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ATLAS CRACKED, pt. 3

19 April 2008

I need to confess something. Only now have I finally actually finished reading Atlas Shrugged. The previous rants were written keeping in mind that their content would not be dependent on the ending of the book for validation. This has proven true; as I would say pretty much the same things were I to write them today, having finished the book. Philosophically, I have little more to say or critique besides my earlier writings. I will mention that though I don't necessarily agree with the things Rand has put down in the book and in her follow-up works about Objectivism, I am very intruiged by her archetype of the Trader. Though nothing entirely new, she writes its manifest with such beauty that I can't help but be delighted with it. I propose then to reclaim the Dollar-sign as its justified icon, taking it from the perverse hands of the shallow 'bling-bling' culture and reinstating it as a proud symbol that stands for trading value for value in all things in one's life. The trader is a figure I can easily find myself in; it feels very wholesome and right.

That's going off on a tangent a bit, because what I want to talk about today is the actual narrative contents of the climax of the book. I must stress that this is incredibly spoiler-heavy and if you have any intention of reading the story, ever, that you should stop reading this right now and get to it. Knowing the ending (or indeed, reading the ending in the book itself) doesn't take away from the experience of the journey, but it's hardly recommended to know beforehand.

With the two people still here who either don't care or have already read the book (thank you ma'am), I can proceed to elaborate on exactly how the ending was utter crap. Honestly, I felt cheated, betrayed, dismayed and like someone had kicked me in the eye socket afterwards. First of all; the tone of the climax was completely inappropriate and probably the worst thing that could've happened. Instead of a philosophical struggle, or realization, or some epic deep dialogue between two opposites, we get an ending that would befit a mediocre Dan Brown pulp novel. There's some half-hearted action, some forgettable and inappropriate violence and little that reflects the slow, deliberate pacing or consciousness of mind that made up the thousand-odd previous pages. I am honestly flabbergasted.

The final scene takes place in the beautiful snow-covered Valley of Trade utopia, where all the smart people have safely fled as the world around them burns up in flames. They're merrily toasting their success and working on plans to return, and there's altogether a sense that they don't really care that probably millions of people are being slaughtered in a civil war, or starving in some wretched corner just outside. This sense of lacking empathy was present all troughout the book, but never really became too bothersome. In this last instant, however, it reveals its truly monstrous side. Of course you may feel that everyone deserved their fate, but even if they're your 'enemies', you could at least feel some semblance of pity or horror at the sight of the death and misery that's erupted.

This bitter taste in the mouth is further exacerbated by the shocking way the book deals with Eddie Willers. Eddie was throughout the entire book a faithful aide to heroine Dagny Taggart, someone who worked tirelessly at her side to right the wrongs of the world and fight for justice and everything the book stood for. And what happens with him? Rand writes him off as he tries desperately to get a train to work in the middle of the desert, to keep on fighting the tide, when everyone abandons him and he loses his mind and chooses to die alone. Why on earth would you treat one of the noblest of good guys in your book like this? There was no point to it except for the statement that you'd better be smart, or you deserve an ugly end. It's a narrative punishment for someone who did nothing but good and as such felt incredibly foul and bitter.

But the worst is yet to come. During the action-packed climax, where Dagny and all the Men of the Mind try to liberate John Galt, who has been captured and tortured by the governmental hoodlums, something very vicious happens. Upon approaching the entrance to the dungeon, Dagny encounters a guard and asks him to either obey her in leaving, or obey his masters and be killed by her gun trying to block her way. The guard is confused, struggling with these conflicting orders and -a big theme in the book- his sense of responsibility and independence. Dagny calmly counts from three to one and, seeing his stressed indecision, she kills him in cold blood. The book states that she would hesitate to kill an animal, but a man choosing not to live is okay with her to murder. This happens with around fifteen pages to go in the entire book and I was seriously considering closing it and putting it down right then and there, never to finish it. I felt completely betrayed. All the moral pampering, all the ethics and the oratories about the depravity of the enemy, and what does our heroine do? She becomes a murderer, not out of necessity, not in self-defense, but a stone-cold killer of choice; reducing herself to below the level of human. And all her god-damned philosophies on what is the right way to live are made instantly meaningless for her. She is a criminal and deserves to be brought to justice; it's as simple as that. I can not believe that Rand made so poor a judgement for her tale. What a despicable way to ruin your heroine, to deface your own morality. Apparently it's OK to kill the untermensch as long as they're a bit thickheaded and you're a brilliant tycoon. What a fucking disgrace.

It's an utter crime that Atlas Shrugged ended like this. As I said before, it doesn't really take away much from the experience of reading it, which is still profoundly enjoyable, but it does cause a nasty aftertaste. Quoth August; I'm disappointed. Let's see if The Fountainhead has a better ending.

Roderick.