CLoM » Atlas Shrugged, Part VI » Meet the family

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Atlas Shrugged, Part VI » Meet the family

[ main page ]

Good old Atlas Shrugged. It's always there for you. Like the serial killer in your bathroom.

He saw lights in the windows of the living room, when he approached his house. The house stood on a hill, rising before him like a big white bulk; it looked naked, with a few semi-colonial pillars for reluctant ornament; it had the cheerless look of a nudity not worth revealing.

Well I've pretty much done this to death, but... it isn't like a big white bulk, it is a big white bulk. We have to stop doing this, Ayn.

He was not certain whether his wife noticed him when he entered the living room. She sat by the fireplace, talking, the curve of her arm floating in graceful emphasis of her words. He heard a small break in her voice, and thought that she had seen him, but she did not look up and her sentence went on smoothly; he could not be certain. "but it's just that a man of culture is bored with the alleged wonders of purely material ingenuity," she was saying. "He simply refuses to get excited about plumbing."

Oh god, so much here to look at.

  1. Notice that, even though his wife's dialog here is pretty much irrelevant - it exists only to show that she's talking - what she says is still a political soundbite from a viewpoint that only exists in Ayn Rand's head.
  2. Notice that, even though his wife should be describing something from a sympathetic viewpoint, the words she uses may as well have come directly from the mouth of Ayn Rand.
  3. This is a pretty bad way to introduce a character. We read 'she was talking [and her arm was moving]' and then we have to wait for a couple of paragraphs to find out who she is talking to. The effect is pretty surreal. We never get a good reason why her arm would move in such a weird way. Her arm is floating, people.
Then she turned her head, looked at Rearden in the shadows across the long room, and her arms spread gracefully, like two swan necks by her sides.

Lady, your arms are fucking odd.

They all turned to him - his mother, his brother Philip and Paul Larkin, their old friend.

Sadly in this case, Philip and Larkin does not equal Philip Larkin. This has prejudiced me against these people already. If I actually met them the conversation would go like this -

PHILIP - So I made an absolute mint offloading it in the foreign market.
MEI - Whatever. You're not Philip Larkin.
"I'm sorry," he answered. "I know I'm late."

"Don't say you're sorry," said his mother. "You could have telephoned." He looked at her, trying vaguely to remember something.

"You promised to be here for dinner tonight."

"Oh, that's right, I did. I'm sorry. But today at the mills, we poured" He stopped; he did not know what made him unable to utter the one thing he had come home to say; he added only, "It's just that I . . . forgot."

"That's what Mother means," said Philip.

Well as I'm sure you've guessed, this is sort of the theme of this section. These people are Hank Rearden's family, and this section is about them picking on him and being generally annoying for reasons that make no sense in the real world. Pretty much everything they do is portrayed like a political failing on their part. And there's a lot of this stuff to get through.

"Oh, let him get his bearings, he's not quite here yet, he's still at the mills," his wife said gaily. "Do take your coat off, Henry."

The number of times Mrs Hank is described as doing things 'gaily' is pretty extraordinary. Ayn Rand basically only found one adverb that fit what she was imagining, and decided to use it for every description anyway.

Paul Larkin was looking at him with the devoted eyes of an inhibited dog. "Hello, Paul," said Rearden. "When did you get in?"

"Oh, I just hopped down on the five thirty-five from New York." Larkin was smiling in gratitude for the attention.

You're not Philip Larkin.


"Who hasn't got trouble these days?" Larkin's smile became resigned, to indicate that the remark was merely philosophical. "But no, no special trouble this time. I just thought I'd drop in to see you."

Paul Larkin is a friend who depends on Hank for things. Ayn Rand will soon show us why that is evil.

His wife laughed. "You've disappointed him, Paul." She turned to Rearden. "Is it an inferiority complex or a superiority one, Henry? Do you believe that nobody can want to see you just for your own sake, or do you believe that nobody can get along without your help?”

God. I particularly like how the second sentence she says is butchered completely just so that she can say 'inferiority complex' instead of 'inferior' . However, I am made slightly hopeful by the fact that Ayn Rand is unable to properly psychoanalyze one of her Mary-Sues. This is a good sign, I think.

