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Merrill on Rand Using Judaic Symbolism

Ronald Merrill's The Ideas of Ayn Rand provides an overview of Rand's work, including both her fiction and non-fiction. The excerpt below theorizes that Rand may have borrowed from Jewish myth for some elements in her novel Atlas Shrugged.

One of the paradoxes in Rand's style is her combination of extremely serious philosophical themes and a sense of humor that occasionally verges on the literary equivalent of the practical joke. In Atlas Shrugged one of her puckish tricks involves the sly use of Jewish symbolism and myth. For instance, considerable emphasis is laid on Rearden's gift to Dagny of a ruby necklace. It is hard to escape the allusion to the famous biblical quotation:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. [Proverbs 31:10].

But the more interesting is her use of a Talmudic doctrine to provide the basic device of the book: The doctrine of the 36 Just Men. The idea of the 36 Just Men derives from the story, in Genesis, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [...]

From the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jewish scholars evolved the idea that God would destroy the earth if ever it lacked some minimum number of good people. The exact number needed to avert His wrath was hotly debated, and finally settled, for numerological reasons, as 36.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand (who was Jewish by background, though not religious) takes as her theme the destruction of civilization when its 'just men' are withdrawn. The analogy with the 36 Just Men is striking, particularly when one notes that exactly 36 strikers are specifically identified in Galt's Gulch. An incident near the end of the story convinces me that the symbolism is intentional.

As Dagny, Galt, and the other strikers are returning to they valley after rescuing Galt, they pass over New York City. [...] As they fly over, the lights of New York go out. Dagny gasps, and Galt orders, "Don't look down!"

[...] The incident is totally out of character. And that's Rand's little joke; Galt is saving Dagny from being turned into a pillar of salt.

From The Ideas of Ayn Rand by Ronald E. Merrill, pp. 61-62. Merrill's footnotes are not included. Other omissions from the text are shown with bracketed ellipses. All other punctuation and spelling is from the original.

Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Any Rand, Alas Shrugged, Atlas Shugged


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