Atlas Shrugged is my favorite novel. I’m re-reading it now, and had the opportunity to talk about it very briefly with some of the members of my book club. A couple of women mentioned that they thought the characters were very cold and they wished they could see more emotion from them. At the time, I explained that these characters represent an ideal, and not flesh and blood people. Ayn Rand writes in a Romantic style, so if you want Naturalism, her novels are not the place to look for it. However, when I thought more about this later, I realized that there’s another aspect of the novel that I neglected to mention. These characters aren’t unemotional. They’re just not emotional about the things that most people are emotional about. For instance, what other people think of you, whether or not you’ll find love, or how to go about pursuing your dreams. I realized that this is what I love so much about these characters. They know what they want and how to get it. They have pride in themselves and don’t need the approval of others. Romantic love feeds their souls like any other person, but finding a soulmate is not their primary purpose in life.
Dagny Taggert feels elation and joy at the grandeur of her coming out ball, but utter disappointment when none of the young men attending live up to it’s beauty. She rages at her brother Jim when she realizes that he’s using her to save his own hide while also stabbing her in the back. Hank Rearden knows exactly what to do at his factories, when he’s pursuing his goals of making one of the best metals in the world. But in his home, surrounded by his sneering wife, his ungrateful mother, and his purposeless brother, he is tortured when he doesn’t even know how to speak to them and tethered by a sense of duty to take care of them. When Hank and Dagny meet Ellis Wyatt after the success of the John Galt Line, they are all thrilled to be surrounded by true peers and individuals of strength for one fleeting moment. All such beautiful and heartbreaking scenes. How could you say these are cold people?