James Taggart is one of the most fun characters to read about. The heroes are great and interesting, but at times, they seem a bit too infallible and characters like James are a nice change of scenery. He’s a villain and ruins everyone’s day, but he’s also pathetic and kind of pitiable. He’s jealous of people who are capable and proud of it, and wishes to destroy them. Yet even when he succeeds at this, he’s never really happy.
James Taggart’s Motivation
At first, I thought he’s simply feeling inferior and is trying to win the game of life by bringing people down. That is plausible. Even when Dagny, Francisco and James were children, James was jealous of them. While it’s not clear why he’s jealous and unfriendly, it could be because they were more talented than him and he could never measure up. The desire to win using dishonest means is certainly plausible when one thinks honest means will not work.
However, I think Rand means for us to think that James is actually motivated by destruction of good productive people, unbeknownst to himself. He’s not just some guy with an inferiority complex, who is tired of losing to his talented sibling and childhood friend. He doesn’t just want to win all the money and fame for himself. He wants to bring everybody down, but can’t admit that to himself.
Towards the end of the novel, he is walking around after a party, and realizes he wouldn’t care if he became a beggar tomorrow. The only thing that makes him feel real gratification is ruining people like Francisco, by making sure his copper mines get nationalized and taken away. However, he doesn’t allow himself to get too close to this realization, and prefers to never define what he wants. Knowing his real motivation would be unbearable and cause a mental breakdown:
“This is the way he had lived all his life – keeping his eyes stubbornly, safely on the immediate pavement before him, craftily avoiding the sight of his road, of corners, of distances, of pinnacles. He had never intended going anywhere, he had wanted to be free of progression, free of the yoke of a straight line, he has never wanted his years to add up to any sum – what had summed them up? – why had he reached some unchosen destination where one could no longer stand still or retreat?”
His real motivation also shows itself in his choice of wife. He gets married to a poor shop girl Cherryl Brooks, despite being rich and powerful. Cherryl is the type of girl who deeply admires heroes, and mistakenly believes James to be one (the famous and controversial John Galt train track was actually built by his sister). The marriage doesn’t work out, because James is never happy with anything Cherryl does, and refuses to explain what she’s doing wrong. He condescendingly tells her “If you have to ask what you did wrong, it’s useless to explain”. In the end, he’s so annoyed by her questions that he does explain what he wants, to the best of his knowledge anyway (remember, he doesn’t know he’s actually motivated by destruction of good people). He says he just wants to be loved for himself – not his money, looks, achievements, thoughts or actions. He wants love to be totally unearned, or else it’s just a cold, soulless transaction. Essentially, he married low-hanging fruit so she’d appreciate him and they could both give the finger to self-improvement, and be their rotten selves around each other. Cherryl sees through Jim’s real motivation:
“You’re lying, Jim.”
His answer was only a startled glance of astonishment.
“Those girls that you used to buy for the price of a meal, they would have been glad to let their real selves become a gutter, they would have taken your alms and never tried to rise, but you would not marry one of them. You married me, because you knew that I did not accept the gutter, inside or out, that I was struggling to rise and would go on struggling – didn’t you?”
“Yes!” he cried”
And this is when we find out that he married a girl just to punish her for hero-worship, and thus indirectly harm the heroes. Again. How can someone be so venomous? Is it possible in real life?
Real People Who Were Similar
1.James kind of reminds me of my mom’s second husband. He was a high earner, but was constantly worried that his money was being taken. He stole forks at restaurants and often traveled without a bus ticket, and was pretty amused by it. He knew he was marrying a woman with a child, yet he did so anyway and was soon very unhappy that we needed clothes and food. He was always saying I eat too much, even though I weighed about 50 kg in my teens and even dieted. To his friends, he lied about how much he really spent on specific things. He was negative and stressed us out, yet I also often felt sorry for him. For a while, I really did feel like I was causing him harm, and tried to avoid it as much as possible. My efforts weren’t really working though, so eventually I gave up and got hostile, too.
I’m still confused about why a man so scared for his money would marry a foreign woman with a teenage daughter. This was his third marriage. He complained how his second wife received some of his furniture in divorce, and we likewise received some furniture. What was his motivation? Could it have been similar to James’? I’ll probably never know.
2.Some people really are motivated by destruction. But I think this only happens when a person has no hope of achieving any positive goals. They could be lonely. Perhaps an incel. Or unemployed, stuck in a dead end job and disgruntled. However, that motivation to destroy would dissipate the moment such a person got love, friends, a better job or realistic hope that things are on their way up. I don’t think either James or my mom’s second husband were one of these people.
What do you think? Have you met anyone like James Taggart? Do you think he could exist?