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Eddie Willers

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Ayn Rand had a very positive estimation of Eddie Willers. Leonard Peikoff, in his introduction to Journals of Ayn Rand writes:

One of the unique features of her mature hero-worship, by contrast, is her explicit benevolence towards the honest average man (as represented by Mike in The Fountainhead and Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged).

Ayn Rand herself writes to a fan (Letters of Ayn Rand, May 27, 1960 To Miss Sachs):

You are right in your interpretation of Dr. Stadler's fate, but not of Eddie Willers's. Eddie Willers is not necessarily destined to die; in a free society, he will live happily and productively; in a collectivist society he will be the first to perish. He does not have the ability to create a new society of his own, but he is much too able and too honest ever to adjust himself to collectivism. [...] The Eddies and all rational men will also profit in a proper society—but that is a secondary consequence, not one's primary goal. [Emphasis on "rational" Ayn Rand's]

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Thank you Betsy! (I just realized that I'm saying that a lot to you.)

Yes, I empathize with Eddie. I cried when I first read his last scene in the book. It broke my heart to have such a person left in the middle of that desert all alone. That was the point, wasn't it. Isn't that one of the things you get from the book? The sense of unforgivable waste! The futility of such an end? And for what? I felt empathy and I felt anger.

I found that scene one of the most poignantly written scenes in the book. Miss Rand was a master at placing you in the scene. The sight in my mind's eye of Eddie in that cold, lonely, moonlit desert, sitting in the cab of the engine as the wagon train, and the last people he will see, disappears into the dark. . . . Im no genius. I'm no prime-mover. I can admire a Dagny Taggart, a Hank Reardon, etc., and thank them for making my life better, but I will never be one of them. For all of my striving, Eddie will be the best I can attain. I am a common woman, not a prime-mover. (There are damn few prime-movers, of course.) Perhaps that is why I felt such empathy for Eddie Willers.

As an aside, I find Dr. Peikoff's use of the term, "common man" interesting. Think about the difference between being a common man and being a part of the "little people" (as in, "Martha Stewart's conviction was a blow for the little guy." - a quote from one of the jurors). I wish the common man was more common.

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I find Dr. Peikoff's use of the term, "common man" interesting. Think about the difference between being a common man and being a part of the "little people"

To put it forcefully: The common man is, at minimum, Man, in the full, heroic sense of the word. The little guy is, at most, little, and little is the state to which he reduced himself by his own choice.

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  • 2 weeks later...
If you think Eddie's fate is what happens to the honorable average when the men of the mind go on strike, think twice.

...

Eddie Willers: "No transcontinental trains can leave San Francisco. One of the fighting factions out there-I don't know which one-has seized our terminal and imposed a 'departure tax' on trains. Meaning that they're holding trains for ransom. Our terminal manager has quit. Nobody knows what to do there now."

Dagny Taggart: "I can't leave New York"

"I know," he said softly. "That's why it's I who'll go there to straighten things out. At least, to find a man to put in charge."

"No! I don't want you to! It's too dangerous! And what for? It doesn't matter now. There's nothing to save."

"It's still Taggart Transcontinental. I'll stand by it, Dagny.  Wherever you go, you'll always be able to build a railroad. I couldn't. I don't even want to make a new start. Not any more. Not after what I've seen. You should. I can't. Let me do what I can."

"Eddie! Don't you want-" She stopped, knowing that it was useless.  "All right, Eddie. If you wish."

...

Eddie Willers was not rejected by the strikers.

He rejected himself.

Eddie knew that it was possible to rebuild elsewhere yet chose NOT to follow Dagny.

THAT is the tragedy of the honorable average.

I agree. The truck driver had ambitions, he didn't want to be a truck driver forever but it was his start in moving towards those ambitions. Eddie could have gone to the Valley as well had he not chose to remain and serve the looters because he couldn't bear to start all over again.

