Ayn Rand’s masterpiece ATLAS SHRUGGED has completed fifty-years in print. I thought this was a good time to pay homage to that visionary whose only fault perhaps was that she was way ahead of her time. For that fault alone she has been prosecuted by those who failed to understand her. Yet, the love she received from those who do understand her, far exceeds the criticism.
Understanding the thought of a visionary takes effort. It happens only after we tune into their frequency. For this tuning in, one would need to correct the errors in one’s basic premises. There were errors in my thought process too. They prevented me from understanding her and from learning from her. It is possible that similar errors are proving to be a road-block to others too. It is my endeavour to explain how–and what–I have understood of her thought.
It was my mother who introduced me to Ayn Rand when I was fifteen-years-old. She told me an abridged version of the story of Atlas Shrugged. I finally read the novel when I turned seventeen. I have been reading ATLAS SHRUGGED since then, and have read it over three hundred and ten times in the past twenty-three years.
In a way, I was lucky. I was introduced to a complex process of thought in a casual manner. My trust for my mom’s judgment made sure that I approached the novel with a readymade admiration and an accepting, undoubting mindset. In other words, I had already been primed to receive it. The willing suspension of disbelief that is deemed an essential prerequisite to absorb a new concept, was already in place. Despite the conditioning though, the first onslaught of the thought caught me unawares. I was hopelessly confused. But I’m tenacious. I began reading it immediately again, as soon as I finished it. It became a matter of pride… of duty almost… to understand something my mom admired. The process of understanding has continued over the years.
Over the years I have noticed one thing. People always have a strong reaction to the novel. Either they hate it utterly, or they love it incoherently. I am not much concerned with the lovers; they are already on my team. It is possible that some of them love the novel more than I do and some less. With them, the question is only of degrees of love.
I am more concerned with those who hate it. I wondered if could do something so that they could love it the way I do. There are some shifts in basic paradigms I feel one needs, before attempting to understand the novel. All other erroneous premises are off-shoots of this one. Initially, since I too had found the book indigestible, I think perhaps I can list out the readjustments I had to go through in order to love it the way I do now.
The first thing I had to understand was that the purpose of her novel was not to propound her philosophy of objectivism. It was the other way round. The philosophy had to be presented so that a proper background for the characters could be created. She was creating characters who were perfectly integrated and consistent. Without a strong philosophical background, the characters would be unreal. Of course, to us all (initially), the characters seem unreal despite this. They seem unreal because they display a consistency of character which seems humanly impossible. This was my first point of conflict with her. The non-stop 24×7 consistent integrity of her characters seemed robot-like and almost ruthless to me.
Her critics always say that her characters are unrealistic… that they are either black or white with no shades of grey… which is not natural. In her various interviews, she has given her reason very clearly. She did this because she follows the romantic school of thought as a writer. Here romantic does not refer to romantic love. She was never a romance writer.
It refers to the kind of story-telling in which the story is not one which could have happened but one which should have happened. The first forces the story into the realm of natural art- making it a glorified newspaper story told in advance–because it is so probable. True romanticism is when your story depicts events and characters as they SHOULD be… MIGHT have been. It is when your story challenges current behaviours and demonstrates alternative behaviours by showing what is POSSIBLE. This is what Ms Rand has done in all her works; whether it is The Fountainhead, Anthem, We the Living or Atlas Shrugged.
She knew that we retain only a fraction of what we read. Had she not created such intense characters, the impact wouldn’t have been this powerful. Hence the canvas, the characters, had to be larger than life. She created an ideal world where everything was perfect and of integrated thought. She was neither trying to copy the real world, nor was she expecting her readers to copy her fictitious world into real life, or to act with as ruthless a consistency as displayed by her characters.
It put me off that the things which give a normal, human touch to a story are missing from the novel. It’s like her characters neither eat nor drink; have no hobbies or personal possessions; are neither plagued with doubt nor indecision nor fear. But she left these human touches out because she didn’t want anything to interfere with the consistency of the character. This in turn was done because later in the story, the character was needed to behave in a way that normal people cannot even think of behaving. If she had cluttered up her story with human touches… and then unfolded the mammoth strike… its moral and ethical reasons… the whole enormous event, would it have seemed logically possible for those characters to have initiated or achieved it? Again and again, I had to remind myself that this was a piece of fiction, not to be taken literally, but to be taken conceptually.
