Atlas Shrugged (Chapters 9 and 10)

By Ayn Rand

Cover: Atlas ShruggedI’m feeling a bit broken down by this book at this point, and I’m only a quarter of the way through it (which, I would like to add, is the length of a normal-sized book). I feel like maybe I’m being brainwashed? I don’t even have the strength for resistance anymore.  Send help! What’s the anti-Ayn-Rand?

Anyway, the plot is getting pretty dense at this point, so while I was initially trying to confine my summaries to two or three paragraphs a chapter, I’m not sure that is going to be possible, and I refuse to let you escape hearing about some of the most uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve had to read.

Chapter 9

Hank and Dagny continue to have consensual rape, and also engage in the worst pillow talk I’ve ever read, starting with Hank kicking it off with “I want you to know this. What I feel for you is contempt. But it’s nothing, compared to the contempt I feel for myself” and Dagny ending with “Did you call it depravity? I am much more depraved than you are: you hold it as your guilt, and I—as my pride…If I’m asked to name my proudest attainment, I will say: I have slept with Hank Rearden. I have earned it.”

I’m not even sure what to do with all that, really.

Anyway, as a foil to Dagny’s very violent sex, we also see James Taggert limp-dicking his way through a platonic conversation with an idolizing nineteen-year-old shop girl, who is definitely the most interesting character in this chapter, and possibly the book. (She grew up poor! She ran away to New York to make something of herself! She is smart, ambitious, and, most importantly, happy!)

We also get a bit of awkward exposition between two random characters talking about the Equalization of Opportunity Bill (which I believe is the much improved name of the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Act), and how it is forcing business to close some branches in order to keep others open (since in addition to not being able to have multiple businesses, companies now can’t have multiple branches open, I guess?), and is causing all kinds of havoc in various small towns.

Just in time for Dagny and Hank to go on vacation to visit these small towns, leading to another baffling conversation in which they complain about the lack of billboards in the countryside (no, seriously). They decide that as good industrialists, they should also use their vacation time to go visit abandoned factories (which, in fact, I can sort of understand, since our family vacations always included checking out nearby dying industrial towns, for which both parents had quite a passion).

In one of the factories, Dagny runs across a basic model for an engine so advanced that she doesn’t totally comprehend how it works but at the same time immediately recognizes that it will revolutionize her trains. Don’t you worry, we hear A LOT more about this motor in Chapter 10.

Chapter 10

Dagny spends much of this chapter trying to track down anyone who would know anything about her motor, and I actually kind of enjoyed this part because it was a bit like a detective novel. It also brought me back around to the understanding I was starting to get in Chapter 7 (before I got perhaps a bit hysterical à la James Taggert).

Dagny is questioning some failed banker, who has now became a government official, about her motor, and the banker/bureaucrat is giving the usual bullshit about how his failures weren’t his fault since he was never given a chance to succeed, blah blah blah. But, he’s sitting there, whining about it, and I’m thinking, this guy seems pretty comfortably off, and it occurs to me that I was being all defensive about Rand’s treatment of the lower-income class, but in fact, she barely discusses them at all. Much like the Wall Street Journal, she doesn’t really recognize people who make below an upper-upper-middle-class income, so her antagonists are all wealthy, as well.

So, here’s the crux of my epiphany: We all love “makers” and hate “takers;” we just define them in different ways. America does not hate the wealthy; hell, we love our famous actors and musicians, and our Steve Jobs and whoever owns Starbucks, because they provide services that we recognize as making our lives better. The one-percenters we hate are the ones that truly don’t make anything except money, and that is really more of taking, when you come right down to it. They take money to make more money, and then just sit on the whole kit and caboodle, and no one really benefits from it at all.

Anyway, so while Dagny is tracking down the origins of her motor and I’m coming to a semblance of understanding of Randian philosophy, Hank is having a quintessential pity party for himself. He feels like he should feel guilty about cheating on his wife with Dagny, but he doesn’t really feel guilty, so he is sort of moping about not feeling guilty, and how now he can’t participate in his favorite pastime of judging others since now he too can be judged.

It is all very stupid and annoying, except that Lillian (whom I’m starting to love) comes in with a few well-placed verbal shots, where she accuses him of reneging on his marriage contract, which is something he would never do in a business practice.

Chapter 10 closes out Part 1 (of 3) with calamity! The government has established a Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources, which ruled that all companies must limit their production to an amount equal to the production of all other companies. It is all a bit convoluted and confusing. In order to prevent stockholders from losing money, however, the Bureau imposes a tax on companies in Colorado in order to compensate the stockholders. Colorado is singled out because the natural resources are plentiful there, but having come from Colorado, I’ll tell you what else is plentiful there: gun-nut survivalists who barely pay a minimum of taxes now and would have gone completely off-the-grid crazy with such a taxation. In fact, Ellis Wyatt* does just that, and the chapter ends with him burning down his entire oil processing plant and disappearing.

So, that’s that for the first part, and at this point, I have to say that while I’m starting to see a bit where Rand is coming from, it is totally bumming me out. Because I’m starting to agree with her in some of the ways that she describes our world as being in trouble, but I absolutely don’t agree with her offered solutions, so now it just seems hopeless, and it is all very depressing (and long).

