PREVIOUSLY: Sleazy ol’ Jim Taggart met the innocent naif Cheryl in a Rite Aid in the Bronx. She was starstruck, he was perversely fascinated by her undeserved hero worship. So they got married.
Heads up, I genuinely think this chapter’s good. Let’s begin:
Just like on the night he met his wife, James Taggart is wandering the streets of New York in a funk. Just like that night, he has reason to celebrate in theory, but finds himself feeling dissatisfied, angry, with an unsettling pit in his stomach. Just like that night, he does his best to avoid effective introspection because it always leads him to disturbing thoughts, truths about himself that he is unwilling to face.
He’s supposed to be celebrating because he’s just come from a bunch of parties and meetings in which visiting Argentinian elites let slip the details of D’Anconia Copper’s impending nationalization. Furthermore he has arranged a lot of inside trading to invest in the Argentinian state-owned businesses that will absorb D’Anconia’s resources.
But the toast celebrating the wink-wink nudge-nudge-type deal had sent an unexpected wave of panic and claustrophobia through Jim, spurring the long walk and evasive navel-gazing. And now even that escape is over, because he has arrived at home.
Cheryl waits inside with poise and dignity. Over their first year of marriage she has come into her own as one classy bitch. Jim finds this obnoxious and irritating. She asks what he’s doing home so early, and he says he came to celebrate with her. They both know this is bullshit.
Anyway, he boasts about his shady deal in a hollow and defensive way, and she just kind of studies him with clinical detachment. That gets under his skin so he accuses her of not appreciating ‘welfare philosophy.’ She says she saw enough welfare queens and unambitious degenerates when she lived in the slums, and has no problem voting Republican thank you.
She then mentions Dagny’s speech on the Rush Leno show and how inspiring she found it. This obviously drives Jim nuts even more. He goes into a convoluted explanation of the politican gamesmanship at play in the scapegoating of Leno, but Cheryl doesn’t care. She realizes the D’Anconia grab will take place on their first anniversary and gets lost in thoughts of the last year.
Specifically she thinks of how hard she worked to learn etiquette and culture and as befitting her newly elevated station, and how Jim seemed to grow more annoyed and resentful the more competent and impressive she became. She remembers when she learned it was Dagny who really kept the lights on at Taggart Transcon. She remembers the night Jim and his cabal suspended the Constitution in D.C. and how he came home in an anxious manic frenzy. Her fears and suspicions have grown ever since, and grown more insidious.
She remembers — God, are we still in flashback? Pick up the pace Cheryl — when she confronted him about his fraudulent accomplishments, he lashed out and spewed self-pity, making her feel guilty and apologizing. Afterwards she realized how manipulative and emotionally dishonest his behavior was (and always had been). Truly frightened but determined to figure out the nature of her husband, she has had one gnawing question in mind:
“What do you want from me?” she blurts out in the present. Jim is taken aback. “Love,” comes the obvious answer. She says she did love him, for his courage and ambition and all those things that turned out to be a lie. What does he want to be loved for? He’s disgusted.
“I don’t want to be loved for anything. I want to be loved for myself—not for anything I do or have or say or think. For myself—not for my body or mind or words or works or actions.”
“But then . . . what is yourself?”
This skirts too close to the self-reflection that Jim so skittishly avoids. He dismisses her as unfeeling, unloving. His nature finally starts snapping into focus for her.
“You want unearned love. You want to be a man like Hank Rearden without the necessity of being what he is. Without the necessity of being anything. Without . . . the necessity . . . of being.”
Jim tells her to shut the fuck up just as the butler arrives with champagne for their ‘celebration.’ He demands she toast with him to Francisco’s impending ruin and she refuses. He smashes his champagne flute on the floor and storms off to the bedroom. Cheryl gets out of the house as fast as she can.
Meanwhile, alone in the dark of the Transcon offices, Dagny — you’ll never guess — is hard at work. She is sullen, for all her time is consumed putting out fires and preventing disasters, instead of building or improving or inventing anything new. She longs for the stress-free, naturalistic beauty of Galt’s Gulch.
Her reverie is broken by a knock at the door — Cheryl has come for a visit. Dagny sees how frightened and upset she is and offers her a seat. Cheryl apologizes to Dagny for being misguided and mean to her before, tells her how much she respects her, and spills some of her fears about Jim.
Dagny reassures her that her fears and beliefs are all true. She isn’t crazy. Jim is indeed a bad guy. Oh and anybody who accuses you of being “unfeeling” is just criticizing you for having a sense of justice. Ugh. I’m not saying that’s never true, but claiming it’s always true sure sounds to me like a patented Ayn Rand coping mechanism for being a miserable asshole.
In response, Cheryl goes on a borderline-psychotic rant about how living in high society where everybody shares Jim’s value system is making her feel suffocated because thinking that the world runs on Jim’s perverse philosophy of ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ (ease up on the strawmen there, Ayn) makes her feel like the universe is oppressively meaningless and that her own existence is unsustainable and under threat and she’s drowning in a sea of moral relativism and the alienation of modernity! Aaah!
Dagny, perturbed by Cheryl’s fragile mental state, tells her she should absolutely not go back home to Jim tonight. She promises that the philosophical struggle overwhelming her is not her responsibility to solve. Just have faith in your own mind and life (but don’t call it faith). Stay sane. And seriously, don’t go home to Jim.
Cheryl finds Dagny’s wisdom reassuring, and calmly promises that she’ll be okay. The two women agree to start getting together regularly, but when Cheryl exits with the intention of returning to her house, Dagny feels momentarily scared on her behalf.
TOMORROW: Anti-Life part 2, “The One Who Knocks Boots”