Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Chapter 2: The Chain

Rearden's life is Rand's embodiment of Atlas' struggles. This chapter, which introduces Rearden, is structured around the recurring notion of a "chain." Rearden's magnum opus of ten years--the launching of Rearden Metal--is seen from the perspective/POV of the mindless common people, himself, and his family.

The Taggart train is the chain connecting the mindless passengers to the wonders of Rearden's mills. They are unable grasp the complexity of it, which seemed "purposeless in the empty plane, yet too powerful to have no purpose." They watch without interest, and yet they comment, denouncing the importance of one man's achievements against the collective achievements, implying that Rearden is selfish flaunting his name over well-earned pride. They do not realize that the very train that makes their voyage possible was the sum of one man's achievements. Yet, these mindless fools are ubiquitious, a heavy sheet of chain-mail burdening Atlas' load.

Rearden fingers the chain made of the very first batch of Rearden Metal as he reminisces on his life. His struggles, the days when he collapsed, out of ideas, without a motor to go on, the longing for someone to come give him the extra impetus he needed--his realization that he would be alone, there, that only he could bring himself up, and he sits up, never wishing to depend on someone else for happiness. Yet, his happiness is embodied in the Rearden Metal chain; his happiness would blossom only if he could give it to the abstraction known as his wife.

His family puzzles him, but he gives them the benefit of the doubt, attempts to see the good in their action. His mother complains that he doesn't care about them, only pays for their bills, never gives them time; Rearden attempts to bend good into the words, that his mother misses him, shows affection for him. His brother claims he should spend less time doing the one thing that makes him happy--because it is unhealthy, that he should have some fun; yet, his brother does not ask him what makes him happy.

But, Rearden is too overcome with happiness--today is the sum of ten years of toil. He wishes to share his happiness, a part of him still hoping that his family has the potential to be human. When Philip tells him of his failed attempt to raise $10,000 for a purposeless charity, Rearden quickly offers him the money. He does it in hopes that it would make Philip happy. But Philip isn't happy, has no potential to be happy: Philip has no selfish interest in the matter whatever. (A charity that denounces the virtue of its source of funds, the so-called selfish businessmen, then proceeds to ask them for money. Obviously, their fundraising quest was doomed to start with. Was it for the purpose of making hopeless martyrs of their fundraisers?) Philip then asks for the sum in cash, stating that they would be embarassed to have Rearden as one of the contributors--especially when one of their proponents is that Rearden represents the "blackest element of social retrogression in the country." Rearden agrees to it, looking back out the window at his mills--knowing that whatever they attempt to take from him, nothing matters except that he will still have his mill. (They take that from him, anyway, later. But, Rearden's mill represents his soul--that is something they cannot take... but they can horde until he figures them out.)

Rearden presents the chain of Rearden Metal to his wife--or, the closest embodiment (he knows thus far) of the abstraction of his wife, Lillian. He had wanted to share his happiness with her, but instead, she spills out the unfathomable incurable sadness in her soulless shell. Lillian views it all as a game, and she gaily spills out their secret--"it's the chain by which he holds us all in bondage." His family holds him in guilt, responsibility/obligation--that he should yield to them, that they are "his family," yet they do not act appropriately. His family binds him because they need him--because he is capable of making bracelets of Rearden Metal, a man who can feed them, a host for voracious parasites. The chain of Rearden Metal is what binds Rearden to the world--that despite all its horrors, its sorrows, lack of good people, there is still the prospect and joy of his work, his mills.