Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Language and Communication

By Ayn Rand

Language and Communication

Sitting as a helpless spectator, a minority member, at one of the Board meetings, she felt a strange evasiveness in the air of the room, in every speech, in every argument, as if the real reason of their decision were never stated, but clear to everyone except herself. (1.3.2.23)

Dagny experiences helplessness here in something like a foreign environment where she doesn't speak the language. It's like walking in on a conversation and suspecting that they were all just talking about you behind your back.

"Dagny, they didn't say it!...They haven't really said it, yet it's there – and it – isn't. That's what's so monstrous about it." (1.7.4.17)

We get a lot of contrasts between blunt, plainspoken people and manipulative, evasive people in this book. Eddie suggests that it's somehow dishonorable to not come right out and say what you mean.

"Men are not open to truth or reason. They cannot be reached by a rational argument. The mind is powerless against them. Yet we have to deal with them. If we want to accomplish anything, we have to deceive them into letting us accomplish it." (1.7.5.97)

Stadler's contempt for humanity impacts how he communicates with others; he advocates dumbing things down and "tricking" people into doing things. But Stadler creates a self-fulfilling prophecy here; he won't deal with people in terms of reason and he ultimately finds himself surrounded by people who refuse to accept reason.

He approached, stopped, looked at her and smiled.

"Hello, Dagny," he said.

In a single shock of emotion, she knew everything the two words were intended to tell her. It was forgiveness, understanding, acknowledgment. It was a salute. (1.7.1.34-6)

Members of Galt's crowd tend to say what they think, but they also communicate nonverbally. How is their nonverbal communication different from the nonverbal communication and body language of the looters?

"Do you want us to quote all the things you said?"

"I hope I may trust you to be sure and quote them. Would you oblige me by taking this down verbatim? She paused to see their pencils ready, then dictated: 'Miss Taggart says – quote – I expect to make a pile of money on the John Galt Line. I will have earned it. Close quote. Thank you so much." (1.8.5.32-33)

Dagny doesn't often get to be this funny, so this scene is memorable. She mocks the reporters by throwing the words they use to insult her back in their faces.

Orren Boyle and Bertram Scudder were men who used words as a public instrument, to be avoided in the privacy of one's own mind. Words were a commitment, carrying implications which they did not wish to face. (2.2.4.6)

Words are part of the looters' avoidance tactics. They conceal the looters' true purposes not only from others but from themselves.

James Taggart saw Lillian Rearden drift casually toward him at the one moment when he chanced to be alone in the dim corner between a potted palm and a window. He stopped and waited to let her approach. He could not guess her purpose, but this was the manner which, in the code he understood, meant that he had better hear her. (2.2.4.50)

James and Lillian use a sort of unspoken language here to start up a conversation, which itself will use a sort of code. It's fascinating how complex the looters' forms of communication are. They spend so much time and energy coming up with ways to avoid certain truths when it would take less effort to just speak up and face reality.

"There was a time when men were afraid that somebody would reveal some secret of theirs that was unknown to their fellows. Nowadays, they're afraid that somebody will name what everybody knows." (2.2.4.187)

This observation by Francisco really sums up the state of the looters' regime. The looters are ignoring an elephant in the room and have, illogically, turned obvious truths into secrets.

"So they'll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue – a highly intellectual virtue – out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness, and their guilt."

"And you propose to pander this to them?"

"That is the road to popularity." (2.1.1.76-8)

Ferris uses language as a way to control people, putting into practice Stadler's ideas about manipulating an ignorant society.

She had never believed that there were men with whom a certain method, which she had never used, would work; such men were not hired by Taggart Transcontinental and she had never been forced to deal with them before.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked, in the cold, overbearing tone of a personal threat. (2.10.2.150)

Dagny is discovering here that she has to deal with people in crummy ways. And the "overbearing" tone she adopts is effective, almost as if the person on the phone were expecting someone in such a powerful position as hers to be rude and condescending, and would only respond to this kind of treatment.

"Their goal is not the era of pre-science, but the era of pre-language. Their purpose is to deprive you of the concept on which man's mind, his life, and his culture depend: the concept of an objective reality." (3.7.1.283)

Galt's comments on "pre-language" tie in with a major theme in the book: that of historical backslide. Multiple characters note how the looters seem to be sending everyone back in time to the Dark Ages.

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