I’m proud to say that I participated in the Ayn Rand Institute‘s Atlas Shruggedessay contest 2012, and placed second. The essay I entered is below:
Topic: Choose the scene in Atlas Shrugged that is most meaningful to you. Analyze that scene in terms of the wider themes in the book.
When we were in school, my friends fantasized that Albus Dumbledore would owl them their invitation to Hogwarts. I fantasized that John Galt would ask me to abandon this world to its own contradictions and invite me to Galt’s Gulch, alongside the greatest minds of our time.
That said, it’s still hard to pinpoint which scene in Atlas Shrugged is my favorite. The description of life in Galt’s Gulch? The way that Dagny will do anything to build her Line and save Colorado? Francisco d’Anconia’s youth with Dagny Taggart? These are all magnificent, and I feel nothing but pride for the woman who created these characters with such absolute disdain for the morality of apology and sacrifice, and of course for the characters themselves.
However, the question is not which scene is my favorite. The question is which one is most meaningful to me. Which I understand, intellectually and intuitively. Which I live.
And the answer to that is just depressing.
When I started writing this essay, I fully intended to write of the sparkling highs in Atlas Shrugged, the moments that have given my life direction and shown me how the world should be. When I first read this book, I fell in love. I fell in love with John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, with Ellis Wyatt and Owen Kellogg. With Richard Halley’s Concerto of Deliverance. With the way children are raised in Galt’s Gulch (719). I was uplifted, inspired to rise above the slime to live my own life. Atlas Shrugged has given me plenty of these moments, and, a few years ago, those are exactly what I would have written about.
Since then, however, I have had to grow up. I do not accept malevolence “in bruised resignation as the law of existence” (720), yet I have seen the way that it is impossibleto completely ignore and avoid the moochers. It is impossible to live in this world and not be filled with helpless rage by the willful brainlessness of so very many people. It is impossible for me to hold ideals of the kind that Atlas Shrugged shows us, while living as a full part of the world. The promise of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead is not fulfilled by the life I live.
I would love to write about the absolute pride I feel when Hank Rearden says: “The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!” (445) I want to write about the absolute ecstasy I share with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden as they careen through the American countryside on a train built of their dreams and minds (224-232), or the joy I take in Francisco d’Anconia’s impassioned defense of money and the philosophy of Capitalism (380-385).
These are the best parts of Atlas Shrugged. These moments of sheer, rapturous joy, which “is how men expect to feel about their life once or twice, as an exception… [but John Galt chooses] as the constant and normal” (1001), these are the soul of Atlas Shrugged. The “shiftless, the purposeless, the irresponsible, the irrational” (683) that comprise the rest of the world, are insignificant, beneath notice. They are there; to deny their existence would be to deny reality. But it is laughable to adapt one’s life to suit them.
Yet they form the part of Atlas Shrugged that is easiest to relate to. It is painfully easy to recognize a Wesley Mouch or a Mr. Thompson among present-day politicians. Among the prominent faces in my own country, and people I have met, I have recognized at various times an Ivy Starnes, a Bertram Scudder, a Balph Eubank, a Paul Larkin and a Mrs. Rearden.
That being the case, it may be understandable that the scene most meaningful to me is Cherryl Taggart’s suicide.
Cherryl Taggart is a woman of great potential. She has no specific skill. She is neither a miner nor an industrialist, neither a scientist nor an artist. She is employed in a small shop; she appears to be nothing special. Yet her attitude is inspiring. She is a hero-worshipper – unlike Dagny, who is a hero herself – but does not settle for being a fan-girl. She wants to become one of the heroes herself. She is eager, young, and completely in love with life. Cherryl Taggart is an optimist, an idealist. She wishes to live in a world in which she can live. She has escaped from her small-town roots and is finding her true beginnings in the big city.
She would give her life for one of the heroes, the producers, and when James Taggart enters her shop and eventually asks her to marry him, she imagines that her dreams have come true. Even though it slowly becomes clear that he does not adhere to the principles she does, Cherryl marries Taggart and lives with him for quite a while. The fact that Cherryl unconsciously chooses to wed and live with evil is the reason that she eventually has to make the conscious choice to commit suicide.
Cherryl’s suicide is personally significant to me because I associate most strongly with Eddie Willers and Cherryl Taggart (Brooks), and perhaps Hank Rearden in the early parts of the novel. I am not a producer on the scale of John Galt or Hank Rearden. The world would not tremble if I left it. I am only a quiet, contented liver of my own life within my own modest means, produced by my own effort for my own sake – much like Cherryl Taggart should have been.
