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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Who Is Eddie Willers

I think I am finally starting to understand the character of Eddie Willers in Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.   He is one of my favorite characters in the novel, but I will admit, thirty years after my first reading, I don't understand him any more than I did when I read the first page.

Many folks will say that Eddie is just a support character and he's not there to be understood, but to add some flavor and voice to the novel.  If that were true, the preacher would have made final cut of the novel, and he didn't.  My argument comes from the fact that Eddie is tied to Dagny from childhood in proximity and outlook on life.  They both live for the betterment and growth of Taggart Transcontinental.  Eddie is more than the info channel to John Galt.  Eddie is an integral part of the main push of the story, and then at the end appears to be nothing more than a footnote.

It's always made me angry that Dagny didn't take him with her as Rearden did with his trusted staff the night Francisco saved his life.  I've spent thirty years asking myself, why she didn't and to this day, I do not have a rational answer.  I can't imagine why she didn't take Eddie to Galt's Gulch.  Nothing in the novel explains why.

Dagny's main flaw is thinking that she can will people to think for themselves, that if they are shown how to think, they will. It's only the trip to Galt's Gulch and her subsequent re-emergence into the ruined world the do-gooders have made that shows her that Dr. Robert Stadler is more right than he is wrong.  Eddie knows that he can't will people to think.  He gives in to despair, he feels the weight of the Progressive boot on his neck.  This is clearly illustrated when Dagny explains her ancestor, Nathaniel Taggart and the troubles he went through to build his intercontinental railroad.  Dagny tells about building the important bridge across the Mississippi and how the workers and politicians and other looters conspired to steal his accomplishment and how he worked on the bridge all night by himself, and by the morning had come up with a solution to get his rail across the river without the leeches trying to suck his accomplishment from him.

Eddie understands how important that was to Nathanial Taggart and to Dagny.  He watches as Dagny runs Taggart Transcontinental and the John Galt Line.  He sees what it takes from her, what they keep taking from her, just to run the railroad.  He understands how she is constantly undermined and exactly what she has to do to keep things running.  He also does not back off from telling the truth.  He lets Jim Taggart know exactly how things are without trying to curry favor or paint over the ugliness of how Jim is running his railroad off a cliff. 

Eddie does not possess the strength of the main characters, mentally, but in morals  and in sheer appreciation of their efforts, he is more than just some secondary character.  He "gets it".  He stays with the Comet even after it's stopped.  I don't think, as many do, that this is analogous to a captain going down with his ship.  That sort of thinking is all wrong in the Objectivist setting.

I think that Eddie was a character that Ayn Rand had no idea what to do with at the end of the novel. He was an obvious hanging thread that somehow had to be re-woven into her tapestry.  Eddie was the cheerleader for the greats of the world of Atlas Shrugged. I comprehend this on a very fundamental level.  I understand that I will never do anything great myself.  I'm not that person.  However, I do recognize it in others and I am there when they need help, need encouragement, or just someone to bounce their great ideas on.  I've been that my entire life.  I may no longer have the ponpoms or the megaphone, but I'm still a pretty good little cheerleader for the people with ability and the ideas to bring them forward. 

Eddie and I will be on the sidelines cheering them on.

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