I have read We The Living atleast thrice and everytime I derive different lessons from it. But the most significant learning for me has been how it brings to limelight that different people have different types of coping mechanism. Firstly, the ones who fall in line with circumstances (or to be more specific, ‘the system’). They believe that in the larger scheme of things, following the rules is the right thing to do. Second are those who give up hope and find solace in surviving. They know that their soul doesn’t exist anymore yet they need to exist (by hook or by crook) because probably suicide is not an option. So they choose to live in denial. And the last ones are those who refuse to bend no matter what. They hold on to the thinnest of string of hope and believe giving up is not an option. Their survival is dependent on their need to keep trying.
We The Living a novel by ace novelist Ayn Rand tells a story of three very strong characters who fall in each of the above mentioned categories.
I first read this novel around a decade and a half back, when every MBA aspirant considered ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead’ as must read books (so that they could boast about it in their interview). Though I was no different, but I would like to believe that I really was impressed by Ayn Rand’s ‘Objectivist’ philosophy. Inertia and intrigue caused me to pick up the third book by the author. This third book was not as bulky as the first two sagas and that was encouraging for someone who was struggling to manage time between a demanding job, and time for self-study for an entrance exam. What I did not know at that point of time is that this third book would have a lasting impact on me.
Ofcourse the book makes for an extremely interesting drama read. It gives an excruciatingly detailed insight into life after Russian Revolution. But in the heart of the plot lie three characters who exhibit three different ideologies. The ones I mentioned in the beginning of this write up. Kira, the protagonist is someone who is willing to be submissive for the time being, but not give up on her dreams at any cost. Her free spirit and never-say-die attitude cost her, her life eventually. But then, the other two male protagonists in the plot also end up in the dungeons. Eventually.
Ironically, while Kira refuses to give up on her ideals, there is one thing that makes her compromise on her conscience. That one thing is love. I was most unsettled by how this brave young girl is willing to go any extent for another being who she loves. Probably, even the author who propagates the philosophy of Objectivism (that talks about putting self-interest over the society) through all her works couldn’t deny that ‘Love’ for a soul mate could be above all.
I initially loved We The Living because, one, it is set up in the realistic pages of history. Two, unlike the two most read works of Ayn Rand namely ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead’, this book makes for a concise yet an unsettling read. The kind you can’t put down until you have finished, without getting intimidated.
Why I like this book the most? Well, this book kind of grew on me. During the last fifteen years everytime I am faced with a circumstance that puts me on a crossroad, I remember the three central characters of We The Living and ask myself “Who Do I want to be?” A follower. A fighter. Or someone who chooses to live in denial. I am immediately absolved of all confusion and know what my future course of action will be.
Trivia: One may not always be on either this side of the line or that. Sometimes people strive to find a mid-way. Some people decide to follow one line of thought and way of livingand wait for the right time to switch to the other. The objective of life is to be happy. One way or the other. Let no one make you believe otherwise.