a fantasy version of individualism—Roark—and a satanic version of the cooperative spirit—Toohey—culminates when Roark purposely dynamites a public-works housing project he designed because its architectural "integrity" has been compromised by the Toohey clique.
Between these forces are two other characters in The Fountainhead who, because they lack the courage to defend Roark's brilliant architecture before the rabble, masochistically bend their efforts to ruin it. Gail Wynand, the powerful Hearst-like publisher of Toohey's column, is an isolated cynic who at first tries to corrupt Roark to validate his own pessimism about human nature. Failing at that, and smitten finally by a glimpse of Roark's moral determination and idealistic faith…, Wynand throws his whole reputation into defending the young architect in his newspapers. The attempt at a personally redemptive crusade comes too late. Rand presents Wynand as a case study of the potentially enlightened capitalist-entrepreneur, but she makes him pay for his tardy patronage. Toohey subverts his organization and Wynand is stripped of his wealth [and] his wife…. (p. 326)
Like Wynand whom she married, Dominique Francon is a bitter example of approach-avoidance ambivalence. She is the daughter of a "successful" architect, but she despises her father's conventional mediocrity and secretly loves Roark. Her characterization is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book…. She is by turns the destroyer, the seducer, the disciple, and finally an ally. The passionate relationship is in reality a struggle for dominance; when she realizes she cannot win the struggle over Roark, she is compelled to love him. (p. 327)
Although it has all the characteristics of pulp fiction, including flood-tide length and watery content, The Fountainhead is, of course, much more than a potboiler about the personal traumas behind the lives of busy architects. It is actually an "idea" novel, however crude or obvious, about fiercely opposing political ideologies. It is an overheard version of an internal American cultural debate between individualism and collectivism…. In articulating this struggle, Rand speaks simultaneously to the highest aspirations and the deepest suspicions of the culture, precipitating the broadly based, though mostly unspoken, acceptance of her work.
Part of The Fountainhead's success is due to the way in which it includes its reader in a disenfranchised "elect." It appeals to the romantic sense of alienation and superiority, asking the reader to identify with an elite still sensitive to aesthetic "integrity" and tortured by the low-brow conventional mediocrity of a small-minded society. It has the bitterness of the "outsider" and offers a hero who is determined enough to overcome these obstacles…. This country, The Fountainhead seems to say, does not lack True Believers but rather something or someone to believe in: a Howard Roark, a moral absolutist and fervent crusader amidst the ugly spiritual malaise. Perceived by some as "radical" because its values—the emphasis on individualism, the romantic faith in the efficacy of an idea over all practical obstacles, grim moral purity—belong to an earlier, pioneer stage of economic development in a capitalist culture, it is ultimately an attack on present society from the regressive Right Wing. (pp. 328-29)
Kevin McGann, "Ayn Rand in the Stockyard of the Spirit," in The Modern American Novel and the Movies, edited by Gerald Peary and Roger Shatzkin, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 325-35.
If your definition of a "modern classic" is a book which still sells briskly in both soft- and hard-cover editions a quarter-century after its publication, which deals with serious issues in a serious way, and which continues to stir up controversy as each succeeding generation discovers it, then—better brace yourself—Atlas Shrugged fills the bill. Sure, it's a preposterous book; sure, the reviewers demolished it; sure, virtually every reputable conservative from Russell Kirk to Frank Meyer rushed to repudiate it. Indeed, there aren't very many bad things to be said about Atlas Shrugged that aren't true. No novel of comparable quality has ever been so tenacious in its hold on the public, give or take Gone with the Wind….
Rumor has it that Ayn Rand herself was, at the time of her death, hot at work on the script for a ten-hour Atlas Shrugged TV mini-series; and it's no rumor that she turned up on the Phil Donahue show a while back, putting down altruistic housewives right and left with a verbal sledgehammer, the very picture of her beloved "intransigence." (Ayn Rand liked intransigence like Norman Mailer likes existentialism.) And this has been going on, mind you, for 25 years.
Surely Miss Rand and her book deserve to be commemorated on this quarter centenary, even in the pages of what Miss Rand once called "the worst and most dangerous magazine in America." For there's no graceful way to get around it: Atlas Shrugged, awful as it is, has left its mark on the history of American conservatism. If nothing else, its sheer ubiquity would be proof enough; but, in honor of this august occasion, let us further consider, just for fun, the possibility that the sign of the dollar, however lurid, might not be (keep it quiet, please) all bad. (p. 566)
Terry Teachout. "Farewell, Dagny Taggart," in National Review, Vol. XXXIV, No. 9, May 14, 1982, pp. 566-67.
Perhaps it is fair to say that if there is one message Ayn Rand the theorist would have wanted to leave us it is, philosophy matters! The recent death of Ayn Rand provides the occasion for us to recall the importance of this message. In the heat of contemporary social and political debates we often forget to consider basic principles. The writings of Ayn Rand will always be with us as a reminder that pragmatism and expediency are ultimately self-defeating. And it is in this spirit of a concern for basic questions that we wish to briefly outline some of Rand's basic theses here.