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I have always wondered why Eddie Willers didn't choose to go with Dagny to the valley. It was one of the two great no brainers in the book, or at least the two that immediately come to mind. The other one was the decision that Dagny didn't make to stay in the valley the first time (she should have stayed). Of course, had she stayed, the entire Part III of the book would have been much different and not as good. :dough:

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I never did like the fate of Eddie, he was one of my favorite Ayn Rand Characters after Gail, Francisco, and Dagny. I've always felt that if Eddie couldn't make it, I probably couldn't make it either.

It's strange, but I sort of got a similar feeling. I too didn't like how he ended, I felt horrible about what happened to him, it seemed like some form of torture that he didn't deserve. The only reason i got the feeling of "maybe I wouldn't make it" either, is because I can't measure myself up to those characters and don't think i should ever have to. I am what I am and try my best, maybe one day i'll create something and maybe someday I could make a huge difference, like they did, still, i guess it has to do with my being so young. I feel like I have so much to learn, and only have those images of "heroes" as guides. Because after all, Eddie Willers was simply learning. Throughout the entire novel, he too was struggling, and learning, and hoping to do the what was possible. Isn't taht how the most of us start out? I know I try and struggle, but yet, even I don't know what i want to do with my life yet. I still have time, and once I find it, I know I'd be just like those characters and allow myself to even die working to achieve what I want. I have the determination, just not the source yet. I put everything I can into everything I do. Like in the book...just making dinner one night requires every part of me and my possible effort. It is simply how I am and what I choose to live by. Thus I am here, where I know that is understood.

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I thought about it long and hard after first reading Atlas Shrugged, and I think I can make sense of the end of Eddie Willers. This is from the last conversation Dagny has with Eddie in the novel:

"I can't leave New York," she answered stonily.

"I know," he said softly. "That's why it's I who'll go there to straighten things out. At least, to find a man to put in charge."

"No! I don't want you to. It's too dangerous. And what for? It doesn't matter now. There's nothing to save."

"It's still Taggart Transcontinental. I'll stand by it. Dagny, wherever you go, you'll be able to build a railroad. I couldn't. I don't even want to make a new start. Not any more. Not after what I've seen. You should. I can't. Let me do what I can."

"Eddie! Don't you want - " She stopped, knowing that it was useless. "All right, Eddie. If you wish."

"I'm flying to California tonight. I've arranged for space on an army plane... I know that you will quit as soon as... as soon as you can leave New York. You might be gone by the time I return. When you're ready, just go. Don't worry about me. Don't wait to tell me. Go as fast as you can. I... I'll say good-bye to you, now."

This conversation is a perfect dramatization of the difference between the prime movers and the honest average man. The first cannot create something from scratch, and he is more vulnerable to evil. Eddie has lost interest in starting over. His energy is gone after years of struggle. All he can do is sink, emotionally and physically, with the entire ship.

Eddie rejects in advance Dagny's attempt to convince him to start again. She knows it's useless. She knows he is done for.

The injustice you feel at the end for the fate of Eddie Willers was calculated. You are supposed to feel that. But if you remember this last conversation you will know that the fellows of Atlantis are not to blame - but the same villains that ruined the rest of the world: irrationality, altruism, collectivism. The honest, average man is the helpless victim of these trends - while the prime movers have the means to fight them.

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The injustice you feel at the end for the fate of Eddie Willers was calculated. You are supposed to feel that. But if you remember this last conversation you will know that the fellows of Atlantis are not to blame - but the same villains that ruined the rest of the world: irrationality, altruism, collectivism.  The honest, average man is the helpless victim of these trends - while the prime movers have the means to fight them.

I never thought of Eddie Willers as being merely an honest, average person. He was a superlative employee of Taggart Transcontinental. Moreover, he was smart enough to realize that wherever Dagny was going to build her new railroad, she was going to need a superlative assistant to help her -- and he is the guy. So I remain decidedly confused about this portion of the novel. :P

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Kesg, being a good PA to a railroad manager doesn't make one more than an average man. The main difference between Eddie and the man on the street is his honesty, diligence, hero-worship.

This makes him a very positive character, but he is not more intelligent, or more capable, than the rest.

