Ayn Rand in Context
Ayn Rand, an influential American novelist and philosopher, endeavored to offer her readers a new perspective on life’s meaning. Growing up as a Jew in a communist country, Rand struggled to find her place in society and, therefore, matured as an anti-communist citizen in her move to the United States (Murray). In her works, she signifies self-importance, highlighting the wrongs of communism for overlooking citizens, and for acknowledging them as a collective rather than as individuals. Rand often caricatures communism as a means of preventing individuals from achieving their hopes and dreams. By conveying this message to her audience, the author encourages a society based on self-work, one that is capitalistic. Through this theme of self-work, Rand’s pieces incorporate her views on the importance of the struggle between the individual and society, calling attention to the enlightenment of self-learning.
Rand expresses her animosity towards communism in a variety of ways throughout her works. In Atlas Shrugged, the protagonists, the capitalists, escape communism to build a society revolving around their own economic views (Mallon). Here, Rand directly promotes individualism by presenting the happiness and success of these individuals in a society of self-growth, a characteristic that was not present in a communistic state. Equality 7-2521’s banishment as a result of learning and innovating in Anthem also shows the author’s powerful anti-communistic mind-set, as Rand supports individualism as a form of self-satisfaction and success (Cox). The main character’s despair in his society, much like the despair that appears in Atlas Shrugged, demonstrates the incapability of communism to permit individuals to reach their full potential and achieve a state of genuine contentment. Illuminating this thought, Rand’s characters rebel against society, finding in capitalism an escape from the seemingly evil world that is communism. Atlas Shrugged uses a relatively direct approach to promote capitalism, as the characters seek happiness through building a capitalistic economy while on strike against the world, creating their own utopian heaven (Clardy). This approach strikingly opposes communism, as Rand blatantly argues that capitalism is superior, providing the protagonists with a sense of joy that was not previously achieved. In Anthem, a more indirect approach for promoting capitalism is used as Rand displays Equality 7-2521’s happiness in a home where he can learn what he wants to learn, separating himself from society to flourish as a unique individual. Rand noticeably supports the notion that success, not only for society as a whole but for each individual as well, is achieved when each man works for himself. Her works illustrate that this goal can only be reached in a society where individuals are encouraged to work for themselves, one that is clearly not communistic.
In portraying her revulsion from communism, Rand argues that success and happiness sprout from self-learning. As stated in Atlas Shrugged, “Everything he needs or desires has to be learned, discovered and produced by him–by his choice, by his own effort, by his own mind (LaBlanc and Milne).” The author encourages individuals to pursue their dreams, but to do so alone. The quote clearly emphasizes “him,” but no one else. Growing up in a society based off of working for one’s brother, essentially sharing all the wealth, Rand rebelled against this seemingly absurd concept. Her characters do the same, questioning why they are not fulfilling their hopes and dreams. This thought was clearly at the root of her growing objectivist philosophy, which maintains that the sole purpose of life is to work towards one’s own self-happiness (Thomas). In Anthem, genius Equality 7-2521 is forced to learn in secret, as he is prohibited from doing so in the city’s House of Scholars. Yet, in his new home, he teaches himself to read and absorbs the meaning of the word “I”. Rand deepens her theme of self-learning in this novella by showing the self-satisfaction achieved by the protagonist upon learning to think for himself. After the time and dedication he puts into learning everything in his new library, he literally discovers himself as an individual, finally referring to himself as “I” rather than “we” (Cox). This mode of reference ties into Rand’s objectivist philosophy once again as she illuminates individual rights under a new light, promoting opportunities for everyone to learn, succeed, and attain full potential. By doing so, she further argues that laissez-faire capitalism is the only way these rights can be embodied, rendering the government uninvolved in the personal affairs of the people.
The struggle of individual versus society further conveys the author’s anti-communistic beliefs. This conflict escalates in Atlas Shrugged when protagonist John Galt rebels against the system of corruption that has taken over the world: communism. Through her anti-communistic sentiment intertwined with her objectivist philosophy, Rand intensifies Galt’s struggle, his condition of being the only outcast in society for favoring capitalist policies. Many other characters, who eventually end up siding with the willful protagonist, also feel as though they face society without support (LaBlanc and Milne). Although all these characters end up joining forces, Rand stresses that individuals face their own struggles alone, even if their neighbors go through the same processes. In the journey to individualism, Rand considers this personal battle an important step, one that teaches people how to help themselves rather than to rely on others. Equality 7-2521 faces a similar struggle in Anthem. Although other characters despise the extreme communist life-style they face, as is evident through the screams in their sleep, Equality 7-2521 is the only one to rebel. He runs away from civilization, reads books to educate himself, and discovers his own reflection in a mirror (Cox). Through this process, the protagonist educates himself not only about the world around him, but also about himself. Equality 7-2521’s seclusion grants him an opportunity to reflect on life, pondering who he truly is as a person, rather than his role as a member of a collective society. Rand makes it evident through both pieces of literature that the first step on the path to individualism is isolation. As they escape their respective communities, John Galt and Equality 7-2521 learn to appreciate their distinct transformations, introducing themselves to a society largely premised on working to fulfill the individual’s aspirations.
Ayn Rand’s powerful anti-communistic sentiment strongly impacts her writings, as she uses it as a form of obstruction in her character’s daily lives. Her common themes of individual versus society and the importance of self-work further highlight her promotion of capitalism as a means of achieving success and happiness. Her protagonists face their own individual struggles in which they are forced to learn how to work and fight for themselves, not their brothers. Rand’s rough childhood in a communistic society was a guiding factor in her objectivist philosophy, leading her to promote the pursuit of one’s own happiness. By shedding light on this inspiring viewpoint, Rand influences her readers to live life in just this manner and encourages them to build societies as different as possible from the communist system that she experienced.
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