We The Living (1936,1959)

We the Living is the first novel Ayn Rand wrote and published, and it is one of the seeds from which most of her later ideas and values would emerge.

When Rand fled the USSR in 1926 she did so to escape the clutches of the growing power of totalitarian ideologies in Europe and the ever tightening fist of one such ideology, Communism, on her own country. However, this book came about as a response to what she had seen in  her new country, the United States. She wanted to present the reality of living under such a regime and thereby try to quell the sympathy of many Americans and American officials for these collectivist ideas. Her main goal was to show them the negative effects it has on a person’s intellectual and material development.

The setting is the USSR in the early 1920s. The story follows three university students as they strive to pursue their goals and fulfill their desired careers and lives but are stopped at every turn by a government who seeks to have full control of the hearts and minds of its people. This struggle against such a system leads them ever downward in their social position and drains them of not just their dreams, but also, in several cases, of their very will to keep going.

This novel illustrates the price of rebellion in a totalitarian system. It illustrates all the unnatural stances such a system imposes on its citizens and how they impact them. It is at its core a  cautionary tale of what happens when a society goes down a collectivist path.