Atlas Shrugged Chapter 10: Wyatt’s Torch

One reason I wanted to post (if possible) after each chapter was that I figured it would keep me motivated to keep reading if there were evidence of my progress. Another reason is that it keeps me honest, so when I finish the book, I can’t pretend I had different opinions as I progressed than I did. I say this because, for the second chapter in a row, I’m increasingly thinking I sorely misjudged Atlas Shrugged early on, and if my current trajectory of thought continues, there is yet evidence of my initial flaws of prejudice.

Chapter summary: Most of this chapter is spent on Dagny trying to track down the inventor of the engine, while Rand vents on leftism and socialism. Dagny gets to the end of the line, for now: Hugh Akston, Fransisco’s philosophy mentor, is now working at a dingy diner in the middle of nowhere. At Dagny’s prodding, he confirms Robert Stadler’s story about the three pupils (d’Aconia, Danneskjöld, and the unnamed other), but unlike Stadler, Akston is exceeding proud of his three students. Dagny returns to reality just in time to find out that Mouch has forced through the regulations severely limiting both train size and speed and materials production and distribution. Wyatt responds by blowing up his plant and disappearing.

Rand appears to exist at the juncture of two literatures: On the one hand, she’s Russian-born, having grown up under the Tsars and been exposed to the Soviet revolution. On the other, Atlas Shrugged appeared just after the tail end of the golden age of dystopias, represented most famously by Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s 1984 (1949), but also by fellow Russian Eugene Zamiatin’s We (1921), Rand’s own Anthem (1937), and others. A characteristic shared by many of the works in this genre is that the antagonists are grossly caricatured.

Within those parameters, Rand’s conceits are a bit more understandable, although I do think she goes even farther beyond the pale at times than the dystopian genre generally warrants. Some of the dialog in chapter 10 appears to exist for the sole purpose of mocking particular ways of liberal thinking, and doesn’t forward either plot or principal character development.

On the other hand, her depiction of the demise of Twentieth Century Motors at the hands of naïve and coercive socialism fits with the anxieties of the era, expressed also throughout Orwell. I think, then, where Atlas Shrugged has failed for me is in a form of literary Uncanny Valley: While Huxley and Orwell make it obvious very early in their works that we’re dealing with a dystopic future, Rand doesn’t (in my mind) provide enough such clues until later.

Certainly part of this may be an effect of Atlas Shrugged being so much longer (Brave New World is shorter than the first, shortest part of Atlas Shrugged), and part of it may have been deliberate on Rand’s part, to enhance the feeling of looking into a mirror. With standard dystopias, it’s too easy to simply dismiss the events as happening elsewhere to someone else.

Regardless, though, I will say first that the slow reveal was not to my tastes, but that now that I’m (hopefully) on the same page as Rand, I’ll have an easier time seeing her perspective.

On to part two!

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