Study Guide

The Starnes Family in Atlas Shrugged

By Ayn Rand

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The Starnes Family

It's fitting that the dilapidated Starnesville was named for the Starnes family. The town essentially tells the story of the decline and fall of this family, and their factory.

We start off with Jed Starnes, the owner of the Twentieth Century Motor Factory, which in its heyday was the best in the country. We don't hear much about Jed Starnes, but knowing that John Galt went to work at the Factory after graduating college tells us something about the kind of man he must have been. We also hear from various sources that his factory was very successful and the town that bore his name, Starnesville, was a pleasant, prosperous place.

But then Jed Starnes died and his three children took over the factory. These children were all horrible people who ran the factory into the ground and inspired Galt to begin his crusade. The kids preached the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Basically they did away with salaries and had people "vote" on what others should earn based on their "needs." This turned into a disaster.

Ivy Starnes was considered the worst of these kids. Jeff Allen, a man who worked in the factory, has this to say about her:

"She had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold, and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil, you should have seen the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who'd talked back to her once and who'd just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance." (

Dagny herself actually met Ivy and tried to get answers out of her, back when she was searching for the elusive inventor of the motor. Ivy sadistically preys on people's emotions and enjoys tormenting them. In this respect, she is what Galt calls a "looter of the spirit" and has a lot in common with James Taggart, who also enjoys destroying people for his own amusement. What's truly terrible about Ivy is that she acts sadistically but speaks in terms of charity and brotherly love. She embodies the very worst of what Galt considers looter ideology.

Her brother, Gerald Starnes, represents what Galt calls the "materialists." Gerald is a greedy looter. He takes advantage of the terrible policies at the factory to line his own pocketbook. Jeff Allen describes Gerald like this:

"But when a bastard like Gerald Starnes puts on an act and keeps spouting that he doesn't care for material wealth...that all the lushness is not for himself, but for our sake and for the common good, because it's necessary to keep up the prestige of the company and of the noble plan in the eyes of the public – then that's when you learn to hate the creature as you've never hated anything human." (

Gerald uses humanitarianism to enrich himself. He also loves the media, and takes credit for how "great" things are at the factory, kind of like the way Orren Boyle spends more time making videos about how great his business is than actually running it. Combined, Gerald and Ivy represent two strands of the looters' parasitic actions and ideology. They each use and abuse people for their own ends, namely power.

The last of the Starnes siblings is Eric, the youngest. Eric is dead by the time the novel starts, and we hear about his death during Dagny's hunt for the inventor of the motor. Eric committed suicide in the house of a young woman he was pursuing on her wedding day. Talk about vindictive. Eric ran around acting like he was a friend to everyone, but what that really meant was that he wanted everyone to be his friend. This actually recalls James's plea to Cherryl that he wanted to be "loved." Eric was both a greedy and a manipulative looter, serving as a sort of hybrid of his two older siblings.

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