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…