Our basic dispute with her is that the world she creates and the world as is are so completely different from each other. When we look at the real world, hers does not seem possible. Nor is the real world tolerable when we come out of the world of ATLAS SHRUGGED. To my mind, that is the point when most people begin to resent her. I know I did. The world she creates is a consistently rational world that to be plunged into the irrationality of the real world seems like an immense betrayal. We look around and don’t find the person who has perpetrated the betrayal. She, then, seems the culprit herself. But for her, you tell yourself seething with annoyance, I would have adjusted, accepted the irrationality of my world as the normal, the expected, the given. Now she has shown me what is possible and with it has condemned me forever to an endless striving. I cannot now live with what I have, I must forever try to create what she has shown to be possible.
This inability to adjust, to find the balance between Atlantis and the real, is the reason I wasn’t happy with the novel. This was something I had to learn to do consciously. I did it because I knew that I can learn an immense lot from her. To deprive myself of that learning just because I was not able to transition between the real and the fictitious world, was not a worthy enough a reason. To paraphrase her- The pain wasn’t a valid enough reason to stop.
She said once that she wrote the way she had, because she wanted to write a story which, when she read it, would make her want to witness the events first hand. In that, I think she has succeeded admirably. The story gives me the same feel too. I found the only way I could appreciate the thought was to always remember that it was an inspiring STORY, not an imperative command for me to ape her protagonists. Given that paradigm shift, I found it far easier to relate to the story and to learn from it. I never noticed when her protagonists became my role-models whom I take pride in emulating.
There are hundreds of things I have learnt from the novel, from Ms Rand. Even now, when I find the world around me such that I want to withdraw from it in fastidious distaste, I read ATLAS SHRUGGED again. Every time I have read it, far from providing an escape from the real world, it manages to re-kindle my love, my passion for the world and for life. I am able to come to it with more tolerance, more understanding than before. The book and its author are the best mentors I have found because they not only warn me of the pit-falls I am about to encounter but also show me how to circumvent them. There are so many things for which I love the novel, but these are the core reasons.
This is why Ms Rand’s world will always be mine too. Thank you Ms. Rand.
Note: Pictures from the Internet.
Written on 1st Oct 2007
The World of Ayn Rand
If there is anyone who can understand your passion for Ayn Rand , it’s me. Ì have a 30 yr old copy of Atlas Shrugged which is in tatters but I can’t get rid of it.I have bought new prints to read and revise all her books over the years.
Funnily enough Sharmila, I too have retained all old copies of Ms Rand’s work. I have four copies of Atlas Shrugged, two each of Fountainhead, We The Living and Anthem. I’d have had two of The Early Ayn Rand too, but I lost one of them… or perhaps gave it someone I thought could be trusted to return it. 😛
I am pleased to meet another Rand- fan. Very, very pleased. 😀
Thank you for coming by. Hope to see more of you now. 🙂
Thank you for your insight. I agree she wrote about her characters in the extreme, driven by her passion and belief. It was the clearest way to present her philosophy. Any compromise of her characters would have undermined her message.
It can lead to a feeling of ‘not being good enough”, and the realisation for young people that they will never meet their Howard Roark or Dagney Taggert. Many many people had their lives impacted from the awakening of what could be, and turned upside down when they closed the book and saw what was. I saw a movie where the bad influence character handed the girl a copy of the Fountainhead, as though it were a narcotic. Meaning it will screw up her life.
I find now after thirty years there are many interpreters of her work, that help me equate it to everyday living. These writers are smart and fully embrace Objectivism, but they are not writing fiction, more how you can use it day to day in your thinking. The book I am reading at the moment is Free Market Revolution. I also find some speakers in the tea party are practical and relevant,
It was great that you could express it so well.
Many people have indeed misunderstood- and ridiculed- Ms Rand’s work. I haven’t seen the movie you speak of, but I can well imagine something like that. There was a time when such a thing would have enraged me, but now I am content to let people think what they will. After all, Ms Rand was never concerned with those who betrayed- not Fountainhead or her- but their own soul. I too am not concerned with them anymore. There are plenty of people who understand and admire Ms Rand. Like you… like many other friends I have. They are enough to make me feel content.
Do share the names of the books you are reading and their author names. I’d try and get hold of them if I can.
So glad you came by. Thank you.
Rand’s works had been recommended by many friends over a period of time, but I didn’t get to reading them until my final year of college. I was doing my internship, and my mentor told me that I often reminded him of Roark. When I asked him with a puzzled look who this person was, he *insisted* that I read Fountainhead. He even offered to loan me his copy. I bought a second hand copy from one of the bookstores that are present near the railway station. It is tattered copy now, and there are times I read it instead of the new copy that I have.
I remember once I had such a violent reaction when I was re-reading it that I threw the book across the wall. You see there was such a big gap between what was happening in my life (and my reactions to it) and what I was reading in the book (and how I wanted to be).
