Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Rand's Use of Vowel-sounds and Colors as Clues to Characterization

An interesting repetition of vowel sounds in characters' names occurs in Atlas Shrugged, which mirrors how Ayn Rand feels (and wants the reader to feel) about each person. Note the striking number of short "a" (/ă/) sounds in her heroic characters' names: Dagny Taggart (two short a's), Hank Rearden (1 short a) Francisco D'Anconia (2 short a's), Hugh Akston (1 short a), Ragnar Danneskjold (2 short a's), Richard Halley (one short a) and Ken Danagger (2 short a's). There are some exceptions, of course, such as James Taggart (who shares the short-a last name with his sister, though he is by no means an admirable character), and Robert Stadler (one short a), who was once a brilliant physicist and teacher of John, Francisco, and Ragnar at Patrick Henry University before he was seduced by the collectivist government. Considering the wealth of vowel sounds in proper names in English, it seems likely that this was a deliberate choice on Rand's part. A related sound, (the revc vowel sound, as in the a in the American pronunciation of "talk"), which is the sound in the first syllable of the second word of the best hotel in New York (where both Francisco and Hank stay ), the Wayne-Falkland, and the vowel sound in the surname of John Galt, appears in the names of people and places that the author particularly likes. The name Rand chose for herself, to replace her own Alissa Rosenbaum, contains a short a (Rand). By contrast, the names of some of Rand's unabashedly evil characters, such as Wesley Mouch, Mr. Thompson, and Chick Morrison have no short-a sounds. It is not a complete key to characterization, but the short-a sounds, and their relatives, definitely occur more often in characters Rand approves of rather than those she does not.

There are some definite clues to characters' natures in the meanings, or implied meanings, of their names. Wesley Mouch (and Rand uses the homonym "mooch" several times in the novel to describe people who take something for nothing) has perhaps the most descriptive name, specifically calling him a thief and a sponger. The surname Taggart bears some similarity to the word target, and since Dagny spends most of the novel pursuing and achieving her goals, this is apropos. Also, because Dagny is a romantic interest of three of the main characters of the novel, the similarity to "target" takes on a different meaning. The silly nicknames given to some of the looter government officals, such as Cuffy Meigs and Chip Chalmers, are meant to cast these men as ridiculous figures. Orren Boyle, the head of the corrupt Associated Steel, has a name which suggests an ugly skin condition. Cherryl Brooks, whose brief and unhappy life ends because she cannot bear the state the world has come to, is indeed, to Rand, a "dear" (cher in French means "dear" or "darling"). Her innocence and integrity could not survive her marriage to Jim, and his upside-down morality.

Color is an important clue to Rand's mood in relation to characters. Dagny and Hank, especially, are always drawn in cool colors, and Rand is especially enamored of the metallic. Dagny is almost always pictured in a dark or grey suit, and Hank Rearden's eyes are most often compared to metal or ice. Rearden Metal, that unparalelled product of the rational mind, is blue-green in color. John Galt, the objectivist superman, is described thusly, "his body had the hardness, the gaunt, tensile strength, the clean precision of a foundry casting, he looked as if he were poured out of metal, but some dimmed, soft-lustered metal, like an aluminum-copper alloy, the color of his skin blending with the chestnut-brown of his hair, the loose strands of the hair shading from brown to gold in the sun, and his eyes completing the colors, as the one part of the casting left undimmed and harshly lustrous: his eyes were the deep, dark green of light glinting on metal" (700). It is not an accident that the objectivist superman, John Galt, is described with the colors of money: green and gold.

Warm colors often represent evil in Atlas Shrugged. The color yellow is only associated with evil or weak characters. Lillian Rearden wears a yellow dress to her anniversary party (131) and Mr. Meigs, the Director of Unification who is sent to oversee Taggart Transcontinental, wears a "large yellow diamond that flashed when he moved his stubby fingers" (840). Yellow, a warm color and traditionally the color of cowardice, is not associated with the "producers" (Dagny, Hank, Galt, et al.,) but with the looters. If a yellow color is mentioned in conjunction with Rand's good characters, it is invariably described as "gold", which would indicate intrinsic value. Similarly, red and pink seem to symbolize undisciplined decadence to Rand. Officials of the looter government are often described as "pink", and when Lillian comes to Jim Taggart's house for a tryst she wears a "wine-colored dinner gown" (893).

Rand's symbolism in vowel sounds is an unusual device for character naming, but it is an effective one in a novel containing so many characters. The length and scope of a novel which attempts to characterize so many people in an imaginary society demands some sort of clue for keeping track of characters. Color symbolism, by contrast, is commonly used device, and provides quick clues to the reader of a character's role. Rand's use of it is generally simple and easily discerned, giving the reader a clear difference between the right and wrong characters.