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When I read Atlas, it appeared to me that the main protagonists are god-like. They deal with conflict, but it's only with other people. None of them seem to have any inner conflict. To me, the most interesting characters are those who must cope with some struggle internally. It is in this form that Atlas tends to be a bit bland. I'm not saying it's bad. It's bland. Now, when I say inner conflict, I don't mean conflicts of integrity or morality, but struggles of mental disorders such as depression and autism--disorders which largely determine a person's independence and thinking. I never saw this in Atlas Shrugged. In my opinion, the best characters are the ones who aren't perfect, as Ayn Rand largely avoided with her protagonists. Reading about such "perfect" people in her book made me question my own accomplishments, I'll give her that. The only character I can think of who probably had some mental disorder is Cheryl, James's wife. By my guess, she may have had depression. My question is: Do you think characters are more interesting when they aren't perfect, but try to accomplish whatever they want in an Objectivist way, in a conclusion that inevitably ends in their success or failure? Dagny Taggart is an interesting person, with a detailed backstory and an impressive résumé. But there isn't really much of a personality to her. There aren't any faults. I can guarantee you that there is no such thing as a faultless human being. That's why I'm saying that Rand's characters are god-like.

asked Jan 15 '12 at 21:25

Collin1's gravatar image


edited Jan 16 '12 at 08:57

When I read Atlas, I found that the characters were more "ideas" than people. This seems to follow the line of several Russian novels where the characters represent ideas/ideals. John Galt is not shown as a dude you'd have a beer with but rather as the embodiment of the perfect man. There is some inner conflict that you see (check out Hank's battle with himself) but you don't seem them stumble in a "human" way as much as you see this happen in the Fountainhead.

(Jan 15 '12 at 21:55) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Ayn Rand's books are not so much about psychology as about philosophy. She doesn't deal with depression very much, except in small parts, such as Dan Conway's discouragement, and of course regarding Cheryl Brooks's suicide. Her main point is that what determines whether a person lives or dies, succeeds or fails is fundamentally his ideas. Psychology is also a result of ideas, but a person who allows his psychology to undermine his success is not the kind of person that Ayn Rand found fundamentally interesting, especially as a hero.

A book which focuses on someone's psychological dysfunction, and on how they perhaps overcome it, might be a good book, but the literary scope of such a book is tiny compared to the scope of any Ayn Rand novel. She wanted to write about important ideas and fascinating people who make a difference, rather than ordinary people with ordinary ideas making minor differences in their own lives.

She was a romantic writer, rather than a naturalist writer. Her goal was not to present ordinary people as they are, but to present people as they can be and ought to be: dynamic, hard-working, passionate, and perhaps struggling against interesting obstacles -- both internal and external.

Note that Hank Rearden, and Dagny Taggart, are both heroes with internal conflict -- a conflict which they each must resolve during the novel. But neither of these characters are controlled by their own psychology. They act, instead, on their ideas, and it's the ideas which are important. Psychology is only a consequence.

answered Oct 10 '13 at 13:47

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

Rand was a romantic, meaning she wants her art to portray the world as it should be, not as it currently is today. Your mission in life is to strive toward your goal of becoming a perfect human being, not become to depress because you aren't there yet.

answered Jan 16 '12 at 12:44

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jan 16 '12 at 12:44

To answer this question, you should read the novels again.

How does depression, or other mental illness make a person interesting?

Ayn Rand wrote about normal people who are what they are because of the choices they've made. Some of these people make innocent errors, some make guilty errors. The consequent conflicts make her novels interesting.

Ayn Rand concerned herself with moral issues, not medical issues.

If it will satisfy you, her character Ellsworth Toohey had medical issues as a child.

answered Jan 16 '12 at 15:06

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

As @humbug says, I think this is a consquence of AR's Romantic style of fiction vs Naturalist fiction. When you read AR's novels you need to see them as showing the path to a world that should and could exist vs. a description of today.

(Jan 16 '12 at 19:18) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Ayn Rand's characters are not God-like. They aren't omnipotent or immortal. They are Heroic.

If you're more interested in reading about people's flaws, that says as much about you as writing about heroes says about Ayn Rand.

answered Jan 16 '12 at 23:59

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

edited Jan 17 '12 at 17:17

Sometimes even heroes have flaws Rick. Look at Hank Rearden. Look at someone like Gail Wynand who could have been a hero. In the sense that flaws are recognized, evaluated and mended, flaws can be useful literary devices and show us concretely what to do. Not everything we read needs to be flatly heroic on every page. Sometimes it is the struggle of the hero than is truly heroic. There is a fine line between heroic romanticism and stuff that reminds me of Socialist Realism posters.

(Jan 17 '12 at 14:09) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Of course. The point is that heroes flaws are not the main focus of Ayn Rand's writing.

(Jan 17 '12 at 17:16) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

Colin1 wrote that in Atlas Shrugged "...the main protagonists... deal with conflict, but it's only with other people. None of them seem to have any inner conflict."

That's correct. Focusing on the conflict between characters was Rand's purpose in writing Atlas Shrugged. From the introduction to the Centennial Edition:

"The primary concern there [in The Fountainhead] was with Roark and Toohey--showing what they are. The rest of the characters were variations of the theme of the relation of the ego to others... The primary concern was ... the people as such--their natures. Their relations to each other ... were secondary ... it was not the theme.

"Now [in Atlas Shrugged] it is this relation that must be the theme. Therefore, the personal becomes secondary... the personal is necessary only to the extent needed to make the relationships clear."

answered Oct 10 '13 at 00:18

Sally%20Jane%20Driscoll's gravatar image

Sally Jane Driscoll ♦

edited Oct 10 '13 at 00:19

It's utterly false that none of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged have inner conflict. One perfect example of a conflicted hero is Hank Rearden. He is conflicted about his affair with Dagny Taggart. It takes hime quite a while to reject his guilt about it.

As well, Dagny is conflicted about whether to "leave the world". So is Francisco D'Anconia, when he first has the choice to make.

These are genuine, inner conflicts. If you don't recognize the inner conflict in her characters, you haven't really read the book.

(Oct 10 '13 at 13:32) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 15 '12 at 21:25

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Last updated: Oct 10 '13 at 13:47