Essay Prompt: The conventional view is that in life one can either achieve practical success or be
moral, but not both. What view of this relation do you think emerges in
? What is the
novel’s conception of success? Of morality? Explain by reference to characters and events of the story.
There is a notion across literature and philosophy that insists upon the purity of a selfless spirit.
The same convention also presents an ethical corollary: that success, as inherently self-serving, is
impure; in other words, immoral. In its simplest terms,
it tells us that practical success is a matter of
pursuing self-interest, while morality entails pursuing the interests of others. It is the philosophy of
pervasive altruism. By this token, achievement and morality become mutually exclusive goals – one
may pursue success but not virtue, and vice-versa, for virtue is obtained through service to others.
Subscribers to this notion see the egoist and find only the corrupt, the amoral, or the arrogant. The
heroic man is depicted as selfish, filled with delusions of grandeur. The writer Ayn Rand, confronted
with this altruistic model of human behavior, set forth a comprehensive defense of egoism with
. Her model was simple – that to serve oneself is not a sin, but rather an act of purity; that
it is the pursuit of self-interest that provides the foundation and salvation of man's soul. Like a great
vessel, man's soul is depleted when he pours himself into others. It is when man strives to fill his own
vessel, to serve himself, that he finds his independence, his happiness, and his essence. Therefore
success is defined as attaining personal greatness; egoism lends man his vitality. To actualize oneself
and to be virtuous are not, Rand argues, incompatible actions; indeed, the only way to be truly moral is
through preservation of the individualist spirit.
Opposing views of success and morality are woven into the novel's fabric at the outset, where