Thursday, April 9, 2009

Atlas Shrugged Characters According To Their Ability and Morality [Spoiler Warning]




Delicious button

Stumbleupon

Subscribe to The Humble Libertarian

Given the resurgence in popularity of Ayn Rand's classic novel Atlas Shrugged, I thought I would publish this list of Atlas Shrugged characters in graphic form, comparing and contrasting them according to their ability- graphed along the x-axis and their morality- graphed along the y-axis.

Men of extreme talent and unwavering moral courage are heroes in Rand's estimation. They include John Galt, Francisco D'Anconia, Ragnar Danneskjold, Ellis Wyatt, Richard Halley, Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggert, and many others. Atlas Shrugged includes however, a picture of people who lack the creative ability of these heros, but match their moral certitude and steadfastness. These include Dagny's assistant, Eddie Willers and James Taggert's temporary wife, Cheryl Brooks. On the other hand, people who lack ability and morals are moochers and looters, who live off the strength of others and consider others as means to their own meaningless, bare survival. These include James Taggert, Philip Rearden, the Starnes heirs, and Wesley Mouch among others. Last of all, there are the men of competence who lack the morality to be heroes. They are instead cowards like Mr. Mowen and Dr. Stadler.

Naturally, John Galt- being the ideal man- is in the very upper right corner of the graph. He is a man of unmatched ability and his motor invention operated off of a new theory of energy, turning all conventional scientific understanding on its head while simultaneously providing humanity with a revolutionary device that would increase human productivity and standards of living by several orders of magnitude. Additionally, John Galt is a man of fierce, uncompromising morality. He understands completely and explicitly, the nature of reality, human beings, and a moral human society, and he exemplifies his clearly understood principles. Though we may not all be men and women of prodigious ability, Ayn Rand believes we all can and ought to be moral human beings. Instead of being envious, parasitic, and destructive, she urges us in her writing to admire excellence, strive for our very best, and never consider the life of another human being as something we can dispose of freely for our own benefit. These are the premises of a well-ordered, civil society.


Purchase Atlas Shrugged or other Ayn Rand books:

15 comments:

Richard said...

What a silly waste of time! THE big question is "Who is John Galt?". To plot the characters as if they were bland members of a cheap fiction story is to utterly fail to grasp the answer to the question.

Of course, only you can know.

W. E. Messamore said...

I agree that Atlas Shrugged is no cheap fiction story and its characters are not a bland cast. Did you read my analysis below the graph? I thought I did a sufficient job of answering the question "Who Is John Galt?" and relating its significance in the novel. Thanks for commenting.

Richard said...

Weeeellllll, okay, maybe.

Frankly, I do not think you grasped who John Galt actually is. That, of course, means that you have, thus far, utterly missed the point of "Who [the H_ll] is John Galt?" It follows, therefore, that you, and thousands of others, have not grasped the fundamental value of the entire novel! [No, I truly am not insulting you. I just hope it is a kick in the right directions.]

To give away the logic (i.e. Plot Spoiler) "John Galt" is, distinctly, the reader of Atlas Shrugged, who understands his fictional role, and is thereby given the choice to assume the responsibility of intellectual honesty in Reality that, that requires.

W. E. Messamore said...

Very well said, Richard- a startling and poignant insight. You're alright :)

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

If you think about it, it is quite eye opening. Somehow, on my second reading of the novel, it occurred to me (albeit vaguely) that _I_ was Galt.

I read the entire novel again, and was absolutely floored to realize that my suspicion was not merely right, but was Rand's entire intent.

To this day, I feel Rand was speaking only to me from the first four words of her novel: "Who is John Galt?"

Dare I ask that you re-read, word by word???

Jeffery Small said...

Based upon the comments about Atlas Shrugged and, elsewhere, concerning the Tax Day Tea Party protests, I thought you might be interested in the Atlas Shrugged Books-to-Politicians Campaign I am sponsoring at the web site go-galt.org. Check it out and send your politicians a message of another type.

Regards,
--
Jeffery Small

Greg said...

