Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 14 - Chapter XX - the turning point

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

Chapter XX appears to be the turning point of the plot of Cinder Buggy. The accident/misunderstandings/mistakes of the previous chapters were mostly corrected. The personal stories related to Thane and Agnes became interwoven into both the (1) Enoch v. Aaron plot and (2) the iron v. steel story. On page 183, Aaron's son John realizes the connection and explains it to Thane and Agnes.

I have not mentioned John before because explaining his presence would have given away too much of the plot of the early chapters. While I do not like plot spoilers, apparently Garrett does not mind using them. Garrett notes that the events of Chapter XX "sealed the fate of New Damascus." (p. 188). As became apparent in Chapter XX, the plot will reach its conclusion not by way of accidents or simple misunderstandings, but by the decisions of the characters pursuing their interests and responding to the developing conflicts. Ultimately, Enoch forced the events of Chapter XX and beyond in a manner consistent with his character and his own role in the conflicts. I have always believed that the best plots result from difficult choices made by the characters. In this case, it appears that the underlying conflicts will be resolved by those choices and will not be diminished by mere accidents.

While I am glad that the plot will not depend on accidents and misunderstandings, I remain disappointed that the plot developments reflect only personal (albeit important) disputes instead of broader philosophical issues. The broader historical landscape is painted using this story as a brush, but this story is not influenced by the historical landscape in the way that a Randian story would be so influenced. Click here for part 15.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 13 - Chapters XVII, XVIII and XIX - Agnes and Alex

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

I wrote in part 12 that the conflict appeared to be turning violent. Violence did occur, but not in the way I expected and did not involve the characters I expected.

Chapter XVII provided some history of Agnes Gib, filling in some blanks and explaining some of the mystery surrounding her existence. Her dispute with her father and her isolation is explained. As part of that explanation, Garrett provides the following insight:

. . . . in that kind of contest he had the advantage of age. Age has all the time there is. Youth has neither past nor future, - only the present.
p. 146

Chapter XVIII placed Alex Thane in the middle of the action (after Garrett introduced him in earlier chapters describing the iron puddling process).

Much of the action and fateful consequences in Chapters XVIII and XIX result from misunderstandings among the characters. That the plot turned on mistakes, accidents and misunderstandings reminded me of Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native (1878). In this way, Cinder Buggy differs both from Ayn Rand and from Garrett's other works.

Rand's (and usually Garrett's) story plots are resolved on the basis of actions consistent with the character traits of the main characters. The plots are resolved not by accident, but by the logical extensions of the character flaws or strengths of the characters. Especially in the world of Ayn Rand, justice is eventually done. The conclusion of the story is the justice that results from the characters' choices. But Cinder Buggy seems to be heading in the direction of a plot resolution that results from accident as much as from the strengths and weaknesses of the main characters.

Click here for part 14.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 12 - chapters XIV, XV, XVI; Agnes Gib

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

In Chapter XIV, the personal conflict among the characters intensifies subtly.

In Chapter XV, the stage is set for that conflict to intensify more dramatically. Enoch's reclusive daughter Agnes takes center stage in Chapter XV. That her role is rooted in factual history was hinted at in the hand-written inscription that I copied in part 4. A major difference between Garrett's and Rand's fiction is the nature of the personal stories and conflicts. In Cinder Buggy, the personal conflicts are at least partially rooted in history. They do not appear to be an extension or objectification of the main philosophical point of the book. With Rand, every action of the characters demonstrates a philosophical point. In Cinder Buggy, Garrett's ability to summarize and illustrate grand historic trends served as a landscape, a canvas and a backdrop for the personal conflict that continues building and increasing in complexity throughout the middle chapters of the book. History and philosophy served as more than these elements in Randian fiction.

The party scene in Chapter XVI is reminiscent of Dagny Taggart's (from Atlas Shrugged) debutante ball (even though Agnes appears to be headed for a very different future than was Dagny). With Garrett, the failure of the ball was due to circumstances unique to the Cinder Buggy story. In Atlas Shrugged, the ball flopped because the men who attended, having been softened by decades of New Deal paternalism, were not worthy of Dagny.

