Travels with Ayn: Pronouns and Stuff

ayn rand typing

I’m up to page 13 in Atlas Shrugged. The bum long gone, Eddie Willers is now wandering around the streets of New York City thinking about his childhood. And the author’s style is beginning to reveal itself:

“He thought of a summer day when he was ten years old. That day, in a clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and in wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, ‘Whatever is right,’ and added, ‘You ought to do something great…I mean, the two of us together.’ ‘What?’ she asked. He said, ‘I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires, or climbing mountains.’ ‘What for?’ she asked. He said, ‘The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us.'”

There are a few more sentences in the paragraph, including more embedded dialogue, but I think you get the idea. Among other things, she likes her pronouns. She likes her pronouns better than she likes their antecedents. And she doesn’t like pressing the “return” key on her typewriter, even though the first rule of writing dialogue is to start a new paragraph each time there’s a new speaker. She prefers long paragraphs with multiple speakers in conversation. She likes them.

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Travels with Ayn: The Bum

I just finished the first page of Atlas Shrugged. It’s very interesting. In summary:

A man named Eddie Willers is walking down the street, minding his own business, when he is accosted by a bum. The bum asks him a question that I gather is the key to this gigantic book: “Who is John Galt?” It’s not clear if the bum will be a central character in Atlas Shrugged, if the bum is actually John Galt, or why Eddie Willers is perplexed by the bum’s question. What’s very clear is that Ayn Rand likes using the word “bum.”

In the book’s first 16 sentences, she uses the word “bum” six times. She uses masculine pronouns to identify the bum, but never once refers to it as a “man” or a “person.” Apart from identifying him as a bum, she refers to him as “the voice” and “the shadow that had no face.” From Rand’s language, it is not entirely clear that the voice questioning Eddie Willers is a human one.

It’s been a while since I heard anyone call a homeless person a bum though, to be fair, Rand doesn’t describe the bum in unflattering terms. She even says its eyes are “intelligent.” Maybe as the book progresses, Rand’s bum will assume a critical role and develop into a complex character worthy of the reader’s respect and attention. Maybe Eddie Willers will adopt the bum as a sort of pet. I guess I’ll find out. Only 1068 pages to go…

Travels with Ayn: The Journey Begins

atlas shrugged 1

I’ve never read Ayn Rand. I’ve heard about Ayn Rand and I’ve talked about Ayn Rand. I’ve made fun of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and argued with people who’ve called her a serious thinker. But I’ve never actually read a word she wrote.

I don’t think that’s necessarily the worst thing in the world. People attack Marx all the time when they clearly haven’t read any of his work (at least with any degree of comprehension). It’s okay to have opinions about things you haven’t experienced first-hand. With Ayn Rand, it’s hard not to have an opinion. Her supporters promote her work zealously and leave the uninitiated with three choices: 1. Argue. 2. Keep silent. 3. Read the books.

Well, I’m ready to go with option 3 and here’s why. Her work is powerful and it seems, based on personal experience, to have a particular power over adolescent readers. Since I try to be a writer, I’d like to understand where the power of Rand’s work comes from and since I work with teenagers, I’d like to understand what it is about her writing that pulls these folks into her orbit.

Based on some preliminary research, I determined that I should begin my study with Atlas Shrugged. Over the coming months, I’ll keep a journal of my travels into the world of Ayn Rand in the hopes that I can find and reveal the source of her power and attraction. I hope you’ll join me.