It's rather fitting that this theme is the unspoken heart of Atlas Shrugged. The novel doesn't often refer to issues of language outright, but it's a theme that is constantly present in the way people speak, or don't speak, to each other.
We get an ongoing series of contrasts between the way Galt and his strikers speak and the way looters like James Taggart speak. The way the action-oriented, plainspoken, and blunt Atlantis crowd use language is opposed to the evasive, vague, and manipulative way the looters do. The two groups often seem incapable of being on the same page. Each group frequently fails to understand the other. In fact, each group seems to constantly confuse and even scare the other side.
But in the midst of all this complicated communication, values are constantly being transmitted, consciously or not. At its core, communication is about expressing certain values, and people's communication styles say a great deal about who they are as people.
Questions About Language and Communication
- The book's protagonists –Dagny, Hank, John Galt, Francisco – all have very similar speech styles. What is the significance of these similarities? Are there any notable differences among these characters' speaking styles?
- Do certain sections of Galt's radio speech have a certain audience in mind? How does Galt's speaking style clue us in to whom he is addressing?
- We get a lot of examples of layered speeches in this book, speeches aimed at both a big crowd and a specific individual. (Dagny's radio speech is one example.) What are some of the various styles employed in these layered speeches, and how are these speeches significant to the narrative as a whole?
- Before Cherryl commits suicide, the narrator intervenes to explain her inner thoughts to us, rather than let Cherryl speak for herself. Why this unusual intervention on the narrator's part?
Chew on This
Despite Galt's belief, language is not always tied to reason. A lack of understanding does not always prevent people from speaking effectively.
James Taggart is aware of the full meaning and implications of everything he says.
James Taggart is unaware of and in denial about the implications of what he says.