The different treatment of these "coming out" parties reflects the different times in which the books were written. Garrett wrote pre-New Deal, and thus could truthfully develop stories that were not overshadowed and influenced by the ever-growing federal leviathan. Once the New Deal became entrenched in the United States, any fictional story, in order to be credible, would be forced to use characters that either were forged and strengthened in resistance to the ever growing socialist state or that were weakened and pacified by it. The all-powerful state has become so pervasive that even a fictional story must recognize the effects of such influence on its characters. Without such recognition, modern fiction often seems unrealistic. Such recognition was not necessary for Garrett in the 1920's, so he was free to resolve his plots solely on bases traditionally recognized by literary analysis.

It becomes harder to analyze and discuss the plot without spoiling it at this point, but Chapter XVI hints that the main conflict that has dominated the story is about to turn violent. This is the old Aaron-Enoch conflict in a new form and results from Agnes' "coming out" party instead of any issue related to iron or steel.

Click here for part 13.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 11 - chapters XII and XIII - iron rails vs. steel rails

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

In Chapter XII, the iron vs. steel conflict took center stage. Steel was demonstrated to be more brittle than iron and thus more dangerous for rails. That iron would be less breakable than steel surprised me. I know that my understanding of metallurgy is incomplete, but I am still expecting some form of clarification later in the story.

Chapter XIII focuses on the economic benefits of steel. Rails made from steel are cheaper than those made from iron. This cheapness allows the railroads to extend to new areas. Civilization thus extends far beyond its previous boundaries, as food can now be brought great distances from where it is grown. (pp. 114, 120):

In a way that becomes clear with a little reflection, a surplus of steel caused a surplus of nearly everything else - food to begin with. There was a great surplus of food because steel rails opened suddenly to the world the virgin lands of the American west. The iron age had foreshortened time and distance. The steel age annihilated them.
p. 120

The consequences were such as become fate. They were tremendous, uncontrollable, unimaginable. They changed the face of civilization. Vertical cities, suburbs, subways, industrialism, the rise of a wilderness in two generations to be the paramount nation in the world, victory in the World War, - those were consequences.
p. 114

Aaron's speech (part 9, pp. 67 - 71) thus comes to fruition. But modern professors, bureaucrats, "journalists" and politicians think only of "exploitation of the worker," "American imperialism," "global warming," "obscene profits," etc. when they consider the consequences of the steel revolution.

Enoch and the iron industry fight steel. The fight is described in a sequence (pp. 121-122) that is eerily similar to the fight to stop Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged (although no language was copied). Steel is denounced publicly as unsafe. Public hysteria is aroused. Laws are passed. The difference in Atlas Shrugged is that Rearden Metal is superior to steel and iron in every way. The fight in Atlas Shrugged demonstrated the evil of government interference in the market. The fight in Cinder Buggy was merely an extension of the personal battles among the characters. (pp. 112-113). To the extent that Garrett made a deeper point, he was demonstrating the historic role of invention and progress in the survival and prosperity of mankind. Aaron's speech (part 9, pp. 67-71) seems to be emerging as Garrett's main philosophical point. It is a point that, while basic to the message of Atlas Shrugged, is far more simple and rudimentary than the themes that Ayn Rand explored (although far more complex and advanced than the history lessons that modern education and culture are capable of teaching today).

Garrett's more fundamental emphasis reflects Cinder Buggy's status as being written before the New Deal drew the battle lines between capitalism and anti-capitalism in every aspect of culture. That the importance of the discussion on pp. 67-71, 114 and 120 would be lost on modern Americans reflects 80 years of post-New Deal education.

The battles on pages 121-122 also demonstrate how fundamentally Ayn Rand's detractors miss the point. Rand's enemies accuse Rand of plagiarism because one of the main characters in The Driver is named "Galt," even though the plot of Driver differs greatly from anything Rand ever wrote. But those same detractors miss the great similarity between the Rearden Metal storyline and Cinder Buggy's iron vs. steel storyline. Perhaps if there was a character named "Galt," "Taggart" or "Rearden" in Cinder Buggy, Rand's simplistic detractors would have noticed Cinder Buggy (but probably still failed to recognize the similar subplots).

At the end of Chapter XII (p. 118), Garrett identifies the date as 1883 when the steel rail superseded the iron rail. But before New Damascus and the characters reach that point and that date, much is still left to happen in Cinder Buggy .

Click here to see part 12, as the conflict among the characters intensifies.

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