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Atlas Shrugged, Part V » Clip show

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Now with even more shrugging. Cleans whites and colors. Tell your friends.

This section is mostly Hank Rearden flashbacking. Or flashing back. One of those things.

He walked, keeping one hand in his pocket, his fingers closed about a bracelet. It was made of Rearden Metal, in the shape of a chain. His fingers moved, feeling its texture once in a while. It had taken ten years to make that bracelet. Ten years, he thought, is a long time. The road was dark, edged with trees. Looking up, he could see a few leaves against the stars; the leaves were twisted and dry, ready to fall.

This is not the first time we've encountered these socialist trees. It's about time someone knocked the leaves off these socialist trees.

I let it pass before, but seriously... why 'Rearden Metal'? It's the most dull obvious name you could possibly call a metal invented by someone called Rearden. And it doesn't even make sense: since when is anything called 'X Productname'? We don't drink Coca-Cola Drink, or drive the new Ford Car. The idea that, of all people, a shrewd businessman would do this is just ridiculous. 'Rearden Metal' is not a name that will set the marketplace on fire.

There were distant lights in the windows of houses scattered through the countryside; but the lights made the road seem lonelier.

I wonder if Hank Rearden is lonely. No, that's reading far to deeply into the text. I must not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

He never felt loneliness except when he was happy. He turned, once in a while, to look back at the red glow of the sky over the mills. He did not think of the ten years. What remained of them tonight was only a feeling which he could not name, except that it was quiet and solemn. The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it. But the parts, unrecalled, were there, within the feeling. They were the nights spent at scorching ovens in the research laboratory of the mills - the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure - the days when the young scientists of the small staff he had chosen to assist him waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging in the air: "Mr. Rearden, it can't be done" - the meals, interrupted and abandoned at the sudden flash of a new thought, a thought to be pursued at once, to be tried, to be tested, to be worked on for months, and to be discarded as another failure - the moments snatched from conferences, from contracts, from the duties of running the best steel mills in the country, snatched almost guiltily, as for a secret love the one thought held immovably across a span of ten years, under everything he did and everything he saw, the thought held in his mind when he looked at the buildings of a city, at the track of a railroad, at the light in the windows of a distant farmhouse, at the knife in the hands of a beautiful woman cutting a piece of fruit at a banquet, the thought of a metal alloy that would do more than steel had ever done, a metal that would be to steel what steel had been to iron the acts of self-racking when he discarded a hope or a sample,not permitting himself to know that he was tired, not giving himself time to feel, driving himself through the wringing torture of: "not good enough . . . still not good enough . . ." and going on with no motor save the conviction that it could be done then the day when it was done and its result was called Rearden Metal these were the things that had come to white heat, had melted and fused within him, and their alloy was a strange, quiet feeling that made him smile at the countryside in the darkness and wonder why happiness could hurt.
  • 'He never felt loneliness except when he was happy.' -> What.
  • OK, I can vaguely see how that could be possible, but I'm still pretty sure we can just put this down to Ayn Rand not knowing what loneliness is like. Oh god, I've just realized... this is just another facet of Rand's 'success is anti-social' memeplex. Yuck, get it off me.
  • 'What remained of them tonight was only a feeling which he could not name' -> Enough with the 'nameless feelings' stuff. You don't need to analyze your character's feelings in unequivocal terms... especially if the resulting text is 'this character's feelings couldn't be analyzed'. Real people do not think 'I have a nameless feeling which is solemn'. Ever.
  • More than half of this paragraph is a single sentence that goes on and on without justifying the space it takes up. Pick out any individual detail in this stream and you'll find that it is badly conceived and arbitrary, like the details were just picked from the air in the first draft and Rand stuck with them ever since. The thing is, stream-of-consciousness style text should be of the same quality of the rest of the text -- being unfocused and random isn't an advantage here. Just the same as the rest of the text, someone will eventually have to read it, and if it is badly written they will not be impressed. Plus I'm sure there are better ways of conveying this character's mindset without using up this much text.
  • It can't have escaped your notice that Hank Rearden's business practices are pretty awful. He doesn't investigate anything scientifically here, he just chooses one particular thing he wants to be true (ie, 'it is possible to make an alloy that is better than steel') and finds the solution through an incredibly wasteful brute force investigation. His only virtue is that he happens to be right. In the real world, this is not a good way to research anything, and holding this up as an example of a good industrial work ethic is plain delusional.
After a while, he realized that he was thinking of his past, as if certain days of it were spread before him, demanding to be seen again. He did not want to look at them; he despised memories as a pointless indulgence. But then he understood that he thought of them tonight in honor of that piece of metal in his pocket. Then he permitted himself to look.
  • 'he despised memories as a pointless indulgence' -> Wow, what a jerk. The more I read of it, the more it seems Objectivism is only a verbose way of saying 'I don't really like humans'.
  • Try reading those last two sentences aloud. Nice rhythm, huh? It's like it was written like that specifically to prevent any kind of flow between the sentences. Like they might leak into each other if you don't keep them rigid and pointy.
He saw the day when he stood on a rocky ledge and felt a thread of sweat running from his temple down his neck. He was fourteen years old and it was his first day of work in the iron mines of Minnesota. He was trying to learn to breathe against the scalding pain in his chest. He stood, cursing himself, because he had made up his mind that he would not be tired. After a while, he went back to his task; he decided that pain was not a valid reason for stopping, He saw the day when he stood at the window of his office and looked at the mines; he owned them as of that morning. He was thirty years old.
  • 'He was fourteen years old and it was his first day of work' -> Wow, that's crazy immoral. Let's all take a moment to reflect on this. I mean... this isn't Hank Rearden saying 'I was a child laborer', this is Ayn Rand saying 'child labor is neat'. I regret that I am too tired right now to express exactly how revolting this is to me. Go to hell, Ayn.
  • 'he had made up his mind that he would not be tired' -> Sure, because that's how it works. Hey, here's a question - if you can decide whether to be tired, why do you ever decide to be tired? It seems like you could get so much more work done if you didn't sleep at all. You could probably write twice as many crypto-fascist fantasy novels[1]. Seriously, think about it.
  • 'he decided that pain was not a valid reason for stopping' -> It's different if it's real pain and not pain in a book.

