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On This Holiday, Give Thanks to the Producers

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there’s an unforgettable Thanksgiving scene at the mansion of Hank Rearden, a self-made millionaire industrialist whose achievements include the invention — after ten years of toil — of a revolutionary new metal, stronger, cheaper and more durable than steel. In addition to Rearden, seated at the table for Thanksgiving dinner are his mother, his wife Lillian, and his brother Philip, all of whom are wholly dependent on Rearden and his wealth.

Here’s is Rand’s description of the setting:

The roast turkey had cost $30. The champagne had cost $25. The lace tablecloth, a cobweb of grapes and vine leaves iridescent in the candlelight, had cost $2,000. The dinner service, with an artist’s design burned in blue and gold into a translucent white china, had cost $2,500. The silverware, which bore the initials LR in Empire wreaths of laurels, had cost $3,000. But it was held to be unspiritual to think of money and of what that money represented.

A peasant’s wooden shoe, gilded, stood in the center of the table, filled with marigolds, grapes and carrots. The candles were stuck into pumpkins that were cut as open-mouthed faces drooling raisins, nuts and candy upon the tablecloth.

In keeping with Thanksgiving tradition, Rearden’s family gives thanks for the bounty before them.

“This is the night to thank the Lord for our blessings,” says his mother, who recalls seeing a panhandler and thinking, “That could’ve been me, but for the grace of God.”

“Well, if thanks are in order,” says Lillian, “I think that we shouldn’t forget Gertrude, the new cook. She’s an artist.”

“Me, I’m just going to be old-fashioned,” says Philip. “I’m just going to thank the sweetest mother in the world.” To which his mother adds, “Well, for the matter of that, we ought to thank Lillian for this dinner and for all the trouble she took to make it so pretty. She spent hours fixing the table. It’s real quaint and different.”

The only person no one thanks is the one person who made all of it possible. It was Rearden’s productive effort that paid for their home and the lavish spread. It is his money, earned through honest production and trade, that not merely keeps them all from starving, but affords them luxuries of which no panhandler could even dream. It is his sweat, his mind, his drive, the countless hours of his life dedicated to his work — on which all of their lives depend — that go unrewarded and unacknowledged.

If Thanksgiving is truly a day to give thanks for the values we possess, then it is a day when we must give thanks to the real producers of these values.

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Want to gain a richer appreciation of Atlas Shrugged? Join us at The Atlas Project, an online, chapter-by-chapter discussion exploring the novel’s plot and themes through online discussion and live interactive video.