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Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand

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Plot Overview

Ayn Rand was born alissa rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia, to an upper-middle-class family. She took an early interest in literature and decided at age nine to become a writer. While still in high school, Rand witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution, which she denounced. When the Communists came to power, Rand’s father’s pharmacy was nationalized, driving the family to near-starvation. To escape the violence of the revolution, her family moved to the Crimea, where she finished high school. She studied American history in high school and decided that America offered the best example of a free society. Her growing love for the West was fed by the many American films she saw as a teenager and by the works of Victor Hugo, the writer she most admired. After high school, her family returned from the Crimea, and Rand enrolled in the University of Petrograd to study philosophy and history. She graduated in 1924 and then entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts to study screenwriting.

In 1925, Rand obtained a temporary visa to visit relatives in the United States. She intended never to return to her homeland. After living for six months with relatives in Chicago, she obtained an extension of her visa and went to Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter. She took a job as an extra on the set of The King of Kings, a Cecil B. DeMille production. A week later, she met Frank O’Connor, whom she married in 1929. The marriage lasted until his death fifty years later.

During her first several years in Hollywood, Rand worked at various occupations. In 1932, she sold her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Studios and had her first stage play, Night of January 16th, produced in Hollywood and later on Broadway. She completed her first novel, We the Living, in 1933, but was rejected by every American publisher she approached. Finally, in 1936, the Macmillan Company published the book in the United States. The novel was based on her years under Soviet Communism and was strongly criticized by the pro-Communist intelligentsia. She began writing The Fountainhead in 1935. As with her previous novel, she had trouble finding a willing publisher. The Bobbs-Merrill Company finally accepted the manuscript in 1943, and, two years later, it became a bestseller through word of mouth. Instantly, Ayn Rand became the champion of individualism.

Rand began writing Atlas Shrugged in 1946. The novel was published by Random House in 1957 and became a bestseller despite very negative reviews. Atlas Shrugged was her last work of fiction. Rand realized that in order to communicate the full meaning of her philosophy, she would have to identify its principles in nonfiction form, and so for the next twenty-five years she devoted her life to the development and promotion of Objectivism, her philosophy of the ego. In 1958 she founded an institute devoted to teaching her philosophy, which is still active today. She died on March 6, 1982, in her New York City apartment. More than twenty million copies of her books have been sold.

The events that surrounded Rand’s life, notably the rise of Communism in Russia, heavily influenced her work. Her distaste for Communism and collectivism in all forms is apparent throughout Atlas Shrugged. Although her earlier novels were criticized for their deeply anti-Communist stance, Atlas Shrugged was published at the height of the Cold War, and its message was welcomed by an America that feared and despised Communism. At the end of World War II, even when the totalitarian threat of the Nazis had been eliminated, much of Europe, followed by China, Korea, and Cuba, fell under Communism. Communism, a collectivist system that forces individuals to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the state, threatened the personal and intellectual freedoms Rand considered essential. Although the United States opposed Communism in the Cold War era, many of the collectivist beliefs of Marxism had support among American academics and those who favored an expanded welfare state and greater regulation of private industry. Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in opposition to these views.

As a student of American capitalism, Rand believed that unfettered economic freedom was the factor most responsible for the major achievements of American inventors and businessmen during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Atlas Shrugged attempts to demonstrate what might happen to the world if such economic freedom were lost, if emerging collectivist trends were to continue to their logical conclusions. The novel shows in detail the resulting collapse of efficient production and the rise of corruption among businessmen and politicians who look to live off the production of others without producing anything themselves. In Atlas Shrugged, the system falls apart to the point that the remaining producers choose to simply withdraw rather than perpetuate the corruption. This withdrawal is the strike at the center of the novel’s action. In this strike, the thinkers withdraw their minds to protest the oppression of thought and the forced moral code of self-sacrifice that obligates them to work only to serve the needs of others. Without the minds of these thinkers, society is doomed to utter collapse. For Ayn Rand, the mind is the most important tool for humanity, and reason is its greatest virtue.

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