Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter Ten: The Sign of the Dollar


Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter Ten: The Sign of the Dollar

Summary: Chapter Ten finds Dagny making her way across the country to intercept Quentin Daniels, on his way to Colorado.  Along the way, the conductor finds a tramp hiding in Dagny’s quarters and Dagny makes the very un-Randian decision to let him ride for free.  You’d think that someone as hostile to looting in all its forms as Dagny would never offer a free ride to some hobo, but because of the way he grabs his bindle (he has a “sense of property!”), she shows an uncharacteristic amount of sympathy for a downtrodden transient.  It’s a good thing, too, because in a wildly improbable turn of events, this homeless gentleman, Jeff Allen, was present during the catastrophic reign of the Starnes siblings at Twentieth Century Motors.  Not only that, he was at the company meeting when a defiant young engineer named John Galt walked away for society, vowing to “stop the motor of the world.”  Wow, it’s a good thing that guy happened to find Dagny’s train car.  Unless Allen is some sort of agent of Galt’s, sent to prepare her for the revelation of his grand design, that is unforgivably lazy plotting, especially for a book that has twelve hundred pages to work with.

Jeff Allen, gentleman of the road and anti-looter.

The next morning, Dagny wakes to find the train stopped and deserted by its crew. She happens to meet Owen Kellogg, her former co-worker, who offers some enigmatic words and taunts her by displaying a pack of the Dollar Sign brand cigarettes.  After a punishingly long phone call with an incompetent railway worker that reads like a deeply unfunny Abbott and Costello routine, Dagny walks to an airfield, buys a plane and makes her way to Afton, Colorado. There, she’s informed that she just missed Quentin Daniels, who had been picked up by a different airplane a mere few hours previously.  Dagny is not the type to give up easily, of course, so she takes off again in search of the mysterious ship carrying Daniels.  Somehow, she manages to catch up to it and follow the plane into a mysterious valley.  Upon sight of the valley, Dagny is hit with a blinding light and her engine dies.  The chapter ends as her powerless airplane tumbles toward the ground.

Keep up with the positive waves, Dagny!

Observations: This chapter is dominated by two devices that would get most people laughed out of a freshman creative writing seminar: insanely long monologues and ridiculously convenient coincidences.  Dagny’s chance meeting with Jeff Allen, who holds the key to John Galt’s origin as well as an eye witness description of the evils of a command economy, strains credulity.  It doesn’t help that Allen’s five page screed simply reiterates every criticism of Communism Rand has been making for seven hundred pages.  There is not a single new observation in the entire Allen soliloquy.  It’s excruciating to read, but it sheds light on how Objectivists deflect criticism by claiming that their critics don’t “get” their philosophy.  There are only a few key points, but they’re larded in so much unnecessary verbiage that only the true believer would ever slog through it all.  As such, it’s a snap to dismiss anyone who isn’t masochist enough to read every work Rand ever wrote as being insufficiently informed to make a judgement.  The philosophy may be wooly-headed nonsense, but expressing it in such a way as to gives its followers an unearned sheen of intellectual sophistication while also rendering itself invulnerable to criticism…you’ve got to give Rand credit for that trick.

Quotes:

“He had pulled himself up on his feet, he was looking indifferently at the black hole open upon miles of uninhibited wilderness where no one  would see the body or hear the voice of a mangled man, but the only gesture of concern he made was to tighten his grip on a small, dirty bundle, as if to make sure he would not lose it in leaping off the train.  It was the laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions —the gesture of a sense of property—that made her feel an emotion like a sudden, burning twist within her. ‘Wait,’ she said.”  Wow, it’s a good thing the dude kept his collar spiffy or Dagny (and the readers) would never have known about Twentieth Century Motors’ employment policies!

‘Do you know how it worked, that plan, and what it did to people?  Try pouring water into a tank where there’s a pipe at the bottom draining it out faster than you can pour it, and each bucket you bring breaks that pipe an inch wider, and the harder you work the more is demanded of you, and you stand slinging buckets forty hours a week, then forty-eight, then fifty-six–for your neighbor’s supper–for his wife’s operation–for his child’s measles–for his mother’s wheel chair–for his uncle’s shirt–for his nephew’s schooling–for the baby next door–for the baby to be born–for anyone anywhere around you–it’s theirs to receive, from diapers to dentures–and yours to work, from sunup to sundown, month after month, year after year, with nothing to show for it but your own sweat, with nothing in sight for you but their pleasure, for the whole of your life, without rest, without hope, without end…From each according to his ability, to each according to his need…”  –Jeff Allen.  So, the buckets of water are paying for wheelchairs? And measles?  I lost track of the metaphor about half an hour in.

“There is no rate of exchange, Miss Taggart.  No amount of physical –or spiritual–currency, whose sole standard of value is the decree of Mr. Wesley Mouch, will buy these cigarettes.” –Owen Kellogg.  Again with the goldbuggery. Owen demands five cents in gold for a cigarette pack, but who the hell decides what five cents worth of gold is?

“You’re going to help now.”

“Nobody told me to.”

I’m telling you to!”

“How do I know whether you’re supposed to tell me or not?  We’re not supposed to furnish any Taggart crews.  You people were to run with your own crews.  That’s what we were told.”

“But this is  an emergency!”

“Nobody told me anything about an emergency.”

Third base!

“Her arms pulling at the wheel, with no chance to know whether she could succeed, with her space and time running out–she felt, in a flash of its full, violent purity, that special sense of existence which had always been hers.  In a moment’s consecration to her love–to her rebellious denial of disaster, to her love of life and of the matchless value that was herself–she felt the fiercely proud certainty that she would survive.”  I’ll give it to Dagny: I don’t love myself nearly enough to think anything like that during a plane crash.

 

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