Dagny Taggart Really Revs My Feminist EngineSeptember 27, 2011 No Comments
John Galt may stop the motor of the world by going on strike against the irrational, unproductive masses, but Dagny Taggart really revs my feminist engine.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has been criticized and dissected since it was published in 1957, but it has managed to stand the test of time and, to this day, remains a classic text I still cherish for this reason: Dagny Taggart.
It’s a controversial claim considering it’s John Galt who stages the strike and who’s really Rand’s vehicle for expounding her philosophy of objectivism. In the novel, I don’t take Galt for granted. From the very first line, “Who is John Galt?” I’m intrigued. But as much as I want to know more about him, it’s Dagny Taggart who has stayed with me all these years after first reading Rand’s magnum opus.
Dagny Taggart is a figure of empowerment because she’s the epitome of self-sufficiency. She defies stereotypes that women are guided by their emotions. Her competence is repeatedly emphasized as she spearheads Taggart Transcontinental. Where her brother is lazy and unmotivated, she’s ambitious and strong-willed.
Some would argue, though, that Rand’s heroine is too icy. How can she be a feminist heroine if she’s an egoist? Although Dagny is driven by her own rationality, I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s stuck in her own mind. She’s self-aware yet she also knows what’s going on around her. By trying to save the railroad and searching for Galt, we can’t conclude she’s purely an egoist. What we can say is that her individuality is her greatest strength.
I may be entertained by Bridget Jones and other fictional characters like Wally Lamb’s Dolores Price from She’s Come Undone because their flaws are what make them loveable, but Dagny is truly a woman of action. On her own, she finds her way to the mountain valley where all the industrialists have come to to escape the masses. She also leaves the idyllic community of her own volition because she still believes in trying to save the railroad despite the intensity of her love for Galt and her happiness to be with people she understands.
Even if you disagree with Rand’s strong beliefs of rational self-interest, I think there’s a piece of every one of us that wants to emulate Dagny. She’s a strong, intelligent woman and a supremely atypical heroine. Although we may yearn to see a more human side of her sometimes, she’s an independent thinker who we can admire and respect.
Through Dagny, we’re also able to see Rand’s idea that true love is based on equality. It’s quite a beautiful moment when Dagny and John make love for the first time. The scene is physical but also manages to capture an equal sense of spiritualism between the two characters.
The most amazing thing is that Dagny never gives up. She actively looks for Galt the whole time. It’s not an unrealistic romance where “fate” brings two people together. Dagny creates her own fate. She never wavers in her search for the motor’s inventor. She follows Galt’s plane to the valley and, in love, becomes a more complete person.
In its most authentic form, love is fundamentally based on equality. It’s not about self-sacrifice, but a genuine meeting of the minds. Industry, productivity and individuality remain significant, but love literally has the power to make the world go round (especially seeing as Galt goes back to society with her to see what can be salvaged).
As an individual woman and as Galt’s lover and inspiration to make the world a better place, Dagny Taggart has been fueling feminist ideas for decades.
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