Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Happiness

By Ayn Rand

Happiness

She was speaking with a swift, bright certainty, conscious of nothing but the joy of performing her natural function in her natural world where nothing could take precedence over the act of offering a solution to a problem. (3.2.5.17)

It's interesting that problem-solving, thinking, and hard work are described as Dagny's "natural" functions here. Galt asks people to choose his value system, but it seems that many of his values, and the happiness available through them, are dependent on one's "natural" ability. Are some people just unable to achieve the same level of happiness?

He glanced at her and added slowly, a slight emphasis as sole change in the impersonal tone of his voice, "No one's happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or to destroy." (3.2.5.77)

Choice and personal responsibility are a part of happiness, too. In this novel, happiness is the goal of life, and everyone has to make his or her own.

He smiled, the unchanged, insolent, brilliant smile of his childhood.

"Hi, Slug!"

She heard herself answering, irresistibly, helplessly, happily:

"Hi, Frisco!" (1.5.2.303-6)

The theme of childhood comes into play here, as Dagny recalls her childhood with Francisco and greets him happily, despite their recent estrangement.

"Thank you," she said softly.

"For what?"

"For...for the way you sound"

"How do I sound? Name it Dagny."

"You sound...as if you're happy."

"I am – in exactly the same way you are. Don't tell me what you feel. I know it. But, you see, the measure of hell you're able to endure is the measure of your love." (3.2.6.96-101)

Francisco presents one of the book's more paradoxical ideas here: that some happiness exists even in the midst of pain. Francisco underwent a lot of bad times when he joined the strike, but by living his values fully, he found some degree of happiness.

"I can't ask you to forgive me – we're far beyond such terms – and the only atonement I can offer you is the fact that I am happy. That I am happy, my darling, not that I suffer. I am happy that I have seen the truth – even if the power of sight is all that's left to me now." (3.3.3.71)

Hank takes a rather non-traditional view of happiness, and of breaking-up with someone, when he finds happiness in the truth. Hank also importantly links happiness and "sight" here, which ties into ideas of not living in denial and of facing reality.

"Are they? They have a weapon against you. It's their only weapon, but it's a terrible one. Ask yourself what it is, some time."

"Where do you see any evidence of it?"

"In the unforgivable fact that you're as unhappy as you are." (1.6.1.323-5)

Francisco calls Hank out on his unhappiness, which fits with the Objectivist idea that happiness is the goal of life.

She could not believe that the young boy laughing in her face was Ellis Wyatt. The tense, scornful face she remembered, now had the purity, the eagerness, the joyous benevolence of a child in the kind of world for which he had been intended. (1.8.7.52)

Ellis has been transformed by Atlantis, which is closely linked to themes of youth and childhood. The idea of regaining the happiness of youth appears throughout the book, as well as the idea that happiness shouldn't die with youth.

She heard the rising, accelerating sound of the wheels – and some theme of music, heard to the rhythm of the wheels, kept tugging at her mind, growing louder – it burst suddenly within the cab, but she knew that it was only in her mind: the Fifth Concerto by Richard Halley – she thought: did he write it for this? had he known a feeling such as this? (1.8.7.50)

A lot of important symbols are tied together here: motion, the railroad, and music. All of these things embody happiness for Dagny since they express her values.

What he knew, what he had discovered tonight, was that his recaptured love of existence had not been given back to him by the return of his desire for her – but that the desire had returned after he had regained his world, the love, the values and the sense of his world – and that the desire was not an answer to her body, but a celebration of himself and of his will to live. (2.1.4.105)

Hank unites themes of love, desire, sex, and happiness here. Love and sex can be a way to express happiness and to "celebrate" life.

"It's just a thought that disturbs me once in a while....I thought about my first ball....I keep thinking that parties are intended to be celebrations and celebrations should be only for those who have something to celebrate." (1.6.1.361)

Dagny's first party, and the disappointment it brought her, is a recurring motif in the book. She wishes people were able to come together to celebrate life, and she later discovers that people with Galt's values are.

"By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man – every man – is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose." (3.7.1.143).

Galt defines Objectivism in a nutshell here, as an individualist doctrine holding that living for oneself is the highest form of morality.