Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Atlas Shrugged. Chapters 1 - 3

Yes, after two weeks I've only managed to get through the first three chapters of Atlas Shrugged. Hey, I've been busy.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a handy flowchart for how to succeed as an Ayn Rand character. One of the hallmarks of success is having an angular face. This is no exaggeration. And conversely her villains have the opposite sorts of faces. I knew the basic plot of Atlas Shrugged but didn't know where James Taggart, who is introduced in the first chapter, fit in the standard Rand dichotomy. Since he is an industrialist, the president of Taggart Transcontinental, I thought he might be one of the heroes. But I was immediately enlightened as soon as Taggart was described:
...his posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness... the flesh of his face was pale and soft.
In contrast, his sister Dagny's face:
...was made of angular planes, the shape of her mouth clear-cut, a sensual mouth  held closed with inflexible precision.
She can't possibly be related to James. Clearly Mother Taggart dallied with the mushy-faced mailman before James was born. Just what you would expect from a government employee.

In the second chapter we meet Hank Reardon, who is Dagny's business ally and the inventor of a new high-tech steel. He's basically Dagny with a penis - a superior being surrounded by weaklings. And of course:
His body was tall and gaunt... His face was cut by prominent cheekbones and a few sharp lines.
His mother, brother and wife, on the other hand are fops. His wife is graceful but her face isn't beautiful because of her lifeless eyes. Needless to say it isn't angular either. Rand doesn't bother to describe Reardon's mother at all - she's embodied by a constant scolding refrain about how Reardon is selfish. And his brother Phil, well he's
...always been in precarious health, though doctors had found no specific defect in his loose, gangling body.
Clearly Mother Reardon also dallied with a mushy-faced mailman (possibly the very same one as Mother Taggart) when Phil was conceived.

Not only are they fops, they are all financially dependent on Reardon, but treat him like shit, and don't care about his exciting new high-tech steel. And like to run charities to give money to losers. To which they expect Reardon to donate money.

In chapter three we meet Dagny's ancestor Nathaniel Taggart, the founder of her family's railroad, in statue form. You probably can guess what he looked like:
The statue was of a young man with a tall, gaunt body and an angular face. 
There is no mention of Nat Taggart having a weak, un-angular brother or son, but then these were the days before the US Postal Service sowed its mushy-faced seed across the land.

And it's not like a government employee would have gotten near Nat Taggart's family:
It was said that Nat Taggart had staked his life on his railroad many times: but once, he staked more than his life. Desperate for funds, with the construction of his line suspended, he threw down three flights of stairs a distinguished gentleman who offered him a loan from the government. Then he pledged his wife as security for a loan from a millionaire who hated him and admired her beauty. He repaid the loan on time and did not have to surrender his pledge. The deal had been made with his wife's consent...
So there you go. Nat Taggart and his beautiful wife hated the government so much that not only did they refuse a loan from the government (and Taggart assaulted a government representative without any apparent repercussions) they would rather risk selling the wife into sexual slavery. With the wife's consent. Wow, those were the days of true Libertarians. But then, as the "How to Succeed as an Ayn Rand Character" flowchart illustrates, rape is also an important indicator of success.

The funniest bit so far though, is Rand's imagining how non-angular businessmen talk, as in a scene from chapter 2:
It's been proved that every business depends upon every other business... so everybody ought to share the burdens of everybody else.
The public can't remain indifferent to reckless, selfish waste by an anti-social individual. After all, private property is a trusteeship held for the benefit of society as a whole.
But I guess there aren't many people in Washington capable of understanding a progressive social policy.
But hey, maybe businessmen were very very different when this was written, in the late 1950s, than they are now.

I'm looking forward to discovering if Dagny has any female relationships in her life. So far there's no mention of any friends, although she appears to have had a past relationship with Latin playboy Francisco d'Anconia, so she's had at least one person in her life besides her long-dead father and her weak-willed, baggy half-brother.

Her mother isn't mentioned at all, so far, and all we can surmise about her is a predilection for a man in a uniform who has good health insurance, all national holidays off, and a precipitation- and gloom-impervious work ethic.