Who is John Galt?

""I swear by my life and my love of it I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." - John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.

First Things in an October 11, 2007 article by Brian Murray entitled “Who is John Galt? And Does Anyone Care Anymore?” discusses the influence of Ayn Rand on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of her novel “Atlas Shrugged”. Murray writes:

Atlas Shrugged was a huge, hotly debated bestseller in its day, and its sales have held steady ever since. Its author, certainly, retains a certain mystique as the exacting thinker still revered by many Americans as a great intellectual and seer. All of us, surely, know someone who has passed through an Ayn Rand phrase, mild or severe. At some point we’ve all heard the words: “Atlas Shrugged changed my life.”

Ayn Rand took herself very seriously indeed. She was a born iconoclast and provocateur: one of those restless souls forever seeking to bend the world to her will. She was not easily impressed, deciding early on that nearly all philosophy after Aristotle was a waste of time. One day, Rand famously assured her university professors, she would produce timeless philosophical writings of her own. She had very little humor but plenty of push.

First, however, she would write movies and plays. Alicia Rosenbaum—as her family knew Ayn Rand—spent much of her childhood reading far-fetched novels featuring square-jawed adventurers in exotic locales. Besides Aristotle, Rand’s heroes were all fictional he-men—late Victorian versions of Indiana Jones. When, in 1926, Rand left her native Russia for the United States, she headed straight for Hollywood, where in short order she found a husband, took an extra’s part in Cecil B. De Mille’s The King of Kings, and started cranking out scripts. Alicia Rosenbaum became Ayn Rand, the headstrong heroine of a decidedly American story.

Rand’s educated, prosperous family suffered terribly under the Soviets, and her hatred of communism burned on like a hard, gemlike flame. But she loved the United States in her own, highly stylized way: She loved its skyscrapers, its technology, its machinery, its energy. Rand’s first big bestseller, The Fountainhead (1940), is in part a long hymn to this America of her imagination, and its hero, Howard Roark, is her first extended portrait of the consummate American—a world-class architect based loosely on Frank Lloyd Wright.

Rand’s Ideal Man could never be a schoolteacher, say, or a physical therapist, or a claims clerk in the Social Security Administration. He must not be short-winded or fat. He must be perfection in action—gifted and brave, uniquely talented, and utterly free of irrationality and fear. He must, like Roark, defend the premise that no man should ever compromise his individual will or submit to pathetic notions of “sacrifice”; he must recognize that men of genius like himself will forever fight the lazy, inferior parasites who seek to take what superior minds have made. He must, in short, look like Gary Cooper and think exactly like Ayn Rand. As The Fountainhead showed, Rand’s beliefs were well-suited for the big screen, where outsize heroes, defiant acts, and stirring speeches have always been the order of the day.

Rand hated religion as much as she hated communism; for her Christianity was, of course, the religion of fools and slaves. Rand’s “marginalia,” culled from the books in her library and published in 1998, are particularly revealing: The woman who despised emotionalism and valued reason above all became, when faced with C.S. Lewis, like one of those “literary guys” faced with Mickey Spillane. Lewis, Rand averred, was a “driveling non-entity,” a “mediocrity,” and “scum.”

Still, Atlas Shrugged, you’ve heard countless times, is a classic, and apparently it’s soon to be a major motion picture starring Angelina Jolie. And so, finally, you’re ready to give it a go—all 1,168 pages. It is full of rich characters: They own steel mills and railroads. Otherwise they’re ponderous and flat. It’s possible, then, that early on your eyes might start to glaze a bit, and you’ll find yourself thinking “Really, I couldn’t care less” each time the novel demands: “Who is John Galt?” It’s very possible, actually, because fifty years after its publication Atlas Shrugged is much better as a doorstop than a novel.

Atlas Shrugged – Good novel or good doorstop?.

Posted October 17, 2007


Neil said...

I remember being introduced to Atlas Shrugged by an American friend when I arrived in the States in the sixties. He was a devoted follower of Rand and her philosophy - I had never heard of her.

So I got the book and read it. Wow, was it boring. I got the whole point after a couple of chapters but on and on it went until that lenghty speech towards the end where Rand spelled out her worldview.

My friend could not understand why I found the book so uninteresting. He probably thought I was a bit of an idiot but having been raised on the likes of Thomas Hardy (as disussed in the previous thread) and James Joyce etc Rand just did not make the mark.

So good doorstop certainly is my opinion though I will go to the movie just to see what they were able to do with it. I usually find that movies are never as good as the book they are based on (Angela's Ashes would be an excellent example). Perhaps in this case I will be pleasantly surprised and after all Angeline Jolie is not bad to look at for a couple of hours!


Avid Reader said...

I agree, Neil. Atlas Shrugged is not great literature or even a good novel. However, it did have (and maybe still does) appeal to a young group of college students and recent graduates. The message is simple, reason solves everthing and spirituality and the passions are to be eliminated.

But then how did reason help with Ms. Rand's romantic interests? From Wikipedia I quote:

While working on (a) film, she intentionally bumped into an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor, who caught her eye. The two married on April 15, 1929, and remained married for fifty years, until O'Connor's death in 1979 at the age of 82.

In 1950, after having become a fan of her novels and exchanged letters and phone calls, 19-year-old Nathaniel Branden met Rand. The pair went on to develop an eighteen-year personal and professional relationship. Eventually, Rand and the much younger Branden had a romantic affair. They persuaded their spouses to accept it. According to Barbara Branden, "the affair was agonizingly painful", both to her and Rand's husband.

Barbara Branden met her husband, Nathaniel Branden, on account of their mutual interest in Ayn Rand's works. The two married, with Rand and her husband, Frank O'Connor, serving as the bridesmaid and best man, respectively. Rand considered Barbara to be one of the most important proponents of Objectivism, second only to Nathaniel. In 1968, Ayn Rand terminated her relationship with Nathaniel after she discovered that he was engaged in an ongoing romantic relationship with actress Patrecia Scott, and with Barbara for keeping this from her.

All of which might have been better material for a good novel that the political ramblings she rammed into Atlas Shrugged.


Janet Witherspoon said...

Agree on Atlas Shrugged but have to say that The Fountainhead was quite a good read and the movie was enjoyable too.

I didn't know that a movie is presently being filmed based on Atlas Shrugged. I will be interested to see it and see if my impressions of the book are changed by it.


Vinny Hall said...

Who is playing John Galt?


Diana Malcolm said...

Ayn Rand influenced one recent figure to some extent - Alan Greenspan. He appears to have been a lifelong Objectivist who was a friend of Rand, wrote articles in her magazines and attended her funeral.

Di Di

Pianoman said...

You might be interested in this survey based on 2,032 responses from Book-of-the-Month Club members in 1991:

Top books that made a difference in people's lives:
1. The Bible
2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
3. The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
5. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Second after the bible - not bad going for little Ms. Rand!

Tirza said...

Interesting to know.