No, wait, that can't be right.

He wanted to utter an angry denial, but she was smiling at him as if this were merely a conversational joke, and he had no capacity for the sort of conversations which were not supposed to be meant, so he did not answer. He stood looking at her, wondering about the things he had never been able to understand.

Yeah, social conventions you don't understand exist just to annoy you. You should probably invent a philosophy that condemns them.

Lillian Rearden was generally regarded as a beautiful woman. She had a tall, graceful body, the kind that looked well in high-waisted gowns of the Empire style, which she made it a practice to wear. Her exquisite profile belonged to a cameo of the same period: its pure, proud lines and the lustrous, light brown waves of her hair, worn with classical simplicity, suggested an austere, imperial beauty. But when she turned full-face, people experienced a small shock of disappointment.

No one who is opposed to the Good Guys is allowed to be attractive. They have to make do with elaborate clothing rituals.

Her face was not beautiful. The eyes were the flaw: they were vaguely pale, neither quite gray nor brown, lifelessly empty of expression. Rearden had always wondered, since she seemed amused so often, why there was no gaiety in her face.

'Empty of expression' = no interest in industrialism. A terrible crime indeed, and one which will directly make you unattractive. I am sure we have all noticed how people who are not industrialists have ugly eyes.

"We have met before, dear," she said, in answer to his silent scrutiny, "though you don't seem to be sure of it."

When your wife feels the need to explain who she is, you've probably been staring too hard. I'm just saying.

"Have you had any dinner, Henry?" his mother asked; there was a reproachful impatience in her voice, as if his hunger were a personal insult to her.

"Yes . . . No . . . I wasn't hungry."

"I'd better ring to have them--"

"No, Mother, not now, it doesn't matter."

"That's the trouble I've always had with you." She was not looking at him, but reciting words into space. "It's no use trying to do things for you, you don't appreciate it. I could never make you eat properly."

I think now is the time to consider my main criticism of this section. Which is... why they hell does Hank Rearden actually associate with these people? They're not like apparent friends with passive-aggressive tendencies, they're full-out sniping harpies who literally never say anything nice to him. More than that, most of the things they say are things that would stop a conversation dead in real life. No one can really get away with being this rude in casual conversation. It doesn't make any sense at all that he would marry one of them and allow two of the others to live with him.

Ayn Rand invents these people as an example of why affectionate relationships are bad (seriously, that's what we're leading up to) but not only does the argument not follow, the premise itself is self-evidently made up. It is just plucked from her head and pulled into a quasi-realistic shape.

"Henry, you work too hard," said Philip. "It's not good for you."

Rearden laughed. "I like it."

Sure, OK. Let's consider this rationally, shall we? So far we have observed that Rearden's work consists of -

Sure that all makes perfect sense. As an aside, I would like to question the emotional stability of creating a character who mirrors your work ethic and then having people tell them 'you work too hard'.

"That's what you tell yourself. It's a form of neurosis, you know. When a man drowns himself in work, it's because he's trying to escape from something. You ought to have a hobby."

"Oh, Phil, for Christ's sake!" he said, and regretted the irritation in his voice.

I would probably say the same thing. But then, that's because armchair psychology makes me want to cut things. Clearly Ayn Rand is not with me on this, or she would not have put so much armchair psychology in this chapter.

Hey Ayn, how about less of the armchair psychology?

Let me consult my magic 8-ball.

OK cool.

Oh bad luck, the 8-ball hates you.


Philip had always been in precarious health, though doctors had found no specific defect in his loose, gangling body. He was thirty-eight, but his chronic weariness made people think at times that he was older than his brother.

It's amazing how no one mentioned to me that Ayn Rand's philosophy also condemns illness. She seems to think the entire physical condition of the body can be overruled by the brain. For a movement that takes such pains to describe itself in terms of rationality, objectivism is pretty superstitious. If Ayn Rand had made medicine instead of books, she would've been a faith healer.

"I had a pretty good time today, Phil," he answered, smiling - and wondered why Philip did not ask him what it was.

