Saturday, May 24, 2014

ATLAS SHRUGGED Part I, Chapters 5 and 6


So happy you're reading with us. 

Atlas Shrugged is an epic novel, and all a new reader needs is just a simple outline of what's happening, and then the rest is easier to follow. 

It will change the way you think.

You don't have to agree with all of its claims. You don't have to buy it all. Just let it marinate for a while. See the world anew, looking at the motors of civilization around you. 

You'll be shocked how incredibly perceptive Rand is.

In these two chapters, 5 and 6, of Part I, we get a closer look at the main characters, how they came to where they are and why they think the way they do.

Again, get ready to have all you know challenged. 

If you want to catch up, read the Introduction, Background, and Chapter 1 and then Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Part I to get you up to speed.  

Let's get on with the reading.
Part I, Chapter 5, The Climax of the d’Anconias
The mysterious Spanish playboy, Francisco d’Anconia is fleshed out much more in this chapter. We’re learning about the boy and later man who had so much promise.

He is from a natural aristocracy, a family of earning. No kings. No special privileges. Just talent.

d’Anconia at every turn is just better. We’ve all had friends like this at one time or another. They’re great at everything. d’Anconia is such a person.

He grows up with Dagny, Taggart, and Eddie Willers. They each have their characters formed rather early in life, and their adult actions are reflections of such. Dagny and d’Anconia have had a kind of rivalry, and as they grow together they learn from one another and motivate one another. 

They become romantically linked at a young age, as each is off pursuing dreams and ambitions.

But at some point d’Anconia changes. His burning is no longer for achievement but for destruction. Dagny cannot figure it out, and in a few scenes d’Anconia lets it be known he is not happy about the path he is to take. Dagny is thoroughly confused.

And as she reflects on the rather dramatic changes in d’Anconia over the last few years, she begins to see some disturbing patterns. 

She wants to see d’Anconia shortly after the Mexican debacle, and she meets him privately.

He acknowledges all Dagny already knows, but won’t clue her in as to why he seems to have purposefully sabotaged his holdings in Mexico. She cannot understand how it is he’d lead so many people down that path, only to see it all destroyed.

The conversations have d’Anconia never admitting more than what everyone already knows, and he gives no hint as to his motive except to say he is doing what they all claim to want to do, working for the greater good, through altruism.

It’s a long, confusing chapter, but that’s on purpose. We’re kept in the dark along with Dagny. We can see d’Anconia was once great, but, as with so many heroes we’ve known through biographies and other media, maybe it is just another wasted life.

The chapter ends with d’Anconia insisting Dagny is going to need her steely courage.

How cryptic.

Part I, Chapter 6, The Non-Commercial
We’re invited to peek in upon the commitment Rearden made in Chapter 2 to his wife, Lillian.

Lillian seems to have the perfectly legitimate concern that her husband isn’t interested in things like celebrating their marriage, their anniversary. 

She makes an appointment with Rearden, and it’s largely to pound home his aloofness.

Again, Rearden is that rare Randian hero who is tortured in the ultimate sense. 

He’s immediately confronted by his work and home conflict as he dresses. He’s stopped, looking in the mirror. The conflict is internal. He should be working tonight. His time is super valuable, and much depends upon what he does and his doing it well.

Normally, Rearden takes work over home life. But that’s changed due to Lillian’s challenge. He is paralyzed by trying to find the motive in this party, the motive power we spoke of in earlier chapters.

It’s not just a matter of lost time, of missing work. It’s many times worse. He doesn’t value this celebration at all, and yet he has obligated himself. Her friends are not at all what Rearden is interested in. 

They’re petty, at times vicious, and he wants nothing to do with them.  What’s interesting is how Rearden is pressed to embrace his wife’s standards of value, what she wants, but she seems to not be under any kind of similar obligation.

In fact, she appears to want the opposite of Rearden's happiness.

Rearden knows there’s nothing to celebrate after eight years. He doesn’t value her. He’s moved to stay because, maybe, he believes she loves him in some way. A malaise sets in for Rearden, as it must. He’s sacrificing all that matters to him in favor of this party, this fake celebration to nothing.

Rearden peruses the new Equalization of Opportunity Act, a clipping left for him by his secretary, as he dresses.

It’s an antitrust sort of legislation, forbidding businesses from owning more than one. No expansion of business of any would be legal. All businesses must do only one thing. This will have huge consequences for Rearden and his various business holdings. He’s probably going to have to choose between his companies.