Also, how did he get to be the owner of a mine from such a pitifully low position? Why would he invest all his energy in a career avenue like that?

What had gone on in the years between did not matter, just as pain had not mattered.

Aha! I knew you could hear me!

I can't hear you.

If you can't hear me, you wouldn't answer.


So Ayn, what's the deal with all the stupid names in this book?

He had worked in mines, in foundries, in the steel mills of the north, moving toward the purpose he had chosen. All he remembered of those jobs was that the men around him had never seemed to know what to do, while he had always known. He remembered wondering why so many iron mines were closing, just as these had been about to close until he took them over. He looked at the shelves of rock in the distance. Workers were putting up a new sign above a gate at the end of a road: Rearden Ore.

Now you know -- people don't go out of business because of unsustainable methods of production, they go out of business because they are not properly Motivated and Determined.

(Ayn is ignoring me again ;_______;)

He saw an evening when he sat slumped across his desk in that office.

Good times.

It was late and his staff had left; so he could lie there alone, unwitnessed. He was tired. It was as if he had run a race against his own body, and all the exhaustion of years, which he had refused to acknowledge, had caught him at once and flattened him against the desk top. He felt nothing, except the desire not to move. He did not have the strength to feel - not even to suffer. He had burned everything there was to burn within him; he had scattered so many sparks to start so many things and he wondered whether someone could give him now the spark he needed, now when he felt unable ever to rise again. He asked himself who had started him and kept him going. Then he raised his head.

Slowly, with the greatest effort of his life, he made his body rise until he was able to sit upright with only one hand pressed to the desk and a trembling arm to support him.

  • Why would being in a managerial position make him so tired that he literally can't lift himself up? Did he fire everyone in the mine and start moving all the ore around in person?
  • Ayn, there's only so many ways you can rephrase 'He used all his energy and then gave himself some more by being awesome'. For a change, maybe you could write something plausible?
He never asked that question again. He saw the day when he stood on a hill and looked at a grimy wasteland of structures that had been a steel plant. It was closed and given up. He had bought it the night before. There was a strong wind and a gray light squeezed from among the clouds. In that light, he saw the brown-red of rust, like dead blood, on the steel of the giant cranes - and bright, green, living weeds, like gorged cannibals, growing over piles of broken glass at the foot of walls made of empty frames. At a gate in the distance, he saw the black silhouettes of men. They were the unemployed from the rotting hovels of what had once been a prosperous town.

Why are all the plants in this world outspokenly political?

There are green weeds that are like 'gorged cannibals'. I'd really like to know exactly how much like gorged cannibals they are. Because I can't picture it.

They stood silently, looking at the glittering car he had left at the gate of the mills; they wondered whether the man on the hill was the Hank Rearden that people were talking about, and whether it was true that the mills were to be reopened. "The historical cycle of steel-making in Pennsylvania is obviously running down," a newspaper had said, "and experts agree that Henry Rearden's venture into steel is hopeless. You may soon witness the sensational end of the sensational Henry Rearden." That was ten years ago. Tonight, the cold wind on his face felt like the wind of that day. He turned to look back. The red glow of the mills breathed in the sky, a sight as life-giving as a sunrise. These had been his stops, the stations which an express had reached and passed. He remembered nothing distinct of the years between them; the years were blurred, like a streak of speed.