Cherryl’s is a cautionary tale. The warning is never to let your faith in the world depend completely on any one person other than yourself. While it is true that we mortals need the heroes, in order to live a good life, this is quite different from committing all our faith in mankind and our reasons for living to the safekeeping of any person other than ourselves.
I find that it impossible to live a moral life as Ayn Rand describes it, when your highest ideal is anyone other than yourself. The love between Galt and Dagny, for instance, is at its core a recognition of identical ideals and values in each other. To treat anyone else as the epitome of your values and your ideal of self, is to be self-effacing and ultimately, therefore, selfless.
In spite of this bad judgment, Cherryl Taggart’s potential would have been rewarded, in a sane world, by her long, happy and productive life. But the world is not sane. “Not your kind of world!” she cries as she runs into the river “with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation” (831). And self-preservation it was. As Wikipedia puts it, “Upon realizing the nature of the moral code surrounding her, the apparent lack of escape for herself and the heroes she worships, and her unnamed desire to remove support from the machinations she abhors, Cherryl throws herself from a bridge to her death.”
If she had chosen to live on in that world, in any way, she would have begun to lose herself. A choice to live with James Taggart would have validated his life-choices, as it would have been an underscoring and acceptance of her previous decision to trust in him completely. To throw herself on Dagny’s charity would have been debilitating to her own free spirit. To return to the dime store with the knowledge of her failed marriage and the reasons for it, even assuming she could under the new Directives, would again be a failure to live on her own terms. While Cherryl’s choice to die is not made in complete consciousness, she recognizes that this is not her kind of world. She knows intuitively that she has no more moral ways to live in the world – and acts on that knowledge.
Though I do feel pity for a life cut short, I am proud of Cherryl Taggart, and would be honored to know her or even be her. She is not someone to hero-worship, but she is independent, honest, brave and innocently eager to face the world and win. She lives on her own terms, and she ultimately chooses to die on her own terms as well, in a kind of atonement for her previous bad judgment.
However, there’s an even stronger reason that I find Cherryl Taggart’s suicide so personally significant. Simply put, it’s this: there, but for the grace of Ayn Rand,go I.
Word Count: 1413
“List of Atlas Shrugged Characters.” Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged – 50th Anniversary Edition. New York, USA: Signet, 1996.
Atlas Shrugged Character DescriptionGet Your
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Characters Dagny Taggart The novel’s protagonist and a buisness woman and engineer who is the backbone of Taggart Transcontinental. As James Taggart’s little sister, she is often belittled but gains respect and she hurdles all obstacles that come to face her family’s company which includes taking a major risk by entrusting Hank Rearden’s revolutionary metal. As the story progresses, a precious relationship between her and Francisco d’Anconia emerges. James Taggart The novel’ antagonist, current president of Taggart Transcontinental, and Dagny Taggart’s older brother.
He is portayed as a greedy and corrupt buisness man who will go to any measure to gain wealth by not encouraging the productivity of his workers but the enforcment of his political connections. He is one who seeks the downfall of the good and this hatred plays onto his actions and other aspects of his life. Nathanial Taggart Founder of Taggert Transcontinental, he made his buisness prosper with hard labor and no government loans unlike his son, James Taggart, only concerened with his buisness’ profit.
Starting his buisness with all the money he had left in his back account, he ended with full pockets and noted as one of the wealthiest entrepranuers in history that never commited any fraud on countless occasions, only the single time where he bribed the government workers to throw a rival down some stairs. Even as one of the most successful men in history, he was also seen as one of the most hated, the burden being passed down to his children. John Galt The novel’s main character and is often addressed within the rhetorical question, “Who is John Galt? Sensing that he will come into play more often later on in the book, he is now portrayed as some high seas ruffian who has had an exceptionally bad past. Henry (Hank) Rearden The mastermind being Rearden Metal, a revolutionary new substance that has been belittled as a public hazzard but is in fact very profitable. As Dagny’s colleague he progresses as he tries to understand the reason behind all the corrupt buisnessmen’s tactics. Dagny however is appreciative of his morals as his wife Lillian serves as his foil for she is constantly portrayed in a rude stature.
