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

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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.