He wished one of them would ask him. He was finding it hard to concentrate. The sight of the running metal was still burned into his mind, filling his consciousness, leaving no room for anything else.

Aw, look. Hank is self-conscious about his interests. If his interests weren't so dehumanizing, this might be an attractive feature of his personality.

Is "I had a good time watching something being named after me" really consistent with "I work so hard I can barely move, but that's just how I roll baby"?

"You might have apologized, only I ought to know better than to expect it." It was his mother's voice; he turned: she was looking at him with that injured look which proclaims the long-bearing patience of the defenseless.

The way Rand says 'that look which...' makes me think she expects me to know what the following gobbledygook means. I mean... 'the long-bearing patience of the defenseless'? That's asinine. It should be 'long-borne' for a start. She isn't actually bearing a long, I mean. And ideally it should actually mean something when you read it. What is the self-proclaimed long-bearing patience of the defenseless? Is it a crossword clue?

"Mrs. Beecham was here for dinner," she said reproachfully.


"Mrs. Beecham. My friend Mrs. Beecham."


"I told you about her, I told you many times, but you never remember anything I say. Mrs. Beecham was so anxious to meet you, but she had to leave after dinner, she couldn't wait, Mrs. Beecham is a very busy person. She wanted so much to tell you about the wonderful work we're doing in our parish school, and about the classes in metal craftsmanship, and about the beautiful wrought-iron doorknobs that the little slum children are making all by themselves."

It took the whole of his sense of consideration to force himself to answer evenly, "I'm sorry if I disappointed you, Mother."

Ayn Rand wants us to see Hank as an unfairly victimized guy in this part, but he's barely making an effort to be civil. Everyone has conversations where someone says 'I met [someone you don't know] today', and we all manage not to just go 'what?'. How difficult is it to nod and smile, and say 'I see' every now and then?

Plus, why does the slum children anecdote make him so internally angry? I can't make any sense of this part. Is it just the fact that his mother is talking to him that's making him angry? That's the only thing I can think of, but that can't be right, because it makes him seem like a dick.

Oh wait.

"You're not sorry. You could've been here if you'd made the effort. But when did you ever make an effort for anybody but yourself? You're not interested in any of us or in anything we do. You think that if you pay the bills, that's enough, don't you? Money! That's all you know. And all you give us is money. Have you ever given us any time?"

It says a lot that, in Randworld, this isn't a legitimate complaint. Human stuff is pointless. Make more money.

If this meant that she missed him, he thought, then it meant affection, and if it meant affection, then he was unjust to experience a heavy, murky feeling which kept him silent lest his voice betray that the feeling was disgust.

This is going somewhere. And it's not going to a nice place.

"You don't care," her voice went half-spitting, half-begging on. "Lillian needed you today for a very important problem, but I told her it was no use waiting to discuss it with you."
  • 'her voice went half-spitting, half-begging on' -> That's appalling. I mean... god. Did Ayn Rand actually dictate this off the top of her head and then just publish the result?
  • 'Lillian needed you today for a very important problem, but I told her it was no use waiting to discuss it with you.' -> Hank Rearden should invent some kind of device to allow people to talk to other people at remote distances. It will be called... the Remote Talker.
He turned to her. He stood in the middle of the room, with his trenchcoat still on, as if he were trapped in an unreality that would not become real to him.
  • He turned
  • He was standing
  • He was in the middle of the room
  • He was wearing a trenchcoat

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Random Details Night.

'as if he were trapped in an unreality that would not become real to him' -> Hooray for feelings described as if they're technical qualities.

"It's not important at all," said Lillian gaily; he could not tell whether her voice was apologetic or boastful. "It's not business. It's purely non-commercial."

There's that word again.

"What is it?"

"Just a party I'm planning to give."

"A party?"

God damn it, Hank, show a little enthusiasm. You can't keep up your victim act if you reply to everything with a blank thoughtless question. It just looks like you can't be bothered to pay attention to people.