He serves as a human expression of Ayn Rand’s sexual theory which is the more praise you get for your work, the more sexually attracted you are to that person. He senses that something is off with the economy but has yet to figure out what it is. Eddie Willers Noted as Dagny Taggart’s right hand man, he was also her childhood friend and current assistant who has been working at Taggart Transcontinental loyally for years. He is portrayed to a vile hatred for looter’s who give more wealth to those who don’t deserve it. Orren Boyle The top rival or Rearden Metal, he is the owner of Associated Steel and a close friend of Jim Taggart.
He lives by his own set of prinicples, which in his case their are none. Just like Jim, he gains profit through his connections with government officials. Ellis Wyatt The owner of a rigorous oil compant, he has uncovered a way to maintain a flow of oil from the shale rocks of Colorado. His buisness serves as a platform for all the other buisnesses who prosper form his great economic growth, yet he isn’t concerned about other principles and is an individualist who goes by his own set of rules. Owen Kellogg Assistant Manager of Taggart Terminal, he is noted in the novel as one of the few suitable people for his job in the Taggart railroads.
With Dagny seeing this, she promotes him to Superintendent of the Ohio Divison yet he quits his job soon after. Midas Mulligan A very successful banker who owns valley in the Colorado Rockies. He is noted to be greedy and coldhearted for his possesive investments. Lillian Rearden Wife of Hank Rearden, she will make any connection just to bring down her husband. Much like James Taggart, she is only concerned with the material things in life and the strong hatred of the innocent. Even though she is very cruel, she never hides behind a facade and is aware that she is indeed a vile person. Phillip Rearden
Hank Rearden’s younger, kind hearted brohter. Living in Hank’s Philadelphia estate he depends on his older brother to solve all of his issues yet is envious of Hank Rearden’s charity. Rearden’s Mother Living with Phillip Rearden in Philadelphia, she is a willing volunteer in Hank’s charities. She also neglects he youngest son as she berates her oldest. Judge Narragansett A seeminhly cold hearted government official who stands for Ayn Rand’s views on individualism and objectivist laws. Paul Larkin A failed buisnessman but a close friend of the Rearden family, his sole objective is to demolish Rearden’s prospering buisness.
This causes James Taggart to step in and see if he will abandon the family whom cares so deeply for his well being. Wesley Mouch A major economic leader, he is Rearden’s connection to Washington and is consistantly refered to when a buisness threatening crisis arises. Eventually, he abandons Rearden in favor of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. Francisco d’Anconia Known as the world’s wealthiest man, he owns a copper industry but hides behind a playboy facade as a buisness tactic as he plans to take down his own family buisness which then chain reacts into the loss of millions of dollars from the American buisnessmen invested in him.
Noted as Dagny Taggart’s first lover in previous flashbacks he adds a new spin to the plot line with his unusal intentions. Mr. Ayers Publisher of all of Richard Halley’s music. Bertram Scudder Editorial writer of hit magazine, “The Future”, he is noted for the demolishion of buisnessmen with a single artice even though he never specifies anything he writes. Author of the career threatening article, “The Octopus”, that bashes Rearden Metal, and supporter of the Equalization Opportunity Bill he is an advocate of life’s great importance, “brother love”. Richard Halley
A world renowned composer who Dagny is often found listening to. His concertos all represent heroes from mythology and often gets rejected from society. He hasn’t been seen since his last concerto and represents heroism in a depraved world. Betty Pope A major socialite who is having an affair with James Taggart for no stated reasons. She is a rude woman which is seen as a result of her high social ranking. Balph Eubank “The literary leader of the age” is what people worldwide has noted him to be due to his “success” selling three thousand copies of his books.
He is a major advocate for the better treatment of all forms of artists. He is also a vocal supporter for a law that will only allow the limiting the sales of each book written to ten thousand copies. He is also stated to a misogynist which results in him being against the fact that Dagny has a high ranking in Taggart Transcontinental. Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert Vail The could in which Francisco d’Anconia broke apart with an adultrous affair. Ben Nealy A railroad contractor that is hired to replace the railroad tracks on the Rio Norte Line with Rearden Metal.
