My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Overall I enjoyed the plot of this novel, and the story moves quickly. However, I think it is the sort of bad fiction that tries too hard to awkwardly wedge philosophical concepts into the dialog instead of accurately describing human nature through the choices of the characters.
Much of it seemed liked science fiction. The main characters and the choices they make resemble no human being that I have met along my life’s journey. It was like an episode of Star Trek where a species of beings on a different planet has a different sense of justice and interdependence.
First of all there are no children anywhere in the 700 pages. It is as if human beings are fully formed out of the womb. This is magnified by the not-so-subtle philosophy that we are to live for ourselves and not for other people. But children and their upbringing as well as the self-sacrifice good parents make for their kids are completely left out of the equation. Perhaps this is why college kids like this novel – they think they are all grown up, mature, and that all aspects of children in their lives have been removed. The only example of parents are the spineless Mrs. Keating and the paternally impotent Guy Francon.
In Ayn Rand’s philosophy known as Objectivism, there is an idea that the only form of knowing is reason. She weaves this idea throughout the fabric of the novel, suggesting that the heroes of the story also believe this. I only ask, then what purpose does fiction have? Why not just write non-fiction? It is because story telling also transmits knowledge in a way that is complimentary to and not subservient to reason. A novelist, by the very medium, rejects that reason is the only form of knowledge.
I understand the time period that this was written, and I recognize her need to make a statement about the evils of Marxist Communism. Losing one’s own identity within the mass of society is not good for anyone. For a true atheist, the only alternative is self-seeking.
That is because we all define and come to understand ourselves, as the philosopher Martin Buber put it, in an I-Thou relationship. I am myself and not another. Those of us who open ourselves up to God (who has with non-physical and non-temporal personal characteristics) have a consequent I-Thou relationship, discovering ourselves as a person other than God. Atheists must designate that relationship to other physical human beings and so must always put the self first in order to not lose themselves in an amorphous population.
But even the atheist has to see that biologically we a the combination of two people. Our very being is dependent upon human interdependence.
From the final courtroom testimony of the main character Roark, I think Ayn Rand really does think that she is writing something Promethean. But the fire she is offering is as old as that associated with the serpent in the first pages of the Hebrew Bible. She has created her own following of “second-handers.”
I give it 4 stars because it is worth reading, but only as a glimpse into the poorly-formed 20th Century intellectualism that expedited the self-centered mess that we are currently in.