Monday, February 22, 2010

Precis: Why does Cheryl die?

While I agree that Atlas Shrugged does operate on a mythical level (in reference to Jon’s post), I also cannot refrain from seeing that there is a bit of truth found within the characters in regards to “reality”. Rands is very clear as to the purposefulness of the characters she creates, “I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do” (incredible she would say this). We can agree or disagree to Rand’s claim, but opinion set aside, according to Rand, men like James Taggart and Francisco d’ Aconia do exist. While this “magical” world creates a bizarrely “stable” (I use this term loosely because I’m not quite sure if I believe it yet) foundation in which myths can be mobilized, I believe there is in fact reality deeply rooted within each of these characters. For example, through Rand’s use of hyperbole a current-day theme such as “power” can be called to attention in an easily recognizable manner, therefore reaching a wide range of readers. However, while the exaggeration only further amplifies the sense of a magical world, the action (to be powerful or exhibit authority over another) is prevalent in everyday life. I use power as a transition to my next point: Dale asked in last lecture “why is it so important that Eddie and Cheryl die?” Perhaps it is to keep the hierarchy of power intact.

While we discussed the significance of Eddie’s death in class, we did not talk about Cheryl. I see Cheryl Taggart as an individual who is in the ultimate position of inferiority. James cheats on her with Lillian Rearden, the unsupportive wife to Hank Rearden who seeks to destroy his career. There is one particular scene that helps us to understand the importance of her death; it is when Cheryl catches Jim cheating on her with Mrs. Hank Rearden. Cheryl walks into an empty room of her house, she sees two glasses and a purse resting on the armchair; from the bedroom she hears James with a woman. She quietly waits in another room until he escorts Lillian Rearden out the front door. When James sees that Cheryl is home, he abruptly asks, “When did you come back?” and Cheryl states that she knows he has been with another woman. We should expect Jim to feel embarrassed or ashamed for cheating on his wife, but instead he harshly responds with a, “So what?” At this point it is clear that James is in a higher position of power than Cheryl. Mrs. Taggart then assumes that James would want a divorce, but he only further demonstrates his superiority by laughing and calling her a fool. He then becomes righteous and boasts: “I’ll lay anybody I please”.

Within a relationship two individuals should retain the right to decide what they desire from the other. However, with Jim this is clearly not the case. There are two aspects of power that a woman possesses within a martial relationship that Taggart discourages here. First, he states that Cheryl is deranged to think that he wants to divorce her, and will not allow her to divorce him, leading to a complete disregard of Cheryl’s wants/desires and a lack of respect for her as a human. As soon as Cheryl does not have a choice she no longer acts as the typical protocol of “A is A” (where “A” is a respected human being) but rather becomes an object, a tool that Jim can use as he pleases. He even tells Cheryl that his reason for marrying her was because she was “cheap and helpless” and she would never have a chance with anyone else equal to him (whatever that means). His marriage vows acted to maintain his superiority over his wife, suppressing her and calling her worthless only further empowered him. He knew she would never rise above to the elite, she would stay the status quo; he would always be able to exhibit his dominion over her. James Taggart wanted Cheryl to know that every step she took, she owed it all to him.

Second, Jim abuses the physical aspect of their relationship; he breaks the “sexual contract” (for lack of a better word) that two individuals make with one another when they decide to get married. That contract holds sexual relations to remain between the two that are wed and no one else. By breaking their vows, Jim robs Cheryl of the sensual power a woman has over a man within a martial relationship. The degradation of Cheryl is a perfect example of the “elite” suppressing the mediocre, and her death only further etches that hierarchy into stone. Jim is a greedy, egotistical individual who is more concerned with his own image than with the happiness of his wife. Cheryl is the inferior, the submissive, and therefore cannot win, cannot get ahead, and cannot exhibit any sort of power over Jim. Her death shows us that within this world those who focus only on themselves might in fact be the ones who make it to the top of the food chain. This does have some underlying reality to it. The foundation of capitalism is rooted in competition. Competition promotes individuality, breaking away from the status quo and being the exceptional. More money means more land, more land means more companies, more companies mean more investment, more investment means more capital, more capital means more power—and they cycle repeats itself over and over again. One’s identity is determined by how much superiority you exhibit over another, mediocrity just doesn’t cut it.

Paulina Inzerillo


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