In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand provides a well-written explanation of objectivism in a monumental novel about those who hold the world on their shoulders. Her characters are a myriad of individuals, ranging from the highest achievement possible: a human, to one of the most horrid creatures on this planet: a once-human imbecile. She gives the reader insight into the psyche of society and the motivations behind our actions. In this novel, Rand’s most righteous characters are those with the most internal conflict. They must shed their conditioning that has been imposed on them by the earth’s people and leave behind what they value as most precious. There is one character that is held higher than the rest. A man of morality, introspection, and enigma, he begins the book and finishes it. So, who is John Galt?
John Galt is Rand’s brilliant character that blends imagination and intelligence. John Galt can be described as having the same opinion on life that Henry David Thoreau does. They both believe you shouldn’t carry the world on your shoulders; they realize that in fact by giving things to the needy (Rand would use the word unworthy) you aren’t enabling them to become better people, but merely allowing them o feed off of other’s success. Their opinions differ in that Thoreau had good intentions for all and Galt is only interested in the very best for the competent and likes the idea of leaving saps in the dust. Galt brings Atlas’s people from the earth into their Olympus, Galt’s Gulch. There, these remarkable competent people are able to create their own utopia of industry and live without the weight of the earth’s incompetents. He, like Dagny Taggart, Francisco d’Anconia, and Henry Reardon, is a person of high ideals and standards. He values the dollar because he knows that the dollar is the highest commodity of respect a human can give to another’s ability. The actual sign of the dollar is the symbol of its country’s initials: for the United States, “the only country in history where wealth was not acquired by looting, but by production, not by force, but by trade… The symbol of man’s right to his own mind, to his work, to his life, to his happiness, to himself” (Atlas Shrugged, 637). It is the country that draws men like John Galt, Henry Reardon, and Francisco d’Anconia. These men use it as a symbol of themselves and of their quest, evident on everything they produce. Galt’s ability is what is needed by those of the earth in order to keep them elevated in the universe. What would happen if all these industrialists shrugged the world’s expectations off their shoulders? Rand answers this.
Because Galt, like the rest of Atlas’s people, has a passion for his work and moralistic code, he is torn by this love of industry and his idealistic hope for the future of the world. A new world without looters and moochers that can begin again with Atlas’s people populating and driving it. In order to leave behind the old world and begin anew, he must stop the motor of the world; he must destroy it. He must do two things: understand the looters’ moralistic code and annihilate all he holds dear in a calculating manner. To do this, he recruits his two best friends: Francisco d’Anconia and Ragner Danneskjold. These three prodigies, the “Climax of the d’Anconias,” the “golden-haired pirate,” and the “Face without Pain or Fear or Guilt,” would lead the rebellion to destroy all that is most important in order to save it from those who would ruin and plunder it. Galt is very determined. So determined that he is able to abandon his most ingenious achievement, a motor than runs on static electricity, and desist from working. When he does this, he eliminates the possibility for the motor to run a world where there is no cause of movement. He unravels the secret to the world’s destruction.
Besides having to choose between his love of industry and his love of the future, Galt faces another predicament: his love for Dagny Taggart. She is the only woman Francisco d’Anconia and Henry Reardon ever loved. She plays the same role for Galt. Both are irresistible to each other because both are linked in mind and spirit… body simply accompanies them. Galt has a profound admiration for Dagny. She is a woman of the same ideals as he, she is unafraid to fight, she is beautiful, and she is a strong, independent, woman of integrity and virtue. Throughout the book, Rand incorporates ideals into her characters’ dialects. One particular notion is that love is not only emotional, but mental and physical as well. Galt loves Dagny not only for her sensuality, but also for her keen wit and competence in matching him. Galt is torn by his love for her and his mission to stop the world’s motor. He knows this, his love for Dagny, is his weakest and most vulnerable point. He stated to her after making love with her for the first time, “I love you more than my life, I who taught men how life is to be loved… What I did tonight, I did it with full knowledge that I would pay for it and that my life might have to pay the price… You’ve broken me for once…but I did it consciously…with full sight of the consequences and full willingness to bear them” (Atlas Shrugged, 891).
