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Ayn Rand never really described how some major characters started to believe in what they do. For example, in the beginning of the novel, she describes Lillian as someone who had rejected life in favor of the philosophy of death. She stopped living for her happiness as her primary goal and chose to vest her interest in others. She's an altruist. But why? What made her do that? Also, why did Dr. Stadler choose to become a sellout? Those details would have made the novel more complete. Don't get me wrong--it's a great book, I love it, I tell everyone to read it, but it still needs more characterization.

asked Apr 06 '13 at 03:17

Collin1's gravatar image


Atlas Shrugged is romanticism (specifically, romantic realism). The characters aren't meant to be complete portraits of various fictional (or real) people, but highly stylized and essentialized archetypes for fundamental choices and values in man's existence. Ayn Rand wanted to project the qualities of the ideal man, not to offer a comprehensive psychological analysis of the motivations of non-ideal or anti-ideal characters. In a work like Atlas Shrugged, the non-ideal and anti-ideal characters are merely the contrasting backdrop for the heroes.

Ayn Rand explained her approach very succinctly to the young Leonard Peikoff while he was reading her early play, "Think Twice," later published in The Early Ayn Rand. She asked him if he could guess who the murderer was, but he kept guessing incorrectly:

When I finished [reading the play], she told me that anyone who knew her and her philosophy should have been able to guess right away. She could not, she went on, ever write a series of mysteries, because everyone would know who the murderers were. "How?" I asked.... "Do you think," Ayn Rand said to me when I finished reading, "that I would ever give the central action in a story of mine to anyone but the hero?"

In real life, of course, there is considerable psychology involved in non-ideal or anti-ideal people. Ayn Rand was surrounded by vast numbers of such people in her deeply mystical native country, before coming to America. Galt's Speech describes the basic process by which mysticism and altruism develop, and there are characters in the story who concretize it:

A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty. At the crossroads of the choice between “I know” and “They say,” he chose the authority of others, he chose to submit rather than to understand, to believe rather than to think. Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others.

For further insights, refer to the topics of "Mysticism" and "Mystical Ethics" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. If Ayn Rand had wanted to offer a psychological study of how mysticism and altruism develop, she certainly could have done so. But what for? Her primary aim was to project the ideal man, as she explains in "The Goal of My Writing" in The Romantic Manifesto.

Update: Responding to Art

In the comments, the questioner asks:

[In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the] main character, Lisbeth Salander, is an intelligent investigator/computer hacker, however, she is on welfare and has numerous psychological issues. I find her rather captivating, despite her numerous flaws. Can you explain why I might feel this way? ... In essence, why am I captivated by morally inconsistent characters in fiction?

This is a question about the sense-of-life response of a viewer to a work of art. Ayn Rand, as a fiction writer and philosopher, undoubtedly could have understood a great deal about the psychology of a particular person's artistic responses after meeting him in person and learning more about him by direct, interactive observation. The most that a more distant observer normally can do is to offer one or two general possibilities, with the proviso that they may or may not have any applicability to a specific person whom one has never met.

One possibility that I can think of is that the questioner is actually responding to art selectively, seeing and responding to some aspects of it while not ascribing much significance to others; seeing what he wants to see and discarding the rest as not particularly relevant or "penetrating" for his particular values and premises. Nowadays it is very possible to be so starved for even the hint of uplifting art that one reacts eagerly to it when it shows up, however fragmented and momentary it may be, in a larger work of art whose main content falls far short of what one is starving for.

It is also possible that a viewer regards moral consistency itself as unimportant in life and perhaps unattainable, so there is no need to consider the whole context of a fictional character. One can feel perfectly free to relish what one likes and not pay much attention to anything else that one might also find in the same work of art.

Yet another possibility is that the viewer of an artwork may be of extremely mixed premises himself and is responding to such mixtures in art whenever he encounters them. In other words, he is responding to the existence of the mixture rather than to the positive aspects of the charcters. Without knowing such an individual personally and in more depth, it is impossible for me to judge whether this description applies to a specific individual or not.

There is a rich collection of excerpts on "Sense of Life" under that topic in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Here is a sampling:

It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation. [...]

Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” [Likewise, the] essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”

A key issue in specific individuals (in my view) is whether the individual viewer is responding to art selectively (based on his sense of life), or is responding to everything in the work as a whole and implicitly evaluating all of it in terms of his sense of life. From past postings by the questioner (and his comment about potentially compromising his own principles), a "hunch" of my own is that the idea of a fully consistent code of values may be new to him; he sees "promise" in himself and in certain characters in the story, but he also sees serious inconsistencies in both; so he is a little uneasy about embracing a promising character in the story too fully, given the new idea (for him) that one is supposed to be morally consistent (says who, and what for?). But that's just a wild guess on the basis of extremely limited information in the face of far more information which this particular questioner has not yet disclosed about himself. I hope my "hunch" may give the questioner some leads for his own process of further introspection.

answered Apr 11 '13 at 15:26

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Sep 04 '13 at 19:22

It's been a while since any activity was posted on this question. This is a great answer, but what concerns me now is what Ayn Rand said about murder mysteries. If we know Ayn Rand's stories are based off her philosophy, we'd instantly know who the killer was. What would I be doing to my principles if I wrote a story about characters who are morally ambiguous, psychologically disturbed, and indignant towards society? For example, think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book series.

(Sep 03 '13 at 22:07) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

I found the 2011 film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo highly captivating. I even got my mom into it. The main character, Lisbeth Salander, is an intelligent investigator/computer hacker, however, she is on welfare and has numerous psychological issues. I find her rather captivating, despite her numerous flaws. Can you explain why I might feel this way?

(Sep 03 '13 at 22:11) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

In essence, why am I captivated by morally inconsistent characters in fiction?

(Sep 03 '13 at 22:22) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Wow! You certainly hit the nail on the head! I finished Atlas Shrugged for the first time in October 2011, so it would be fair to say her ideas are still new to me. I like to judge art (films) as a whole, not selectively. The only thing I'd like to expand on is your comment about who is asking for moral consistency, and what for. I am. I love seeing morally consistent characters. The Batman trilogy is probably the best example I can name so far. I still don't fully understand what "Sense of Life" means. Is it the values and underlying philosophy I conscious and unconsciously follow?

(Sep 04 '13 at 22:11) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

As a person who thinks a lot about potential stories he could write, I find it incredibly difficult for morally consistent characters to be in the situations a morally inconsistent character would find himself in. I don't know if I'm falling into the realm of Naturalism, but I do find a lot of movies such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, to tell the story through a scope which acknowledges some moral absolutes, judging on the type of music playing in the background and the style of camera shots, etc., when something horrid or graphic is going on.

(Sep 04 '13 at 22:18) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

As stated before, I like movies with morally consistent characters. However, every now and then I'll find a story about a morally inconsistent character. I don't admire murderers, but there have been certain characters in both film and literature who have tremendous appeal, despite the fact that they're sociopaths. In Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Uma Thurman plays the "Bride," hell bent on revenge. She is a killer, but she has a code of values.

(Sep 04 '13 at 22:38) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

Also in your answer, yes! I am starved for that one movie with the "perfect" character. There is a ton of moral cowardice in Hollywood, most notably Steven Spielberg. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is a key scene where Indy has a conversation with Rene Belloq, in which they are essentially talking about their moral psychologies, and how Indy only requires a "push" to become more like Belloq. Indy has his morality and it is made clear he won't abandon it. Spielberg went on a huge apology tour with the next film, Temple of Doom right from the opening scene...con't........

(Sep 04 '13 at 22:42) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DeURx3mYck In this video, Spielberg's wife sings "Anything Goes," a clue that morality has been kicked out the door. Despite being a damn good intro for a film, it spits in the face of everything established in the first film. Coming out of smoke hints at the subjectivism and moral ambiguity Indiana Jones exhibits throughout the film. Right after the opening, if you haven't seen the film, Indy sticks a fork/knife into Willie Scott's ribcage, threatening to kill her. Tsk. Tsk. Indy from the first film would never do that.

(Sep 04 '13 at 22:47) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

On a side note, my favorite film of all time is True Lies. I don't know why; I saw it as a kid and it never got old. Perhaps it's because of the themes of loyalty and honesty.

(Sep 04 '13 at 23:44) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image
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Asked: Apr 06 '13 at 03:17

Seen: 897 times

Last updated: Sep 04 '13 at 23:44