Now that I can afford to buy books, I have as many of her books as I can.
Personally, I always preferred Atlas Shrugged. I have read it a total of 342 times in the past 30 years. It is a book that always shows me the way when I am overwhelmed and confused. Not that I agree with everything she said. She was certainly wrong about a few things. But she was right about so many more that her errors are hardly significant. 🙂
Wow, Dagny! If you showed me this post without telling me that you penned, I would not be able to guess it at all. Your writing style has completely transformed. Always lovely to read your posts, first or last! Much love!
Now you intrigue me Rachna. Tell me, if you can, how my writing style has changed. Has it become milder? Has my voice lost it’s passion?
I did have the bad habit of writing long, rambling sentences. I have consciously changed that. What other changes do you see? Welcome changes… or not- so- welcome?
I think your writing style is more robust now. There is sparkling wit, humor and sarcasm that I so dig in every post. I know this is almost a book review! Your language is so much richer now. The writing is just different from what I am used to reading from you though it is still as thorough and detailed.
Ah yes! I was a deadly serious woman those days. Johnny used to call me a grim woman. 🙂
When I read this post, I found myself very ‘tied’… if you know what I am saying- and I know you do. 🙂 I was indeed like that those days. 🙂
I always looked for words to describe how I felt about Ayn Rand’s work, reading your post gave me those… I can never forget Roarke, he is probably one of the most powerful characters she created.
I am guessing you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged in that case. Roark was indeed a powerful character but Reardon, Fransisco and John Galt were far more powerful than him… at least so I think. As for Dagny… well… 😀
I loved Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead too. I read them a long time ago when I was in college. Her books made me feel powerful, invincible. I used to think that there was nothing I couldn’t do, if I put my mind to it. The test of a good book is not whether it is read, but whether it is re-read. And in that, Ayn Rand ought to feel grateful to you 310 times over.
Loved reading about how much Ms Rand inspired you.
Great reading your first.
Cynthia, You’re an Ayn Rand fan too! Oh, well met!
The 310 was the 2007 count. Since then I have read it a few more times. The count now stands at 342. I really do love the book. 😀
Thanks for coming by 🙂 🙂
I’ve never read Ayn Rand, but the passion with which you describe her writing makes me want to read her work. And 310 times – wow!!!! Love your writing and look forward to reading more 🙂
If you ever read her Fabida, do let me know. I just love her work. 🙂
Thank you for coming by… 🙂
I have hopped onto your blog very recently and its a pleasure reading your write-ups.
I first time I read Fountainhead , I put the book down as I did not like it . It confused me a lot. After some days I re-read it slowly with an open mind , wiping blank the conclusions of the previous read and slowly I started appreciating the book. I have lost counts of the number of times I have read this book.
It is a pleasure indeed to find another Ayn Rand fan. I am so pleased you like Fountainhead. Try reading Atlas Shrugged too… it is a much larger canvas.
I read your first poem too and tried to comment but there was some silly Google+ hangup so I couldn’t. I’ll tray again later.
I’m happy to see you here. 🙂
Thanks Dagny for reading my poem. Goggle+ comments are a bit tedious.
You are very welcome Kalpana! 🙂
Fountainhead was my first and I fell for her hook, line and sinker. You have imparting wisdom since your first post….keep it up.
Wisdom? Oh no! In this one I was only talking about the reason why someone else’s wisdom made sense to me and why I connected with it.
Gotta check out this book. I loved your review cause it had so much positivity and a novice who has not heard of her would definitely like to peek into Atlas shrugged!
You will not be disappointed I am sure Ruchira. Thank you for coming by. 🙂
Can I give you a hug for this post ? ((((Hugs))))
Am one crazy Ayn Rand reader / follower – whatever ! I read Fountainhead when I was 18, my first one and loved it ! Atlas Shrugged happened later.
You have one fab mom, I tell you !! I have passed on these books to my girls, but they are yet to take it in full spirit. The elder one has read Fountainhead.
310 times ??? Seriously ?? Now thats something I think I should do too…keep reading it every now and then !
I so loved this post and the truthful explanations about the book…am simply on cloud 9 today, reading this post !
Of course you can give me a hug. You can give me several, in fact. I don’t really have a ceiling for hugs… 🙂
310 was the count when I first wrote this Uma. I’ve read it a few more times since then. The count currently stands at 342. 😀
I am as delighted to find a fellow Ayn Rand fan as you are. She was so absolutely wonderful, wasn’t she?
Thank you for this joy Uma. I am thrilled!
Check out this comment Dagny
A great fan you find in me !!
Oh yes! I remember now! Sorry… it slipped my mind! Hola there fellow avid fan! Hugs!