Atlas Blogged #2
June 29, 2010
Chapter 2: The Chain
In the last chapter, our hero & heroine confronted the heroine’s rather wet brother on the matter of replacing the Rio Norte railroad, using metal bought from a company owned by a chap called Rearden. This is no ordinary metal, rather something as superior to steel as steel is to iron. It’s called, slightly egotistically, Rearden Metal. In this chapter we meet Rearden himself. As a journalist on a train heading past his enormous foundry puts it: “Hank Rearden is the kind of man who puts his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Frank Rearden.”
While this journalist makes this brief note on the character of our new, well, character, a professor of economics sitting close by makes the observation, “Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?”
Clearly, these so-called intellectuals have no understanding of the reality of a man like Rearden, one can only assume Rand intends us to think here. This is an odd claim, however, as I shall illustrate later.
Rearden is watching the first ever casting of Rearden Metal, for Dagny’s replacement of the Rio Norte line. While doing this, he treats us to a brief reminiscence of his life to date, from starting working in a mine, through to owning that very mine itself and then a vast empire of steel & industry. Clearly he is a man not to be trifled with, although Rand specifically does not touch on the intervening period between starting as a lowly worker before rising to own the mine itself.
This is odd. The key to any entrepreneur’s story is the first time they beat the market; at least in the lives of those entrepreneurs in the renewables sector I’ve encountered. The first time they identify a business opportunity is often the making of the man or woman, and is what really sets them apart. Why doesn’t Rand touch on it?
Rearden finishes watching the scene of his latest triumph, and trudges towards his home, a bracelet of Rearden Metal – a gift for his wife – clutched in his pocket. He is greeted by his wife, mother and brother, although certainly not warmly. He is condemned for working too hard, forgetting to come back in time for dinner, and for being self-centred. This is despite his gift to his wife and helping out his brother’s charity – all these efforts are interpreted through a prism of his enjoyment of dominance of them via his wealth & patronage. All this is said to his face, while he, staring blankly, thinks disparaging thoughts about them inside his head, never letting slip his actual feelings.
Again, this is odd. Rearden comes across as more of a surly teenager than a billionaire. His family are clearly appalling, but cast as dependent on him despite their obvious loathing. This is a peculiar ruthlessness indeed – but surely this is how we are meant to perceive him, as a ruthless businessman?
The chapter ends with his brother accepting his donation, but asking for it in cash for fear of being associated with his name.
Rearden does not come across as a successful entrepreneur, rather as an unhappy adolescent caught up with their own interests, and resenting a family that doesn’t accept his clear genius. This may be unfair of me – it’s possible that Rand will fill in the details that explain this character more – but if this is a representation of the titular Atlas, I am disappointed.
Part 3 is here.