Does existence exist? Is “A” always “A”? What would happen if the elites who figuratively support the weight of the world shrug off their responsibilities and allow the world to fall? Who is John Galt? Such are the questions addressed in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a 1957 philosophical dystopian-fiction novel that the author regards as her masterpiece in the fiction genre. Rand introduces John Galt, the novel’s main character, not as a character, but as a question. The question, ‘Who is John Galt? ” is not only the first words of the novel, but is also the most repeated phrase in the novel, being stated a total of twenty six times.
Characters ask the question as an answer to unanswerable questions. Perhaps, the common phrase “I don’t know” had not been popularized when the story takes place, but the characters use the question “Who is John Galt” in its place with the same contextual meaning. By doing so, Rand creates a veil of mystery shrouding John Galt. Rather than explicitly developing the character of John Galt through his actions, Rand uses other characters to answer the question “Who is John Galt? “.
Rand effectively answers “Who is John Galt? ” by answering the question’s mirror: “Who is John Galt not? Showing what characteristics John Galt does not possess further highlights the characteristics he does have. Rand introduces Galt’s first and major contrasting character, James Taggart, president of the railroad industry-leading company Taggart Transcontinental and the novel’s main villain, as a man whose ” posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness, ... [and] the gawkiness of a lout” (Rand 6), Despite the look of “a man approaching fifty, … he was thirtynine years old”(Rand 6). From the first mention of the character of James Taggart, Rand describes him as a man of weakness and lowliness.
Cliffnotes. com characterizes James Taggart as a “nihilist, one who seeks destruction of the good, and this characteristic dominates all aspects of his life”. James Taggart, being a nihilist, directly contrasts with the character of John Galt, who seeks the production of the good. Throughout the Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart condemns the efforts of the other industrial producers, including his sister Dagny Taggart and the inventor of Rearden Metal, Hank Rearden, and uses political force to destroy their products in the name of the altruism.
Rand contrasts James’s altruistic behavior to the selfish behavior of John Galt in order to ease the preconceived bias the reader may have against selfishness. In this regard, Rand villainizes James Taggart while developing John Galt as a character the reader can sympathize with and understand. Because of this understanding, the reader can conclude the opposite of James Taggart, an irrational, poor-postured, parasitic, simpleton, is John Galt, a rational, upright, independent, philosopher.
In the same sense Rand uses James Taggart as a forceful man without thought to contrast the philosophical aspect of John Galt, she uses Dr. Robert Stadler, John Galt’s former physics professor and mentor, as a foil to show a man with thought, but without force. While James Taggart serves as a “mystic of muscle… who believes in existence without consciousness”, Stadler serves as a “mystic of spirit… who believes in consciousness without existence” (Rand 781). Stadler shows a version of John Galt who has the same thoughts, but without the capability to act on those thoughts.
While Stadler does not agree with the actions of James Taggart and his cohorts, he does not take action against them and attempts to remain blissfully ignorant as much as he can. While discussing a statement made by the State Science Institute, which he established and operates, with Dagny Taggart, Stadler becomes frustrated with Dagny’s questioning as she begins to realize how little input he has in the institute he created and how little regard he has for the destructive nature of his peers (Rand 143-146).
Stadler has the capacity to understand the corrupted nature of the others, but he volitionally chooses to ignore their actions, whereas John Galt understands and acts to change society in his moral, productive image. In John Galt’s climatic speech addressed to the entire country, he calls Stadler out by name, saying “the damned and the guiltiest among [them) are the men who had the capacity to know, yet chose to blank out reality, the men who were willing to sell their intelligence into cynical servitude to force,…
The intellects who seek escape from moral values, they are the damned on this earth, theirs is the guilt beyond forgiveness. Do you hear me, Dr. Robert Stadler? ” (Rand 811). This statement shows explicitly the values that John Galt despises and does not possess himself. Despite this drastic contrast, the two characters share similarities as both consciously understand the nature of societal standards and neither of them agree with these societal standards; however, while Stadler only maintains his position in society, John Galt changes the standards using his view on life (Shmoop).
Rand uses Stadler as a foil to show what John Galt would be if he had the capacity to think without the capacity to act. Only once “Who is John Galt not? ” has been answered, can the reader finally answer “Who is John Galt? ” because unlike other main characters, Dagny Taggart and Francisco d’Anconia, who receive extensive childhood and background details, John Galt only receives a small blurb from his father-figure and philosophy mentor, Hugh Akston.
Even then, Rand creates a vague description of how Akston equates John Galt’s childhood to the “Minerva myth” as Akston “always thought of him as if he had come into the world like Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, who sprang forth from Jupiter’s head, fully grown and fully armed” (Shmoop). Other characters also perceived John Galt as a myth saying he discovered Atlantis (Rand 118) and the fountain of youth (Rand 137). Similarly, Francisco d’Anconia links John Galt to the story of Prometheus, the titan who gave the fire of the gods to men and was punished as a result (Shmoop).
Dagny Taggart questions the mere existence of John Galt for more than book as a result of the persistent myths that surround his character. Rand successfully develops the character of John Galt as a man of legendary and exaggerated proportions. Near the middle of the novel, however, Rand introduces an indirect clue to the capabilities of John Galt: the invention of a world-changing motor at the ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company where John Galt previously worked. This motor, as stated by Dagny Taggart, “could have changed the course of all industry” (Rand 249).
However, John Galt discarded this “industry-changing” motor when he quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company when the new owners began to employ socialistic policies to increase the income of the workers who needed more. Rand uses his quitting of the Twentieth Century Motor Company to show his anti-socialist philosophy, reaffirmed in his climactic speech as he wants to be treated “as [a trader], giving value for value” (Rand 799). John Galt then becomes not only a man of action and direction, but also a man of principle and reason.
Rand introduces the character of John Galt, unbeknownst to the reader, as the worker who Eddie Willers talks to in the Taggart Transcontinental cafeteria. Not only does this develop the character of Eddie Willers as the ever-loyal employee to Dagny Taggart, but also shows the lowly position John Galt takes as a part of his strike against society. Despite being an intellectual genius and capable producer, John Galt has a blue-collar position that roughs up and grease-stains his clothes (Rand 48). Rand also uses his position of twelve years to develop his romantic interest in Dagny Taggart.
Over the course of his employment, John Galt asks Eddie Willers personal questions regarding Dagny even including the way she looks when she sleeps. While his interest may be questionable by today’s standard, he displays his unwavering acceptance of facts when he learns that Dagny is Hank Rearden’s mistress. He begins to observe Rearden at a conference, and while feeling a sense of loss at first, he objectively analyzes Rearden’s situation; although Rearden has everything John Galt would have had if he had not gone on strike, Rearden also suffers from an insatiable demand from others as a result.
Rand uses John Galt’s job position and romantic interest to develop him as not only a man of objectivity and truth, but also a man of emotion and feeling. While Ayn Rand could have directly developed John Galt’s character through his own actions and words in Atlas Shrugged, she takes a more interesting approach by using other characters to show what characteristics he does not possess. As a result, the foils highlight the characteristics and values John Galt does have which forms a mysterious aura around the character.
Rand furthers this aura by repeating the question “Who is John Galt? ” a total of twenty six times throughout Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand cultivates her personal philosophies and highest regarded values in a single character: John Galt. From this one character, she shows the hypothetical situation of what would happen if the world leader simply left their positions for the world to lead itself, showing that existence exists, that “A” is always “A”, and that John Galt is a man of existence, consciousness, and emotion.