Reading “Atlas Shrugged” (Part 1 of 3)

I started reading Atlas Shrugged recently to pass the time, as this period of unemployment will (hopefully) be the last one for the foreseeable future come August.  I’m currently about 250 pages in.  Dagny has just fucked Rearden for the first time.  Railroad and steel have just united in a self-congratulatory orgasm of cold, ruthless efficiency.

I read The Fountainhead 10 years ago, when I was 16.  The characters in The Fountainhead are similar to those in Atlas Shrugged in the sense that they are meant to be interpreted as philosophical concepts and not real people.  Characters in both books are pure distillations of philosophical ideals, and their actions never deviate from the ideals they’re supposed to represent.  (Ayn Rand would disagree with this, but whatever.)  This trait alone makes them unrealistic, often caricatural, and applies to characters across the board; the good guys are unsympathetic, type A personalities obsessed with efficiency and accomplishment, and the bad guys are stupid, babbling losers obsessed with undermining the good guys.

What I discovered while reading Rand this time around is that these so-called good characters, whom I found so honorable and exotic when I was 16, are actually boring and irritating because they are a) unattractively and unbearably serious about themselves, b) incapable of making small talk in any situation, and therefore c) socially worthless and totally not the type I or anyone I know would want to hang out with.  Whereas they used to embody everything I admired about humanity, they now represent everything I dislike about human beings.  As a teenager, I felt that they validated my elitist tendencies and social awkwardness.  As a lazy adult, I simply can’t bring myself to like or relate to a bunch of humorless workaholics, no matter how smart they are.

And the bad guys aren’t any better.  Rand makes it clear that these pathetic, sycophantic oafs (many of them actually stutter) are supposed to embody inferior philosophical ideas: incompetence, altruism, and submission to public opinion.  And they have no redeeming qualities, nothing that will save them from being blatant losers from beginning to end.  In Rand’s book(s), stupidity and human consideration are inextricably linked.  If one cares about human feelings and the common good, one is an idiot, and vice versa.

My beef isn’t necessarily with objectivism.  My problem is that I’ve been deprived of the satisfaction of liking any of the characters in a 1150-page novel because none of them are remotely realistic as human beings.  Knowing how Rand usually rolls, I doubt this will change as I keep reading.

About awesomebitch

Intolerant, elitist, and awesome.
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6 Responses to Reading “Atlas Shrugged” (Part 1 of 3)

  1. burbling englishman says:

    As a humorless workaholic, I resent this analysis!

  2. awesomebitch says:

    I figured you would. But the difference between you and the good characters is that they don’t even burble.

  3. Pingback: Reading “Atlas Shrugged” (Part 2 of 3) | awesomebitch

  4. fangirl says:

    You should read We the Living. Rand’s first and best book, imho. Full of flawed characters that I still think about from time to time.

  5. awesomebitch says:

    Thanks, I’ll check it out after I finish the current monster.

  6. Sam says:

    I ran across your site thanks to an ATLAS SHRUGGED retweet-bot and decided to dig a little deeper to see if you’d said more on the subject. I was pleased to see you had. Moreover, I was pleased to find that someone else had the same negative reaction to the characters in the book as I had.

    On my own blog I wrote fairly early on in the reading process that while the nominal heroes of the book (at least at the outset), Dagny and Rearden, are meant to be paragons of virtue, they’re extremely cold and intensely unlikable as PEOPLE, in that they aren’t recognizably human. If they have any appealing qualities at all, it’s because the people around them are so vile. Which is fine, I guess, but probably not what the author intended.

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