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Kesg, being a good PA to a railroad manager doesn't make one more than an average man. The main difference between Eddie and the man on the street is his honesty, diligence, hero-worship.

This makes him a very positive character, but he is not more intelligent, or more capable, than the rest.

It doesn't prove my case that Eddie was something a bit more than that, if that's what you mean. But still, the choice between joining the strike and going with Dagny to help her build her new railroad and the choice that he actually made in the book seems to me to be a no brainer on steroids. :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

After reading this entire thread I was surprised to see it peter out when getting very interesting. I was interested enough to register so as to add my own opinion.

I read AS for the first time in the mid 70's at 16. It was my first exposure to Rand and only because I was one of the few students in my high school to realize that all the "good" books were stored in the back room of the library. This was the collection of non conformist literature that was not typically used in the approved curriculum or was considered too intellectual or out there for mere high school students to understand or even want to read. Things such as AS, the Fountainhead, Horatio Hornblower and National Lampoons "Bored of the Rings" and Waiting for Godot. As a result this treasure trove, stuffed in a back store room became an enabling center for those of us who were of a more intellectual bent to discover new concepts as well as each other. I came to find I was a natural objectivist as the concepts did not so much open my eyes as confirm that reality was indeed real.

I was taken back to that first reading by the content this thread. I never questioned the fate of Eddie Willers. It seemed the acceptable appropriate and reasonable, even obvious outcome. Consider that Eddies fate was predicted by Rand in his introduction. Eddies family had been working for Taggart for generations, this would no doubt have some affect in his psychology. The reason he could not join them and the reason Dagny understood was not that he was less competent, or more common or even a lack of goals. Eddie held all the attributes a member would require to go to the gulch. The world needs competent able people, they are indispensable, but not all people can be outward prime movers, that is those who make and create world moving advances such as Galts engine. In concordance with this Prime Movers require the competent and able to enable their goals as well. Howard Roark could do construction but could not design, plan, implement and complete a project without a crew of competent workers to meet the agreed project goals. Galt might have been able to smelt the iron for his engine, mill the parts and assemble it, but he could not meet a production schedule that way. This symbiosis is rational and acceptable when we also accept that the self same competent and able persons needed to complete goals must also be inward prime movers of themselves. It is not necessary for Gwen to create or "produce" anything like Galts engine to realize self actualization through her understanding and goals in a supporting role. The truck driver and Gwen belong because they provide competence and more importantly they understand the difference between servitude and support. Eddie on the other hand was crippled by his heritage he had a sense of duty. He felt a sense of duty to Taggart due to his families ties and it was stronger than his obligation to himself. Eddie was tied by the bonds of duty from which he could not break free. Had he understood obligation he would have realized that his obligation to himself was greater than his assumed duty to Taggart or the false ideal Taggart represented. The misconception of duty is what makes a soldier run headlong into a machine gun nest sacrificing him self to eliminate the threat. The rational soldier who considers his obligation will take a few steps to one side or another accomplish the same goal and live to fight on. In the case of the former he will be honored as a hero for his sacrifice and duty, where the latter will be ignored for having just done his job. Patton (being paraphrased by GC Scott in the film) exhorts his troops that it's not the goal of a soldier to die for his country but to make the other counties soldiers die for it. Yet we reward (through recognition) those who fail at this task and heap the additional work on those who get the job done in greater measure, blaming them in effect for their survival. Eddie felt compelled to charge the machine gun or at the least order someone else to, as a result he sealed his doom in a collective world.

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I don't think Ayn Rand meant to say that Eddie Willers succumbed because an unjustified sense of duty.

He did not stay IN SPITE of wanting to go. He DIDN'T WANT to go, because he identified Taggart Transcontinental with his kind of world. He didn't want to live in the kind of world that will bring Taggart Transcontinental to ruin.

Just like Cheryl, James Taggart's wife, he did not have the strength to keep living in this world. To withstand more disasters. To fight more wars. He would fight for TT as long as it existed, but afterwards he did not want to live anymore.

