c/o Random House
457 Madison Ave.
New York City
August 29, 1960
Dear Mr. Williams:
Thank you for your letter of August 10. I will tell you frankly that yours is one of the few letters that I liked very much.
I am glad that ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD have helped you philosophically. I hope that you will understand and accept my philosophy fully, and—if I understood you correctly—that you will never give up the values you had once held.
You ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of ATLAS SHRUGGED:
“‘We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?’ she whispered.
“‘No, we never had to.’”
You write: “You may feel that this is a small point—but it is one on which we have not completely satisfied ourselves.” Let me begin by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is the condensed emotional summation, the keynote or leitmotif, of the view of life presented in ATLAS SHRUGGED.
You write: “I have interpreted this statement of Dagny’s to mean that she realizes that everything in the Looters’ World was sham and hypocrisy—and that in this World of John Galt’s, everything was as it should be. For that reason, Dagny finally realizes that the things in the world she has left never meant anything—and for that reason, none of it had to be taken seriously. Is this what you intended to convey?”
I will have to answer: no, not quite. What I intended to convey is much wider and more fundamental than that. What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that
joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man’s existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain. The issue she refers to is the basic philosophical issue which John Galt later names explicitly in his speech: that the most fundamental division among men is between those who are pro-man, pro-mind, pro-life—and those who are anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life.
It is the difference between those who think that man’s life is important and that happiness is possible—and those who think that man’s life, by its very nature, is a hopeless, senseless tragedy and that man is a depraved creature doomed to despair and defeat. It is the difference between those whose basic motive is the desire to achieve values, to experience joy—and those whose basic motive is the desire to escape from pain, to experience a momentary relief from their chronic anxiety and guilt.
It is a matter of one’s fundamental, over-all attitude toward life—not of anyone specific event. So you see that your interpretation was too specific and too narrow; besides, the Looters’ World had never meant anything to Dagny and she had realized its “sham and hypocrisy” long before. What she felt, in that particular moment, was the confirmation of her conviction that an ideal man and an ideal form of existence are possible.
If you want to know which particular passages in ATLAS SHRUGGED strike the same keynote, I will mention a few: page 116, paragraph 3—p. 612, last two paragraphs—p. 931, last paragraph (specifically, Rearden’s psychology)—p. 959, last paragraph (continued on next page)—p. 1155, paragraphs 3, 4, 5.
I trust this will answer your question.
Please wish a Happy Birthday from me to the Gracious Lady who introduced you to my works—and convey to her my sincere appreciation.
With my best wishes to both of you,