More and more this stuff reads like excerpts from Conservapedia. This could be a diatribe about the 'Best of the public' meme.

So called experts denounce the steel industry! But Henry Rearden boldly restarts the industry by supplying enough hot air to make operating a steel mill profitable by default! When will liberals stop worshiping expertise??? --Achaffinch (talk) 22:50, 28 April 2010 (UTC)

Whatever it was, he thought, whatever the strain and the agony, they were worth it, because they had made him reach this day - this day when the first heat of the first order of Rearden Metal had been poured, to become rails for Taggart Transcontinental.
  • 'they made him reach this day'? We're straying into the territory of 'deliberately awful' now.
  • Companies with godawful names gotta stick together.
He touched the bracelet in his pocket. He had had it made from that first poured metal. It was for his wife. As he touched it, he realized suddenly that he had thought of an abstraction called "his wife" - not of the woman to whom he was married.

I've literally never heard of anyone realizing anything like this before.

HANK: Hello dear. Whoops... you were abstracted for a bit there!
WIFE: ...
He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a wave of self-reproach for the regret. He shook his head. This was not the time for his old doubts. He felt that he could forgive anything to anyone, because happiness was the greatest agent of purification. He felt certain that every living being wished him well tonight. He wanted to meet someone, to face the first stranger, to stand disarmed and open, and to say, "Look at me." People, he thought, were as hungry for a sight of joy as he had always been - for a moment's relief from that gray load of suffering which seemed so inexplicable and unnecessary. He had never been able to understand why men should be unhappy.
  • 'a wave of self-reproach'? How about 'he reproached himself'? Why do his feelings have to arrive like messages from someone who lives a long way away?
  • 'He felt that he could forgive anything to anyone, because happiness was the greatest agent of purification. He felt certain that every living being wished him well tonight. He wanted to meet someone, to face the first stranger, to stand disarmed and open, and to say, "Look at me."' -> You know what? I can't really criticize this. It's nice. It flows ok, and it refers to something which exists and is meaningful. It describes a feeling that I've had, and which I haven't actually read anyone referring to before. I mean... I know Ayn Rand is going to follow this up by having everyone inexplicably victimize Hank (see my next post) and it'll all turn out to be a cheap political trick, but right now I'm going to ignore that and concentrate on the positives.
  • 'He had never been able to understand why men should be unhappy' -> Personally I can't understand why anyone would enjoy playing Halo, so obviously that means it is impossible that anyone enjoys playing Halo. Clearly there is some underhand motive for all these people to pretend they enjoy playing Halo. We're through the looking-glass here people.
The dark road had risen imperceptibly to the top of a hill. He stopped and turned. The red glow was a narrow strip, far to the west. Above it, small at a distance of miles, the words of a neon sign stood written on the blackness of the sky: REARDEN STEEL. He stood straight, as if before a bench of judgment. He thought that in the darkness of this night other signs were lighted over the country: Rearden Ore - Rearden Coal - Rearden Limestone. He thought of the days behind him. He wished it were possible to light a neon sign above them, saying: Rearden Life.

There's still enough time for this to turn out to be a Windows 7 commercial.

He turned sharply and walked on. As the road came closer to his house, he noticed that his steps were slowing down and that something was ebbing away from his mood. He felt a dim reluctance to enter his home, which he did not want to feel. No, he thought, not tonight; they'll understand it, tonight. But he did not know, he had never defined, what it was that he wanted them to understand.
  1. He didn't want to feel reluctance? Wow. How do you even parse that in your own brain? It's like an infinite loop of badly written angst.
  2. Hank is sad because he knows his family do not sympathize with his philosophical choice not to feel sympathy for anyone. This perfect sense makes.
  3. End of scene, huzzah!

So yeah, in the next scene we get to meet Hank Rearden's family, who are all ridiculous strawmen. It is a solid 8 on the Annoyance scale, and well worth tuning in for. Until next time.

--Mei (talk) 22:50, 28 April 2010 (UTC)

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I love these Atlas Shrugged posts; I can't wait for the next one!

Aside: I don't remember the language being this bad when I read the book, but then again, I was pretty young. Tetronian you're clueless 23:19, 28 April 2010 (UTC)

  1. Or you could make your existing crypto-fascist fantasy novels twice as long. OH WAIT STOP NO.