by Lucy Zhang, US East Blogger & Artwork Assistant jaBlog!
There are books that leave you with a sense of awe at the artistry of words. Eloquent or uniquely descriptive words that put together a cohesive story are a literary art form in themselves. And then, you come across Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Rand’s works are spearheaded by her philosophy, and so everything else (plot, description, etc.) comes second to carrying across her main idea. Reading her books is like having someone constantly shouting (her philosophy) at you.
Ayn Rand, a Russian American novelist and philosopher, was born in Soviet Russia and was deeply influenced by Stalin’s rule. From her experiences under a communist nation, she came up with her philosophy, Objectivism, the main focus of her novels.
Objectivism, to put it very briefly, is a philosophy that stresses realism and logic above all else. A human directly perceives his or her own experiences and reality and seeks to pursue his or her own happiness. Rand staunchly supported the individualism that capitalism embodied. As a result, this personal philosophy of hers is the crux of all of her writing: The Fountainhead is about an architect who seeks to design buildings despite public backlash and rejection; Atlas Shrugged is about a railroad industrialist who fights the government that wishes to take ownership of her company. Rand does not so much write for the sake of writing as she does for the sake of promoting Objectivism.
I first endeavored to read The Fountainhead in tenth grade for a very simple reason: it was enormous, a full 753 pages (with no pictures). Long content in my mind equated to immense amounts of intelligence and literary merit waiting to be absorbed by my brain. My mentality did not change in eleventh grade when I read Atlas Shrugged. I realized the books were no Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I had the pleasure of encountering 50-page long speeches that focused on individualism and integrity. While some of the less excessive speeches were quite interesting and thought-provoking, I admit to skimming some pages and skipping over others entirely.
Reading Rand’s fictional works is like having someone constantly shouting at you. The text seems to scream the purpose of the work on every single page. The protagonists of both books (Howard Roark and Dagny Taggert) have nearly no character development because they are already perfect in Rand’s mind; they are quintessential humans embodying an unbreakable integrity. Figurative language serves only to describe features that directly advocate Rand’s philosophy. The entire opening of The Fountainhead describes Howard Roark’s physical features and how they exude individualism, moral integrity and strength. Rand wastes no time with using figurative language elsewhere—she goes straight to the dialogue that (once again) screams her philosophy back at the reader.
And yet, I somehow finished both books without growing bored of the story. Something intrigues you and draws you into the plot, forcing you to find out about the many adversities that the protagonist encounters. You know that the protagonist is infallible and will succeed, so it is incredibly satisfying to have such an unwavering faith and trust in a character who can only exceed your expectations in withstanding some great source of evil trying to obstruct his or her integrity. Furthermore, Rand’s characters are skillfully crafted and exemplify her ideals in such a way that real people cannot (although this also implies that Rand’s philosophy can only be realized in a fictional world).
Rand’s writing can certainly not be called beautiful, mellifluous literature in the most conventional sense. It is jarring, thought-provoking, and at times, excessively advocative. Do I recommend reading her books? Well, there certainly is no other piece of literature like them. If anything, I recommend at least reading The Fountainhead if for no other reason but to say you read it. The Fountainhead expresses all of the same themes as Atlas Shrugged in about two-thirds the amount of words.