Cher: Would you call me selfish?
Dionne: No, not to your face.
My subjective impressions of We the Living are informed by two things. First, I think the text stands as the best answer to critics accusing Rand of hating women; Kira and Irina are more perceptive, heroic and intelligent than the men surrounding them and they stand out in a pragmatic way from even the better known Dagny Taggart, who while impressive in her own right, is still overshadowed by you know who.
Second, I read Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living a while back, a collection of shorter critical works exploring Rand's first novel. I highly recommend it for those with an interest in Rand's work. It gives a lot of background information about the book, in addition to commentary about the text's subjects and themes. Rand struggled to publish this text and the publisher who gave her a contract only ordered a limited number of copies. After Rand's success with The Fountainhead and Atlast Shrugged, We the Living was republished in greater quantity. Rand reworked the book some before that second publication, leading to the aforementioned excised quotation.
To me, this book captures the struggle between the individual and the masses. All three major characters: Kira, Andrei and Leo, are exceptional individuals who are ultimately quashed by the masses. That understanding of the book best explains the otherwise unlikable Leo character in a manner that allows for Kira to love him as much as she does. Leo is like a tree that can't bend in the wind; instead, he breaks. Kira sees him as the man he could have been, rather than the man he is, and she recognizes that the cause of that tragic transformation is the communist system.
But Rand makes that point even better in the case of Andrei, I think. Even as a member of the party, Andrei cannot find satisfaction b/c he isn't blinded by the propaganda. He is drawn to Kira b/c he recognizes that she embodies something that should be, but is not. And he is one of the masses who becomes the mud that is ground underfoot.
And that leads me back to the quotation. I think it could be read in two ways and that ambiguous nature likely led to the decision to remove it entirely. First, the words are ironic and not meant to be taken literally. They allude to the Communist system's destruction of individuals for the common good. When all become part of "the masses" it is much easier to sacrifice some of the unnamed for "the greater good," ie, those who "deserve it." The communist system might claim to make things better for the masses, but that price is too high. That seems to me to be Rand's intent, as it is consistent with her other works and her own personal experience with Communism, as she did acknowledge We the Living as the most autobiographical of her novels.
Second, it is the more obvious interpretation, the elite over the squallid masses, that rings with inconsistency. In Essays, Rand seemed to acknowledge that she struggled to find the correct words to express her views while working on this text. This line is one example of that struggle, which explains its ultimate removal.
PS: No snark as I am overcome with guilt for not responding sooner.
Edited by Savant - 27-Apr-2011 at 8:28pm