"Oh, I know! But couldn't I make a formal appointment with you, way in advance, just like any railroad executive, automobile manufacturer or junk - I mean, scrapdealer? They say you never miss an appointment. Of course, I'd let you pick the date to suit your convenience." She was looking up at him, her glance acquiring some special quality of feminine appeal by being sent from under her lowered forehead up toward his full height; she asked, a little too casually and too cautiously, "The date I had in mind was December tenth, but would you prefer the ninth or the eleventh?"

"It makes no difference to me."

She said gently, "December tenth is our wedding anniversary, Henry."

They were all watching his face; if they expected a look of guilt, what they saw, instead, was a faint smile of amusement. She could not have intended this as a trap, he thought, because he could escape it so easily, by refusing to accept any blame for his forgetfulness and by leaving her spurned; she knew that his feeling for her was her only weapon. Her motive, he thought, was a proudly indirect attempt to test his feeling and to confess her own. A party was not his form of celebration, but it was hers. It meant nothing in his terms; in hers, it meant the best tribute she could offer to him and to their marriage. He had to respect her intention, he thought, even if he did not share her standards, even if he did not know whether he still cared for any tribute from her. He had to let her win, he thought, because she had thrown herself upon his mercy. He smiled, an open, unresentful smile in acknowledgment of her victory. "All right, Lillian," he said quietly, "I promise to be here on the night of December tenth."

You're both cowardly jerks.

  • Hank supposedly never misses an appointment if it is business related. How then, are we expected to see the forgetting of his anniversary as an innocent lapse of memory? This is the thing - Hank Rearden clearly doesn't actually care about his wife and family, and it is understandable because they are irritating strawmen.
  • Maybe the first instance of Ayn using 'feminine' as a pejorative. I feel like explaining why this is stupid would be almost tautological, and it's pretty pointless anyway.
He put his hand in his pocket. When he touched it, the reality of the bracelet swept out everything else; he felt as he had felt when the liquid metal had poured through space before him.

That's the exact same phrasing, too. I remember because I made a point of drawing attention to how weird and wrong it sounded.

"I brought you a present, Lillian."

He did not know that he stood straight and that the gesture of his arm was that of a returning crusader offering his trophy to his love, when he dropped a small chain of metal into her lap.

Regarding the second sentence - w ... t ... f.

Sometimes Ayn Rand writes bad things but you can vaguely work out what she means. Other times, like now, she seems to write things just to sound like 'writing', without giving any thought to what the meaning is. This is genuine word salad here. Worse than that - this is word salad and borderline purple prose as well.

Note - for the sake of drama, Ayn has him drop the thing into her lap instead of, for example, handing it to her with his hands. I would love to see a movie of this, just to see how they cope with the awful theatrics like this part.

Lillian Rearden picked it up, hooked on the tips of two straight fingers, and raised it to the light. The links were heavy, crudely made, the shining metal had an odd tinge, it was greenish-blue.
  • Lillian Rearden is hooked on the tips of two straight fingers. Who knew.
    • Whoa whoa whoa whoa. Even if you allow for that little mistake, how the fuck is a straight finger supposed to hook anything? Jesus fucking Christ, Ayn. Read your fucking work before you publish it.
  • I can at least imagine what the metal looks like from this. That's something.
"What's that?" she asked.

"The first thing made from the first heat of the first order of Rearden Metal."

"You mean," she said, "it's fully as valuable as a piece of railroad rails?"

He looked at her blankly.

Hank is a hard-headed businessman who is developing a distaste for unnecessary social conventions - except now he is judging this chain on a sentimental basis, while his strawman wife is the one who refuses to see it as anything other than functional. I can't help thinking that Ayn Rand got mixed up a bit here.

"The intention's plain selfishness, if you ask me," said Rearden's mother. "Another man would bring a diamond bracelet, if he wanted to give his wife a present, because it's' her pleasure he'd think of, not his own. But Henry thinks that just because he's made a new kind of tin, why, it's got to be more precious than diamonds to everybody, just because it's he that's made it. That's the way he's been since he was five years oldthe most conceited brat you ever saw - and I knew he'd grow up to be the most selfish creature on God's earth."

Earlier I said that Mrs Rearden's behavior is unrealistic and would not pass without comment in real life. I consider this paragraph to be more than enough proof for that.

