One of the most common criticisms of Ayn Rand’s books is that they are far removed from real life – that people cannot relate to them. Howard Roark, John Galt, Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart – a lot of people who read the books think these people cannot exist in real life. This is primarily due to the fact that the values and philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand are so radically different from the philosophy that most people are used to. Most people have a very moderate philosophy for their lives, and in most cases they do not even care to articulate it to themselves. Their belief that a philosophy such as Objectivism is not practical leads them to believe that people who follow this philosophy (which is most of the characters in the novels), by extension, cannot exist.
This is primarily a function of their values – and them not being able to comprehend Objectivism fully. The people who fully understand and believe in Objectivism would also believe in the characters. It is also about definitions. If a person believes the traditional definition of selfishness to be correct, he would not be able to relate to characters like Howard Roark and John Galt, as they would not fit into his moral frame of reference. Looking at the characters in Ayn Rand’s books, especially the heroes, and saying “life’s not like that” is a fair opinion for a lot of people. This is because the characters in the books have absolute clarity about their beliefs and philosophy, and there are no contradictions for them. However, for most people, contradictions are a way of life.
It is important to see the characters in the books as a reflection of what our true potential could be and, understand that if we reach that level of non-contradiction and self-actualization in our own lives, these characters would not seem too far removed from real life. This excerpt from Ayn Rand’s introduction to ‘ The Fountainhead’ sums it up:
“It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man’s proper stature–and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning–and it is those few that I have always sought to address. The rest are no concern of mine; it is not me or The Fountainhead that they will betray: it is their own souls.”