The title of Lester Hunt’s paper for the 2010 Pacific Division session of the Ayn Rand Society is “Dagny’s Motivation.” One question he pursues is why Dagny chooses Galt as her lover and life-companion for the rest of her days, rather than Francisco or Rearden. Allan Gotthelf had offered reasons for Dagny’s choice in Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in his essay “A Note on Dagny’s ‘Final Choice’.”
In his “Final Choice” essay, Gotthelf puts before the reader a sequence of passages from Atlas. The first is Readen, having surmised that during the month she was MIA Dagny has been swept away by someone new, he says to her: You have met “the man you love, and if love means one’s final, irreplaceable choice, then he is the only man you’ve ever loved” (AS 860).
(I’ll interject, concerning that phrase “the only man you’ve ever loved,” that somewhere in Freud’s writings he maintains that each woman had by a man is symbolic of singular WOMAN to him. I personally have no consciousness of such a unitary MAN in my romantic experience. The first love of my life died. I later learned I could have a second. Two in my life loved me totally, but they are simply separate and distinct, at least to my consciousness.
I’ll note also a passage in The Fountainhead related to the one above from Atlas and to the Freud idea. Dominique marries Gail Wynand, a man she loves, after an affair with the love of her life, an affair so torrid the cops had likely received calls from the neighbors. In bed with Gail on their wedding night: “She felt the answer in her body, an answer of hunger, of acceptance, of pleasure. She thought that it was not a matter of desire, not even a matter of the sexual act, but only that man was the life force and woman could respond to nothing else [times have changed!]; that this man had the will of life, the prime power, and this act was only its simplest statement, and she was responding not to the act nor to the man, but to that force within him” [GW VII 517]. There may be some shimming going on here to finesse the complex plot of this novel, but, on the other hand, I recall that extra babies were made in the US right after the attack of 9/11/01.)
Gotthelf then puts before the reader the sublime passage in which Dagny awakens from her crash landing in the Colorado Rockies, awakens to daylight and the face of John Galt over her. Gotthelf follows with the scene earlier in Atlas in which young Dagny is working at an isolated railroad switching station, thinking of a mythic man at the distant convergence of the rails, and longing “to find a consciousness like her own, who would be the meaning of her world, as she would be of his” (AS 220).
He then quotes Rand’s remark on the nature of romantic love in her 1966 essay “Philosophy and Sense of Life.” (I have noticed that the phrase “sense of life” is used already by Rand in Fountainhead. Dominique uses it in speaking to her husband Gail, speaking of having unexpectedly given him a certain “special sense of living . . . . the sense of life as exaltation” [GW IX 538].) In that essay, Rand remarks that in romantic love one falls in love with a person’s sense of life, “with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul—the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another” (Rand 1966, 32). (I note that in Fountainhead we find the idea of different characters having uniquely individual style, analogous to individual styles of building designs.* The notion that one’s character can have style is from Nietzsche.) Prof. Gotthelf then identifies, following the text of Atlas, Dagny’s “essential sum” and “fundamental way of facing existence.” He identifies the basic values that “she recognizes in the person of Galt, values that ‘are reflected in his widest goals [and] smallest gestures’, which create the very ‘style of his soul’” (Gotthelf 2007, 455).
In Prof. Hunt’s paper, he maintains that Gotthelf succeeds in his case for why Galt, rather than Rearden, is Dagny’s final choice. I concur. Gotthelf has one nice sentence that wins me over. “The unalloyed character of the qualities she loves is central to the man at the end of the tracks, and to her response to Galt” (Gotthelf 2007, 460). Rearden in the end is a fine alloy with traces of past pain and guilt.
Hunt argues that Gotthelf’s case for why Dagny chooses Galt over Francisco fails. He thinks that Gotthelf relies on Galt’s particular achievements to explain Dagny’s preference for him over Francisco. He points out that Rand, in 1967, wrote against the idea that in romantic love one falls in love with a person’s achievements. Rather, one fall’s in love with their character. “One loves that in his character that makes him capable of achieving” (Rand 1967, 12). Hunt did not think Galt’s personal character to be relevantly different from Francisco’s for sustaining Dagny’s choice.
Hunt sells Gotthelf’s account short in taking its appeal, in the Galt-Francisco contest, to rest on a shift from character to achievement. Hunt thinks of Dagny’s mythic man at the end of the railroad tracks as representing capabilities that make human well-being possible. Galt is a representation of those capabilities possessed in superlative degree. Hunt sees that. Allan and Lester had an insightful exchange back and forth in their papers. (I was unable to attend the conference; I have Lester’s paper and Allan’s reply.) Allan stresses particularities in the match between Dagny’s mythic man where the rails meet and the character John Galt. It seems to me that Lester does not sense the level of personal excitement induced in Dagny by a mind that could create the new motor. She is already in love with that mind, the way one could love a god, before she meets the motor’s inventor (cf.). Given that John’s face and bearing and actions are harmonious with that searing mind, for her henceforth, he alone.
It was a delight to learn, in Allan’s rejoinder to Lester’s paper, that his personal second-favorite in Atlas is John. He gives a number of reasons for this character being a personal favorite. His first-place favorite character in the novel is Dagny.
Gotthelf, A. 2007. A Note on Dagny’s “Final Choice.” In Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. R. Mayhew, editor. Lexington.
Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead. Bobbs-Merrill.
——. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House.
——. 1966. Philosophy and Sense of Life. In The Romantic Manifesto. 1971. Signet.
——. 1967. An Answer to Readers. The Objectivist 6(2):12.
Kommt der neue Gott gegangen,
Hingegeben sind wir stumm.