Iron ore supplies are tough to get as it is, and so such laws benefit Orren Boyle, who is helping to encourage the bill's passage.

If the law passes, a chain of events might topple Rearden's businesses, Taggart Transcontinental, and eventually the entire economy.

The rationale behind the law is the assumption it is unfair for some businesses to have a lot while some have little to none. And we’re, as typical readers, at least somewhat sympathetic to the notion, this school yard idea. But when we reflect on the toil and sweat Rearden has put into his companies, growing them by his sole determination, we get a sense of the law’s impact on people who produce. It does appear the law will take from the achievers and give to the losers, and at the expense of the achievers.

Everybody is depending upon Reardon, though they do not understand their dependence nor how it is he achieves.

There’s a nice contrast here between someone like Reardon and someone like Boyle. Rearden works for everything. Boyle uses contacts and government pull to get ahead. 

Rearden cannot take any of it seriously. He skims the reports, signs the requisite checks, and trusts his man in Washington, Mouch, who, we know as readers, is playing both sides.

At the party, the discussion is all about the bill. Everyone at the party is for taking from men like Rearden, and they’re being led by a popular philosopher, Simon Pritchett, who is also a guest of Lillian's.

Pritchett launches into how miserable and insignificant humans are. There are no standards. There is nothing good, and no way to determine it. Party goers admire Pritchett, and want to understand his reasoning. Pritchett goes on to explain how much more ‘tractable’ humans will be if they realize they’re basically nothing at the core.   

Individuals don’t matter. Life is meaningless.

The bill agrees with Pritchett, and it seems to follow his line of reasoning. 

And what would be the result of such a bill? The bill on its face forbids greatness. It limits business people from rising above any others, keeping everyone at a stasis, a kind of permanent blah. No one is allowed to freely contract anymore, nor to freely compete. We’re starting to see the paralysis as owners begin to drop off in favor of no longer trying. 

Why ever do your best in such circumstances if you already know the outcome? If you do well, earn a lot, you’re going to have to give it up to someone else. Incentives seem not to matter any longer.

Pritchett is a nihilist, no facts, no morality. Nothing matters. People at the party do question him, but they’re unable to refute his claims.

And the party has a kind of malaise itself, as everyone is accepting determinism. And this is what such intellectuals like Pritchett do. They tend to have a profound impact on how regular people think.

Other luminaries at the party, Balf Eubank (novelist) and Mort Liddy (composer), support the bill. They’re against plot in literature, against melody in music, in the way Pritchett is against logic in philosophy. They’re entirely envious of competitors, and Eubank even suggests limiting the number of books ever to be sold by one author at a time. It's another nice illustration of how absurd such bills would become, but Eubank is completely serious.
Even Rearden’s brother jumps in, feeling the bill is the right thing to do. And Philip declares how smug Rearden seems, even though it is Rearden who supports Philip. It’s a strange coming to terms for Rearden, who not only supports Philip but also the group who pushed for the bill that goes after Rearden ultimately.

Lillian wears the bracelet Rearden made for her, having presented it to her in Chapter 2, but she does wear it in mocking way, doing so to him in front of everyone. She is a devious person, someone who cares little for her husband. Rearden for sure wants to rip the bracelet off her, and knows she is unworthy of its significance. He’d probably feel better if she’d tossed it away rather than wear it as just another piece of her gaudy outfit.

Rearden lets it all go, saying nothing. 

To us, the readers, we see Rearden’s suppressing of his emotions as a good thing, a polite thing. He should, we think, even though he is right. We don’t want him to storm off in a wave of emotion, but something as we read troubles us.

Again, Rearden here is very conflicted. He’s admirable, talented, driven. But here he is failing in a lot of ways.

He accepts Lillian’s mockery.

He’s not so accepting of Bertram Scudder’s being invited to the party. Scudder wrote scathing things about Rearden, and his being at the party is another giant slap in Rearden’s face. 

Pritchett’s influence is complete on Lillian. At Rearden’s discomfort, Lillian dismisses her husband’s anger over Scudder's presence in typical Pritchett-like fashion – Rearden must not take himself seriously, not take his life seriously, his work seriously because ultimately Rearden doesn’t matter.

Rearden shows some backbone, and says he’ll eject Scudder next time if he’s ever invited again.

