The Extroflective Hero: A Look at Ayn Rand

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Author: Philip Gordon
Editors: Jean C. Stine and Daniel G. Marowski
Date: 1984
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,303 words

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[(essay date Spring 1977) In the excerpt below, Gordon attempts to explain the enormous appeal of Rand's works.]

Throughout her long career as popular author and philosophizer, Ayn Rand has concentrated on her individualist-heroes to formulate from their absolute dedication to their own self-interests the model for all mankind. In contrast to those who have seen in the economic crisis of the twentieth century the waste of capitalism, Rand, obsessed with the fear of collectivist association, has seen universal salvation possible only through even more intensive laissez-faire capitalism. In so far as exposing Rand's politics to a more enlightened historical awareness would be like smashing a pea with a hammer, this brief study suggests instead some intersections of Rand's fiction-tracts and popular culture in an attempt to explain the nature of her enormous appeal. While providing an ever-increasing audience with the soothing rationalization of self-primacy, all of Rand's works, but particularly The Fountainhead (1943) expose the sharpness of the familiar line drawn between self and other; and thus she challenges us to recognize that the society which does not encourage individualism invites a tyranny of bland mediocrity....

In the thirties, when American capitalism's breakdown was so conspicuous and its breakup so urgent, Rand's overwhelming fear of anything collective harmonized with the American myth of rugged individualism, and her fiction assumed a prophetic air. In her second novel, Anthem (1938), Rand created a science-fictional scenario of “total collectivism with all of its ultimate consequences; men have relapsed into primitive savagery and stagnation; the word I has vanished from the human language, there are no singular pronouns, a man refers to himself as we and to another man as they.” To combat that absolute lack of individuality, Rand's new heroes operate with an absolute lack of flexibility. Crucial discoveries, of man and nature, can only be made by “a man of intransigent mind,” whose theme, to be sung in Rand's subsequent novels of “rational self-interest,” is typically simplistic: “Many...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100003149