He isn’t exactly the best fit for this job but no one better can be found to do so. He relies on his physical strength and sees intelligence as a burden towards his achievments. Dick McNamara The contractor who placed the tracks on the San Sebastian Line and is forseen to lay the tracks on the Rio Norte Line. Before Dagny has the chance to tell him the news, he mysteriously vanishes. Liz Blaine A rude friend of Betty Pope. Jock Benson Yet another one of Betty Pope’s friends who was the informant to James Taggart that everyone believes his sister is the one whom truly runs the railroads. Dan Conway
The builder of the Phoenix-Durango Railroad into the presiding southwestern railroad. This railroad takes most of the trains traffic and is Jame’s Taggart’s rival as he had ensure the passing of the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule” which put Dan out of business. Sebastian d’Anconia The founder of d’Anconia industy, he has escaped from Spain after freely expressing his opinions becoming a conflict to the Inquisition. After fleeing, he started a mining company in South America which dominated the entire industry causing him to gain a fortune. He is also noted to be Francisco’s muse and late ancestor.
Dr. Robert Stadler A world renowned scientist that was the former head of the Department of Physics at Patrick Henry University. He specializes in theoretical physics, and the John Galt’s former instructor. He is a firm believer that men will never listen to reason and they must be forced to go into the field of science. Dr. Floyd Ferris The current leader of the State Science Institute where he seeks politcal power through murder and would never have a second thought about it. He challenges the minds of the world with his philosophical book, “Why Do You Think You Think? Claude Slagenhop President of Friends of Global Progress and one of Lillian’s reserved friends. He believes himself to be too good for new ideas and only finds time for affirmative action. His company is made out to be a supporter of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. Ragnar Danneskjold A world renowned pirate who robs ships and gives the wealth to those who he believes deserves it. He is also a genius philosopher and his tactic is to take from the poor and give to the rich in hope they use the new wealth to be productive.
Mort Liddy A composer who is renowned for writing movie scores and symphonies but no one listens to it. Mr. Mowen Owner of a signal and switch company, he his noted as a failure of a buisnessman. Being such, he shows an immense hatred to anyone who is more successful than he is. The Bum He is the first person to use the repeated rhetorical question, “Who is John Galt? ” He sets the tone of the novel for the reader. Hugh Akston Noted as the greatest philosopher to ever live, he is a mentor to other great thinkers.
He is known to work at Patrick Henry University, the greatest college in the world, where he leads the Department of Philosphy. Dr. Potter A worker in the State Science Institute, he is sent to attempt to gain the rights to Rearden Metal. Ken Danagger A coal producer in Pennsylvania, he always finds a way to avoid the laws and is a participant in illegal settlements that are crucial to his buisness. Mr. Thompson The Head of State, he is willing to make deals that keep him in his current state of power. He follows his own set of principles to do so. Cherryl Brooks
A shop worker who sees James Taggart as a role model. She comes from a rough background and comes to New York City to further her career and become successful in life. Dwight Sanders Owner of Sanders Aircrafts, he is set in the novel to show Rand’s faith in the power of the mind through his decisions and actions. Dr. Simon Pritchett Head of the Department of Philosphy at Patrick Henry University, he is noted as one of the best philosophers in history. He is a firm believer that man is no more than just a result of molecules and chemicals forming together.
He shows that nothing can be understood no matter how certain. Pat Logan Engineer on the John Galt Line’s first run. Ray McKim A strong, friendly fireman. Ted Nielsen Rand’s human expression that inudustrialists can be friends as well as collegues. Roy Cunningham A man who died the year before in a drunk driving accident. Mark Yonts Owner of the People’s Mortgage Company and is recalled as a good friend by Mayor Bascom. He sold the major factory to the mayor. Jed Starnes Owner of the Twentieth Century Motor Factory, which was noted as the most successful factory of its time.
Lee Hunsacker Manager of Amalgamated Service after it overruns the Twentieth Century Motor Company. He is also noted to be a failure in the buisness world. Mayor Bascom The current mayor of Rome, Wisconsin and he unravels the mystery behind the abandoned Twentieth Century Motor Company. Eugene Lawson A terrible excuse for an investment banker, as he fully invested in the Twentieth Century Motor Factory while it was falling apart. When the factory lost all of it’s money, the money went with it and lost the money of nearly every resident in the Winsconsin town.
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Eric Starnes A man with an immense desire to feel the love of another human being, he is a weak man that committed suicide when the women he loved was betrothed to another man. Gerald Starnes One of the failed children of Jed Starnes, he is a consistant alcoholic who is dying because of his addiction. Ivy Starnes Noted as the biggest failure between all of the children. She is determinded that her budget plan was the superior one and that the factory’s failure was due to the greed of their workers as she has no desire for immense amount of cash for herself.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Atlas Shrugged Character Description
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