We see three central themes in the philosophy of Ayn Rand: 1) The major metaphysical and epistemological tenets of Aristotelian realism are true—viz., reality exists and is what it is independent of our awareness of it, and yet it can be known by the human mind. 2) Self-actualization is the correct approach to ethics. There are appropriate goals for human beings to pursue, and these goals (with the appropriate means) are grounded in human nature. Values can be found in "facts" or the nature of things, thus making a doctrine of natural rights possible, and 3) The conflict between ancient and modern political philosophy over whether the state should promote freedom or virtue need not be a source of conflict. Virtue and liberty are inherently related, and laissez-faire capitalism is the only economic and political system that recognizes this intimate connection.
Rand argues for the first thesis in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Her basic purpose is to show that though knowledge requires that the content of our mind answer to what is actually "out there," the manner in which we come to know things (i.e., form concepts) may depend on certain cognitive processes peculiar to human nature. For example, concepts are "universals." My concept of "dog" (if correct) will apply universally to an indefinite number of dogs. Thus while only individual dogs exist in nature, the mind may hold the concept of "dog" as a universal. This view of knowledge and concepts is a version of what philosophers call the "moderate realist" tradition—a tradition initiated by Aristotle and perhaps most fully developed by Thomas Aquinas. (p. 67)
The main non-fiction work in which Rand argues for the second thesis is The Virtue of Selfishness. In that work, especially the essay "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand seeks to move ethics from the Kantian view in which ethics is a matter of duties to others to the Greek view of promoting well-being or self-actualization. She specifically rejects the tendency among ethicists to consider actions done for self as amoral. But Rand is just as insistent that self-interest is not a matter of what one feels like doing. Human nature sets the standards for what is in one's self-interest, and thus it is possible to do what one "wants" to do and still not act in one's own interest. This view of ethics places Rand squarely within the Aristotelian natural law tradition. (pp. 67-8)
But perhaps the most unique contribution Rand has made concerns showing the relationship between what we have called thesis two and thesis three. Rand argues that human excellence cannot be achieved without giving central importance to freedom of choice…. This is why liberty is the most important social/political value—it keeps the possibility of excellence open. Indeed Rand's theory of rights is simply a way to insure that freedom is protected. And her theory is a natural rights theory because the justification for these rights depends upon her naturalistic ethics. Thus moral excellence is achieved only through political freedom, making the dichotomy between freedom and virtue a false one.
Since the free market is not paternalistic, it allows for the achievement of human excellence. This is not utopianism, since freedom cannot, by the very fact that it is freedom, guarantee that all will act to achieve their fullest potential. But the free market society does provide some incentives to this end, since the individual himself suffers most from his errors. Moreover, known and yet to be discovered possibilities for achievement are not forcibly closed off. In this connection it is vitally important to realize a point made in her essay "What is Capitalism" contained in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—the book in which much of this third thesis can be found. Rand's theory of excellence is thoroughly individualistic. Excellence should not be viewed in terms of what is excellent for some class or group, e.g., intellectuals, businessmen, artists, or whomever. The achievement of excellence must be considered in the context of an individual's own circumstances and conditions. Freedom guarantees that the possibility of excellence will be open to all as they are respectively able to understand and achieve it. (pp. 68-9)
The foregoing remarks indicate why Rand does not excessively exaggerate when she gives herself credit for understanding the moral basis for capitalism better than anyone else. Previous moral arguments were of the "necessary evil" variety We tolerate the "selfishness" of individuals under capitalism to gain all the economic benefits that would result. Apart from the fact that this view implies that there is no moral basis for capitalism, it shows an ignorance both of human nature and the complex motives people have when they consider alternatives….
In conclusion, it is worth noting that Rand is a thinker but not a professional academic. This has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the primary advantages is that she has not been held captive by many of the intellectual fashions that have swept philosophy during the twentieth century. It also means her writings are not jargonistic. One of the primary disadvantages is that she has not always bothered to work out all the details of her ideas in a way necessary to solidify her position. It is for this very reason that her thought needs professional attention. Nevertheless, Rand's philosophizing can be a source of knowledge as well as inspiration. Thus even though Rand is often rejected by professional academics and goes in and out of fashion among libertarians, it just might be that the very "stone which the builders rejected" could well be the "one to become the head of the corner." (p. 69)
Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, "The Philosophical Importance of Ayn Rand," in Modern Age, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1983, pp. 67-9.
Ayn Rand's Anthem is science fiction of the "after the big one" genre. The world has undergone a cataclysmic reversal; technology and science have all but disappeared, and the accepted social structure is relentlessly communal. Individualism is not tolerated. Indeed, speaking the "unspeakable word" I is the only crime which merits capital punishment.
The protagonist, Equality 7-2521, is a misfit. Despite lifelong indoctrination, he defies society's laws and mores, at first with an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame, and later with an increasing certainty that he, and not the society, is rational.
He travels the epic hero's Journey of Light, descends to physical and moral depths (torture and self-betrayal), suffers a trial by fire to defend that which he considers more sacred than life itself, and finally emerges victorious. Fleeing from the city of his birth, he runs to an "uncharted forest" where he discovers remnants of the world as it was before the holocaust, finds love and freedom, and decides to establish a new world peopled with men and women who will take pride in the word I and who will write "the first chapter in the new history of man."
Anthem is a short novel (approximately 120 pages), but for the young reader it offers exciting action, an appealing love story, and an interesting political philosophy. Rand liberally laces her tale with symbols, irony, and mythological and Biblical themes that students are usually able to discover and interpret….
Tamara Stadnychenko, "'Anthem': A Book for All Reasons," in English Journal, Vol. 72, No. 2, February, 1983, pp. 77-8.