MRS REARDEN - You're the most selfish creature on God's earth.
HANK REARDEN - Please live in my house.
"No, it's sweet," said Lillian. "It's charming." She dropped the bracelet down on the table. She got up, put her hands on Rearden's shoulders, and raising herself on tiptoe, kissed him on the cheek, saying, "Thank you, dear."

He did not move, did not bend his head down to her. After a while, he turned, took off his coat and sat down by the fire, apart from the others. He felt nothing but an immense exhaustion.

Actually, he also felt humiliated and impotent, which is why he wrote this book about it.

He had offered his mother unlimited means to live as and where she pleased; he wondered why she had insisted that she wanted to live with him. His success, he had thought, meant something to her, and if it did, then it was a bond between them, the only kind of bond he recognized; if she wanted a place in the home of her successful son, he would not deny it to her.

He couldn't deny her. He has to be entirely blameless in this absurd situation, otherwise Ayn Rand's revolting scenario won't be as one-sided as she wants it to be.

"It's no use hoping to make a saint out of Henry, Mother," said Philip. "He wasn't meant to be one."

"Oh but, Philip, you're wrong!" said Lillian. "You're so wrong! Henry has all the makings of a saint. That's the trouble." What did they seek from him? - thought Rearden - what were they after? He had never asked anything of them; it was they who wished to hold him, they who pressed a claim on himand the claim seemed to have the form of affection, but it was a form which he found harder to endure than any sort of hatred. He despised causeless affection, just as he despised unearned wealth. They professed to love him for some unknown reason and they ignored all the things for which he could wish to be loved.

Here's the conclusion of Rand's mini-thesis. The behavior of these unfeeling stereotypes is caused by the fact that they feel affection towards him. And obviously, affection is a bad thing anyway, but this situation just proves how bad it is. Being affectionate towards someone implies that you expect them to give you money, advice, a home, and socially acceptable gifts. Obviously.

Bonus lulz in the 'actually it would be nice if they loved me for the specific things I want to be loved for' insert. Sure Ayn, because that's so totally consistent with the rest of your argument. I thought objectivists were supposed to be against expecting sympathy from people?

What is this garbage, anyway? What kind of human being decides that they 'despise causeless affection'? How devoid of feeling and basic empathy do you have to be to do that? Would I actually have to be a sociopath to understand this principle? Because I have to say Ayn, from where I'm standing causeless affection might be the only thing worth keeping in humanity. Affection isn't some business arrangement that you can judge on objective merits. It's not some thing that can be sorted into little piles of 'earned' and 'not earned'. All affection is irrational. All affection is 'causeless' - by any metric you would approve of, at least.

He wondered what response they could hope to obtain from him.

Whatever. You're definitely not Philip Larkin.

--Mei (talk) 23:06, 30 April 2010 (UTC)

[ main page ]


What is Mei doing up at quarter past 12? Professor Moriarty 23:18, 30 April 2010 (UTC)

Mei was writing about Atlas Shrugged. What were you doing? Mei (talk) 00:08, 2 May 2010 (UTC)
You're not Philip Larkin, your question is invalid. Anyway, this is good stuff Mei! I'll have to keep track of these. A friend of mine got me this wretched book (as a joke) on tape. I think that's the only format I could hypothetically take it in. --IN SOVIET CANUCKISTAN, BEAVER DAMS YOU!!!YossarianThe Man from the USSR 23:44, 30 April 2010 (UTC)
How many tapes would that be? Does it come in a suitcase sized pack? Mei (talk) 00:08, 2 May 2010 (UTC)
This was a good one, Mei. Possibly the best of the Atlas Shrugged posts. Tetronian you're clueless 02:45, 1 May 2010 (UTC)
Philip Larkin is just that good. Mei (talk) 00:08, 2 May 2010 (UTC)

I'm jealous of your analytical skills. If I had read this, I would've rejected it on a gut level, but been unable to articulate why. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 03:46, 1 May 2010 (UTC)

You need more Philip Larkin. Mei (talk) 00:08, 2 May 2010 (UTC)