“Atlantis was a place where hero-spirits lived in a happiness unknown to the rest of the earth. A place which only the spirits of heroes could enter…because they carried the secret of life within them… They never stopped looking for it, because they knew that that was what they had to find” (Atlas Shrugged, 149). Atlantis is Galt’s Gulch. It is a functioning sanctuary that keeps the earth’s depravity away from Atlas’s people. Galt is who founded it for his purpose. This purpose of starting the world again is the entire motivation for the book.
“John Galt was…fighting the worst storm ever wreaked upon the world, when he found it [Atlantis]… It was such a sight of such a kind that when one had seen it, one could no longer wish to look at the rest of the earth. John Galt sank his ship and went down with his entire crew. They all chose to do it” (Atlas Shrugged, 149). This quote is from a fable that arose from the saying, “Who is John Galt?” Rand gives this account and the story of Prometheus, the Greek mythological character that made man, and upon seeing their stupidity and suffering, gave them the sacred forbidden fire. After doing so, Prometheus was punished by being chained to a rock and suffering new pain everyday from picking vultures. He endured this until one day he reclaimed fire from man. These tales are all different translations of John Galt’s story; all are metaphors for Galt standing up to society’s expectations by giving up, by letting go of his conditioned guilt and weighted shoulders, only to leave the earth barren until he could reclaim it again. In the Atlantis tale, the men of his “crew” are the ones whom he recruited. Those like Henry Reardon, Hugh Akston, and Ellis Wyatt. When Wyatt torched his oil fields and lit “Wyatt’s Torch,” it served as a message of hope and continuation as well as a beacon for the return of Atlas’s people someday.
John Galt was a visionary that made his plan happen. A “doer,” he triggered the first domino in a fall of epic proportions. He enabled Dagny to let the Taggart Bridge, the artery of the United States, to sever and bleed until the country was lifeless again. He gave strength and brilliance to his fellow industrialists in order to pump a purer ambrosia into the veins of the nation. He battled with his inner passions of production and for Dagny, lost the latter, but kept the victory of war. As Henry Reardon stated, “It’s we who move the world and it’s we who’ll pull it through” (Atlas Shrugged, 89). Galt gave the earth an end and a new meaning to the phrase, “Who is John Galt?”
As you can see, Ayn Rand totally devoted her thoughts of the meaning of life into her books to inspire her readers still today. Her idea of objectivism is personified in John Galt; he is her ideal human being, a man of glorified perfection. In her book, The Fountainhead, she speaks of the importance of knowing one’s self and having a purpose, “To say ‘I love you,’ one must know first how to say the ‘I”(357)-wow! Many people get up thinking, “What must I do today?” The question is not what must one do today, but what does one want to do? She often uses characters that she detests to explain her opinion of those who do nothing for themselves. Peter, a character in The Fountainhead, lets others induce him into whatever role they choose for him. He is astonished of the independence and decisiveness of someone like Roark, who isn’t affected by the beliefs of others, “I came her to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life”(The Fountainhead, 592).
Rand expresses different pieces of objectivism in her writings, all of which support eachother and her opinion. “. . . There is some word, one single word which is not in the language of men, but which had been. And this is the Unspeakable Word, which no men may speak nor hear. But sometimes, and it is rare, sometimes, somewhere, one among men find that word. They find it upon scraps of old manuscripts or cut into the fragments of ancient stones. But when they speak it they are put to death. There is no crime punished by death in this world, save this one crime of speaking the Unspeakable Word”(Anthem, 47). In this book she tells of a world where there is no individualism no “I” in anyone’s vocabulary. They have no names just groups of men called by the name given by a superior group of men. “The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory. The sacred word: EGO”(Anthem, 139)
The proof of Rand’s influence on America is very apparent. There is an Ayn Rand Institute, campus clubs at schools and colleges, objectivist groups, etc. She has given thought that capitalism is NOT evil and that altruism CAN be. She goes along with the almighty American dollar, not against it. She has helped the Russian-American relationship (immigrated…intermixing ideas from other cultures). In other words, she has most definitely changed many lives in this world. She is loved. She is hated, but she is real. In my opinion, real is the most moving characteristic that this world has to offer. Everyone is touched by her regardless if they agree with her opinions or not, simply because she enables the reader to find what they believe through her strong writings.
Rand, Ayn. Anthem. New York: New American Library, 1946.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943.
Rand, Ayn. We the Living. New York: New American Library, 1948.
Ayn Rand Institute. “Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” www.AynRand.org online.