Atlas Shrugged as Epic

1999-06-15

In an essay on one of my favorite email lists, Karen Michalson made a connection between Atlas Shrugged and the epic tradition, which rings true with me (just as The Fountainhead, at least in the person of Gail Wynand, is connected in my mind with the tragic tradition). Reading her essay last night reminded me of a flaw in the novel that I first noticed years ago: why doesn't Dagny know Galt (and Ragnar) through her relationship with Francisco? Dagny and Francisco had a romantic relationship starting in their teenage years and ending after Francisco "went crazy" by becoming a worthless playboy sometime after Galt went on strike. Dagny was involved with Francisco while he was a student at Patrick Henry University (where he met and befriended Galt and Ragnar). So why didn't Dagny get to know, or even merely hear about, Francisco's great new friends? Indeed, Rand makes it very explicit that Francisco does not tell Dagny about Ragnar and John Galt:

She [Dagny] did not question him [Frisco] about the university. Days later she asked him only whether he liked it.

'They're teaching a lot of drivel nowadays,' he answered. 'But there are a few courses I like.'

'Have you made any friends there?'

'Two.'

He told her nothing else.

This is the conversation of two people with a deep and abiding love relationship? It hardly seems so. Why in the world would Francisco have "told her nothing else"? Even if the only thing Dagny cared about in this context was whether or not there were "more producers and achievers in the world like herself and Francisco", why would Francisco not have said more about their productive abilities ("there's this guy John and he's got the most incredible mind for physics"....)? This scene is unintelligible to me. But maybe that's because I'm a human being and not an epic hero. ;-)

Aside from Rand's abusing literary license so she could pull Galt straight from the head of Zeus in Part Three (which leads to the tangential question Why is John Galt?), there is one reason I can see for Dagny to have never met Galt and Ragnar: she and Francisco focused exclusively on work. She never visited him at college, he never volunteered information about his friends, they never shared the details of their inner lives, and so on. This would be consistent with Karen's point that Dagny is so strongly focused on work and achievement, as (the implication is) an epic hero must be. Was Dagny afraid that Francisco would slap her again if she asked whether he was making friends at Patrick Henry? Was that too "feminine" a concern? Must a Randian hero(ine) focus on nothing but the epic quest?


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