While Dagny and the rest of the Prime Movers had enough energy to come back to the world after the strike, Eddie simply did not. He knew it was possible in principle, but not possible psychologically, for him.

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Every sense of duty is unjustified.

See Rands essay "Causality vs Duty" 1970.

I don't think Eddie succumbed to anything, I do not think he was ever fully aware.

Which is it? Did he want to go or not? I am not sure of your meaning in stating in one sentance that he didn't go in spite of wanting to and then the next saying he did not want to. Not being directly critical I am either missing the point or your statement isn't what you meant to say.

"He did not stay IN SPITE of wanting to go. He DIDN'T WANT to go, because-"

I doubt his rational was that death was preferable, even Rand says there were possibilities based on the winner of the struggle so in her mind he was never suicidal. We are not aware of the outcome but we desire it to be in favor of the strikers in which case Eddie would live. This of course changes the "kind" of world and so his outlook and your premise is basically ok. He may not have wanted to live in a world you describe but that does not mean he would have taken the ultimate way out. I think we agree about his worldview and TT's place in it. The problem and the point of his dillema is that he has more identity with TT than with himself. At some point he should have realized that trying to maintain a counterfit image of what TT used to be was less important than his own self interest. This is where we see what a trap being iconclastic can be. Eddie was defending an image not working for an ideal. He goes back basically because of a "somebody has to do it" attitude and the belief he was obligated to be the one. In reality no one really had to do anything but Eddie could not make the leap to self determination. Tagart was already in ruin but the collective still needed trains to run and they did not care to know how or why so Eddie falls back into the age old trap of shouldering the responsibility and willingly working for the collective.

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Every sense of duty is unjustified.

Of course. It was just a manner of speaking...

Again. I don't think he felt a sense of duty. What he felt was a sense of hopelessness, of weakness.

He did not want to go. He wanted to stay, and if necessary die, together with his kind of world.

I think Eddie was losing in his battle against hopelessness, and did not see a possibility for him ever to be happy, regardless of where he was.

His whole life consisted of his TT job, and Dagny. TT was ruined, and Dagny belonged to someone else. After years of joyless struggle he simply could not find the energy within himself to start over.

"Somebody has to do it", if Taggart Transcontinental was to survive another day. Since TT was all he felt he had - he would fight for it to the last. This is as far away from duty as it goes.

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  • 3 weeks later...
He did not want to go. He wanted to stay, and if necessary die, together with his kind of world.

If I've done the quote function correctly, I think you have perfectly isolated the reason why a "good man" like Eddie would not be Valley material.

He could not give up on the old world, the old way. It took Dagny till the end to finally have her break with it... but he never did.

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His fate was deliberately left up in the air. This was to show what happens to the three types of people when the world stops. The prime movers are saved by their virtue, the second-handers are destroyed by their vice, and the average, honest person - well, who knows?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Eddie Willers was a good man and would have been accepted in Atlantis with welcome. Dagny may have welcomed him as the last scene indicated but I doubt whether Galt would have. He did something very bad. He betrayed Dagny from the beginning and throughout the novel. Eddie is extremely crucial to the plot of the novel because he is Galt’s unwitting informant. He reveals all these secrets about Dagny to a total stranger, to a person whose name he doesn’t know, and nothing personal. Based on what does he reveal so much? He reacts to Galt’s sense of life but not to his mind—he only feels—but feels correctly—that Galt is trustworthy. In his choice of men’s character he acts on his feelings: he is irrational. Dagny understands something about Eddie in their last scene together: that he doesn’t understand the “prime mover” character but only senses it. Dagny realizes that he is not fully rational. Galt must have realized this from the beginning. But he put his dearest in constant danger: How could Galt forgive this—I wouldn’t!

I too felt sad and anger at Eddie’s end but then I remembered his betrayal and felt a sense of justice.

I’m sure Galt loved Eddie but his sense of justice was greater. In his speech he is surely speaking to Eddie when he says that the people who understand him must start their own communities and must fight Altruism to the end. There is still hope for Eddie. Maybe when they return, they will find him. This is certainly possible. But he will not be admitted until he understands something about the “prime movers” and HIMSELF.