—Anna

*So, looking back over posts, it looks like maybe Rebecca and I have failed to mention Ellis Wyatt yet. We can’t keep up with all the industrialists in this book! He has also mainly been in the background, but he is an oil tycoon, who has, of course, revolutionized oil production, and is one of the main customers for Taggert Transcontinental. (She built her fancy new railroad out of Rearden Metal in order to transport his oil from Colorado to the East Coast.) Dagny likes him a lot, even though he has some serious anger issues, though that has also been shown to be kind of her type.

6 comments on “Atlas Shrugged (Chapters 9 and 10)

  1. ‘So, here’s the crux of my epiphany: We all love “makers” and hate “takers;” we just define them in different ways. America does not hate the wealthy; hell, we love our famous actors and musicians, and our Steve Jobs and whoever owns Starbucks, because they provide services that we recognize as making our lives better. The one-percenters we hate are the ones that truly don’t make anything except money, and that is really more of taking, when you come right down to it. They take money to make more money, and then just sit on the whole kit and caboodle, and no one really benefits from it at all.

    Okay, well let me ask you: If no one is being coerced by being threatened with forced punishment if they refuse, why would anyone pay money to someone–who is already well-off–who provides them no value in return? And if someone, for some bizarre reason, does voluntarily pay someone who trades no value in return, whose fault is that and who is it that loses?

    • Rebecca says:

      Hey Apollo, I just realized that nobody had responded to this comment of yours. Sorry about that!

      If no one is being coerced by being threatened with forced punishment if they refuse, why would anyone pay money to someone–who is already well-off–who provides them no value in return?

      I believe that Anna’s issue here is with people who inherit vast wealth and then uses that money to make more money through interest. For example: remember when Dagny went to Francisco for funding for the John Galt line? Francisco refused and Dagny found funding elsewhere. But what if Francisco had said yes, instead, and in return had a contract that he would earn a certain percentage of the earnings of the company? Most inventors need a certain amount of seed money to start out with in order to monetize their inventions. Is an investor being a productive member of society simply by providing access to money?

      And if someone, for some bizarre reason, does voluntarily pay someone who trades no value in return, whose fault is that and who is it that loses?

      The current law says (I believe) that a contract in which one side gets no value isn’t a binding contract. Rearden references something similar in his musings on his marriage. Having signed such an unfair contract, should the signers get stuck with abiding by it?

  2. Rebecca says:

    Good point, regarding the difference between “the makers” and “the takers.” It’s not class warfare, because it’s all inside a single economic class (the really wealthy one.)

    The scene with Lillian quite was interesting. What particularly caught my attention was how it compared to the discussions Rearden had with each of Paul Larkin and Ken Danagger, when Rearden was forced to sell off some of his ventures. Rearden was clearly happier with Danagger’s blunt and honest approach to the whole situation, but in relating to Lillian, Rearden himself more closely resembled Paul Larkin’s ingratiating helplessness. Since Lillian pointed out that their marriage was a contract, why didn’t Rearden treat it as such? Surely the correct thing to do in that circumstance is to start looking at what the penalties are for breaking the contract. Did they not have a pre-nup?

    • ‘Good point, regarding the difference between “the makers” and “the takers.” It’s not class warfare…’

      Yes, thank you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Rand’s alleged “intellectual opponents” (in this case, read: Rand-haters) say something like “Rand admired the wealthy and hated the poor. She thought everyone who wasn’t a tycoon was a parasite.” Atlas Shrugged doesn’t support this, and she makes explicit statements in her nonfiction that contradict this smear: “‘Productive work’ does not mean the unfocused performance of the motions of some job. It means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man’s ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.” (See: Productiveness)

      ‘…it’s all inside a single economic class (the really wealthy one.)’

      There are important characters in the novel that are not wealthy.

      ‘Surely the correct thing to do in that circumstance is to start looking at what the penalties are for breaking the contract.’

      *Gasp* Break off his marriage to Lillian!? Why what a selfish thing to do…. 😉

      ‘Did they not have a pre-nup?’

      You do realize that this novel was written in the ’50s, right? 🙂

      • Rebecca says:

        I like the quote on productiveness. It actually reminds me quite a bit of some of the eastern philosophies that talk about maintaining focus and being very present in every activity. If you’re going to do something, do it right.

        Anyway, one of the things I’m finding difficult with this book is trying to keep track of the time period. For instance, corporate espionage was a known thing, even though Eddie Willers has apparently never heard of it. And émigré Ayn Rand presumably had some painful learning experiences with super-corrupt communist Russia and much less knowledge of how a working democracy works, given her hand-waving inclusion of “men in Washington.” Pre-nups existed at this point, and had for generations, but I don’t know anything much about how common they were. There was a 2.5% divorce rate in 1950, though.

        And, ah, the word “selfish.” I’m inclined to think that Ayn Rand made her point and won the war with this word decades ago to the extent that I’m having trouble with her arguments here because her straw men are idiots and her arguments are obvious. A certain level of selfishness is important to make the world work. People should (within reason) do and say what they want because anything else means wading through a mess of hypocrisy and poorly guessed intentions. If Rearden had signed a contract in business which he was then unable to fulfill, there would be a price to pay for breaking it, but paying that price would be a lot better and cleaner than acting like Orren Boyle with his repeated postponements. He really needs to either accept that the marriage isn’t working or make a real attempt to fulfill it.

  3. Elena says:

    I think thats an interesting point youre briginng up there at the end. Is it really the masses fault? Or is it just free will and the nature of human beings that forced Rapture to fail? I believe its just the fault of human nature. I think that if left without restraints, free will is a destructive force that will ultimately lead to destruction.

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