In another interesting passage, Lillian wants to see Rearden drunk. She wants to see him out of control, vulnerable. 

She further slams her husband by suggesting Rearden is so focused on his work he can’t even notice beautiful women at the party, almost daring Rearden to act in ways she feels he won’t ever. It’s a super interesting insight into how Rearden is made to take his wife’s abuse, and he cannot make sense of why he feels so miserable around her. 

Maybe Rearden has become a tractable man in the way Pritchett claims all men must be.

Unexpectedly, Dagny appears at the party. And right away we’re given a wonderful contrast between Lillian and Dagny. Lillian is a woman who has done next to nothing with her life. She owes all she has to her husband. Dagny is very much her own woman. Dagny has worked for everything she has, and she cleans up really well. She takes the party by storm. Dagny is simple, beautiful, glowing.

Lillian feels she must be second place to her husband. Dagny flatly rejects the assertion. And the lives of the two women reflect their inner philosophies. Lillian dominates Rearden. Dagny produces.

Dagny attends the party to see Rearden in a new context. Rearden has nothing for her. He’s cold. He’s indifferent. Dagny ironically wants to give Rearden what he can’t get from his family, celebration of their working achievements. Rearden, though cold, is also aware of Dagny’s beauty. It really does appear Pritchett has won the day on Rearden.

Dagny is also vulnerable around Rearden, saying things she doesn’t intend. Almost involuntarily.

Francisco d’Anconia’s entry to the party is a welcome addition to the narrative. d’Anconia is straight forward, answering all of Taggart’s questions truthfully about the Mexican disaster, frustrating Taggart to no end. Taggart wants his cake and to eat it at the same time. He wants d’Anconia to be the greedy businessman when it suits Taggart. But Taggart becomes upset when d’Anconia uses Taggart’s own philosophy against him.

d’Anconia  is there to see Rearden, not to pester Taggart. Rearden hates d’Anconia because of the great wealth d’Anconia is squandering. 

As they talk, d’Anconia seems to understand Rearden better than anyone, and Rearden begins to awaken slowly as they speak. d’Anconia wants Rearden to tell the others he owes them nothing and how they live by his brain. d’Anconia understands how it is Rearden is being held down, and that’s due to Rearden’s accepting of the party goers’ moral code and how they all hold Rearden hostage by his unhappiness.

Rearden begins to see d’Anconia differently almost immediately. It appears d’Anconia is the only one who understands. Rearden is distrustful of d’Anconia, and tells him so. d’Anconia accepts Rearden’s condemnation.

The climax of the chapter happens when we’re confronted by four characters at the party, Lillian, d’Anconia, Rearden, Dagny. Dagny wants out of the party and fast, especially when d’Anconia shows and references Dagny in a slightly sexual manner, a way she wants to be recognized by Rearden, right in the middle of Rearden’s coldness. Lillian mocks the bracelet Rearden gave her, and Dagny openly asks for its trade. In this scene, Dagny takes refuge in the lone thing she knows: the greatness of innovation, of individual effort as embodied in the bracelet.

It’s a dramatic scene, very tense.

Lillian’s bluff is called. She obviously wanted to keep the chain so as to hold it against Rearden, but Dagny has made a move Lillian cannot refuse.

They exchange bracelets, Lillian’s for Dagny's.

Rearden curiously kisses Lillian’s new bracelet, and then goes about becoming the perfect party husband as if to make everything seem okay. 

It does seem Rearden has given up.

Later, however, when Dagny and Rearden are alone, and Dagny apologizes, the inner dialog of Rearden is such that we know he has notices the greatness in Dagny ... as Rand describes Dagny as being naked in his eyes except for the bracelet.
See you next week, as we dig ever deeper in this great novel, finding out what the hell is going on with all these sub mysteries and plots.
Craig Edward Kelso is the author of Anarcho-Capitalism (2014), a primer on the philosophy of peaceful, stateless cooperation. His curriculum vitae include a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a Post-Baccalaureate secondary education credential in both Social Science and English Language Arts. Kelso taught for nearly a decade in the American public school system, and was voted by colleagues Teacher of the Year, twice in his short tenure, earning numerous accolades from chambers of commerce, mayors, state assembly persons, governors, congresspersons, senators, and even Wal-Mart. Currently he struggles to earn an opportunity to be employed, working as a laborer, dishwasher. He is deliriously happily married to Myra Kelso, living in Southern California with their adorable children.               

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