On Dagny Taggart

by bdhesse

Dagny Taggart is the main character of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Dagny is a powerful woman who does not abide by the social standards of the time. I find myself at once liking Dagny and hating her.

I like Dagny because she is so unconventional. She is an Engineer who is very good at business. The book as written in the 50’s, and Dagny’s personality would still be seen as odd today. For one, there still aren’t many women in Engineering. For another, Engineering and Business as generally seen as separate. In most cases, you’re either a business person or an Engineer. Dagny manages to be both. She kind of has to: if she wasn’t so good at business, her brother would have run the company into the ground. But Dagny also has no interest in romance and is not married. She is criticized at one point in the book for not enjoying the womanly things like embroidery and raising children. I love this about her. I just wish that she wasn’t also so flawed.

Dagny is a fairly cold person. She is highly intelligent, which seems to make her find social engagement difficult. But she is also very money driven. Dagny at one point states that she doesn’t care about the charity aspects of providing a railroad for Mexico, which is apparently in dire need, she merely cares about fixing a line that will make her money. She seems to view people as a means to an end. This aspect of her personality makes it seem as though Rand is criticizing capitalism, but she’s not. Rand seems to view Dagny as in the right. It’s socialism that Rand is criticizing. The view that wealth should be distributed more fairly. But her writing comes across as a satire of both sides: the overly business minded and those willing to lose their wealth in the name of equality seem to be equally mocked at times. And yet, Rand still makes it clear that she believes Dagny in the right. Dagny’s disregard for human welfare, and her drive to make as much money as she can, annoy me. I don’t think those are virtues. Despite her good qualities, I think her bad qualities are enough to disqualify her from being considered a good person. After all, she has the power to do great harm.

Dagny is an interesting character. She fits very much into the feminist category, she is a business-driven woman who doesn’t believe her gender should hold her back, but she is also cold and greedy.