It has been a few years since I read Atlas Shrugged, and I don't have a copy, but it seems to me that the "morality" scale might be a little off. It seems to weigh morality only by Rand's philosophy of objectivism and rational selfishness, a philosophy I reject outright.

If I remember correctly, there were few truly moral people in Atlas Shrugged. I need to read it again ...

W. E. Messamore said...

Richard- though I did not capture it with your level of clarity (as it wasn't as clear for me personally- thanks for changing that), I do think I encapsulated the principle by writing:

"Though we may not all be men and women of prodigious ability, Ayn Rand believes we all can and ought to be moral human beings. Instead of being envious, parasitic, and destructive, she urges us in her writing to admire excellence, strive for our very best, and never consider the life of another human being as something we can dispose of freely for our own benefit."

Thanks for leaving your insights. And I actually happen to be reading word for word through the book again (pg. 364 of the 35th anniversary edition). I'll be sure to read with your comment in mind. I presently have "Rand on the brain." I'm reading it to write a full book review since it's so popular these days, and I thought a character graph like this would be fun.

Jeffery- thanks for the heads up! It's a very cool idea. I can't resist joking however, that our politicians have no time to read Atlas Shrugged- they don't even have time to read the bills they vote on!

You know Greg, the thing about Rand that fascinated me so much and that got me so fixated upon her is that I somehow agreed so strongly with her sentiments and message and at the same time felt that so much of it is antithetical to my worldview as a classical Christian theist. I like Rand so much because she challenges and puzzles me.

There's a lot of explaining, qualifying, clarifying, and just plain defining that needs to be done in order to figure it all out. But I imagine it has a lot to do with Rand's misunderstanding of Christianity and many Christians' misunderstanding of Objectivism, both due in part to a lot of equivocal language. It's a subject fit for a whole volume of writing. Maybe we'll see it here at the Humble Libertarian one day.

Richard said...

"the thing about Rand that fascinated me so much and that got me so fixated upon her is that I somehow agreed so strongly with her sentiments and message and at the same time felt that so much of it is antithetical to my worldview as a classical Christian theist. I like Rand so much because she challenges and puzzles me."

I thing that is because Objectivism takes ethics seriously. Religion does that too, but with the WRONG morality known as altruism. Morality IS essential to life & happiness, and should be taken seriously. Rand's ethics enables one to better achieve such goals, whilst altruism undermines them, often subtley.

Be Well,
Richard

W. E. Messamore said...

You're definitely right on their common ground as moral worldviews as opposed to the amoralism of relativist thought. That's something that caught my eye immediately about Rand's writing.

But as I said before, I think the divide between the two is a little more complex than the egoism/altruism dichotomy and involves a lot of "explaining, qualifying, clarifying, and just plain defining that needs to be done in order to figure it all out" because of the equivocal nature of so many of the words both "sides" are using.

Richard said...

I quite agree with you point about equivocations. I did not even know such confusions existed back when I first read Rand. In time I discovered that *I* had to sort out equivocations that I was unaware were sliding about in my mind. Later I read An Introduction Objectivist Epistemology, at least three times, examining how concepts worked in thought. It was a major discovery, not only for me but for all of Philosophy, ever. I had to re-read a lot of material, including Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and was able to discover even more 'lessons' were in the stories than I had ever imagined.

W. E. Messamore said...

Oh sure. I lot of people recommend reading her fiction first, then her non-fiction. I just happened to do it the other way around and I'm glad that I did. I think I got a lot more out of her fiction that way. At some point, I would love to do a fictional dialogue between Rand and some representative of theistic thought, such as C. S. Lewis. It would be an ambitious undertaking, involving a lot of time, research, and thought. I'm saving it for some future point, and happily looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

I like the graph, although I think Lillian Rearden ranks with Wesley Mouch. It's an interesting way to simplify the complex characters in the story.

W. E. Messamore said...

Thanks! Yeah, I placed her above him on the evil axis because of the parts earlier in the story where you learn about how she and Hank met. There seems to be at least something there- some kernel of good in her that's been spoiled.

Post a Comment