To repeat, if I was Galt, because of Eddie’s revelations about Dagny, I would not have let him into Atlantis, even though they helped him conquer her. I don’t think Galt thinks he has a debt to Eddie, he just took advantage of Eddie’s “stupidity”. Although, Eddie was a good man.

Amercio.

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He reacts to Galt’s sense of life but not to his mind—he only feels—but feels correctly—that Galt is trustworthy. In his choice of men’s character he acts on his feelings: he is irrational.

That's ridiculous. In what way does acting on what you feel make you irrational? Dagny had no response, no refutation to the James Taggarts of the world, all she had to offer was her sense that they were wrong somehow. Eddie Willers had a sense that Galt was right somehow. This feeling did not contradict his conscious reasoning, nor did he choose that sense over that conscious reasoning. In what way can you possibly accuse him of irrationality?

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Eddie Willers ..reveals all these secrets about Dagny to a total stranger, to a person whose name he doesn’t know.., he acts on his feelings: he is irrational...I too felt sad and anger at Eddie’s end but then I remembered his betrayal and felt a sense of justice... Although, Eddie was a good man.

I'm not exactly sure how you can regard a supposedly untrustworthy and irrational man as nonetheless good!

Yours is surely the most bizarre interpretation of Eddie Willers I have ever heard.

First, there is no implication in the book that he is consciously betraying Dagny. It is not even clear that he is being indiscreet. He obviously has no idea that he is talking to John Galt.

Secondly, not being consciously, explicitly clear about all your values and principles does not mean you are irrational! If that were the case than even Roark and Rearden were irrational, both of whom struggled to understand certain principles which weren't clear to them.

Eddie is not an intellectual and he's about perhaps of average intelligence, but he is clearly depicted as a thoroughly decent and good man, conscientiously attempting to do what is right. He symbolizes the very best of "everyman", those in fact who are the *victims* of the irrationality of their betters in the kind of culture depicted in Atlas.

No, he couldn't be admitted to Galt's Gulch, the admission to which was highly, highly selective. If it had included the "Eddie Willers" of the world it would have had to accomodate 1000s of people. The people in Galt's Gulch were intended to symbolize the "men of the mind", those upon whom the "Eddie Willers" of the world depend for their survival. The distinction was not between the rational and the irrational. Many rational men were left behind.

Fred Weiss

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Eddie was no doubt good at his job, but his self-esteem was borrowed from Taggart Transcontinental.  Note his obsession with the railroad from the time he was a child, and his unwillingness to give it up.  He was willing to go down with the railroad because he saw his life as nothing without it

Hmmm, this brings up an interesting point for me. Objectivism identifies career as one of the most (if not the most) important part of a person's life. I agree with this. No matter what people/friends/lovers come into and out of my life, I will always have my art. However, I have seen this identification of the importance of career exploited by some Objectivists. They become incredibly attached to career at the expense of other values (romance, friendship, other interests that could deepen their life) and often end up basing their sense of self-worth solely on their career and often, on the company they work for. Instead of being Joe, Richard or Bill, they become Microsoft, Amazon or whatever company they work for. So, this is a tangential issue, but didn't Eddie make a mistake common among Objectivists? Does anyone else see this trend?

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This conversation is a perfect dramatization of the difference between the prime movers and the honest average man. The first cannot create something from scratch, and he is more vulnerable to evil. Eddie has lost interest in starting over. His energy is gone after years of struggle. All he can do is sink, emotionally and physically, with the entire ship.

I consider myself to be much more "average" than "prime mover", but I can't say that in Eddie's position, I would have done what he did. Maybe that's because I have already read AS, but I have a lot more strength and foresight than to stay with a sinking ship. I love life way to much to not fight for it. I can't imagine I would ever "lose interest" in that way. Eddie's mistake is not that he lost interest in starting over, but that he still thought he was doing the right thing in holding on to the world. I don't see Eddie as being one to lose interest in living like that.

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