Dagny Got a Gun



Interpretive Reading Speech 1:
Read a Story

by Luke Setzer

Today Luke Setzer will be giving Speech Number 1 from the Interpretive Reading Manual.  This speech includes competency in interpretation and drama with a personal emphasis on conveying emotions in an isolated setting.

Luke Setzer is a CTM who has been a member of KSC Toastmasters Club 3695 since April 1999.  He is a Mechanical Engineer in the Space Station Utilization Office and is responsible for assembling and testing experiments that fly on the International Space Station.

His presentation "Dagny Got a Gun” runs from 8 to 10 minutes, with the green light at 8 minutes, the yellow light at 9 minutes and the red light at 10 minutes.

Please welcome Toastmaster Luke Setzer to present “Dagny Got a Gun”.


Suppose you lived in a nation whose government had declined over a period of years from a free republic to an oppressive dictatorship.  Your romantic partner had been kidnapped by that government and held in a guarded torture cell.  What would you do?  Would you turn the other cheek?  Would you adopt a pacifist attitude, arguing that all violence is inherently evil?  Or would you embrace the view that the government had dishonored its proper function and was now acting as violator rather than protector of individual rights?  Most importantly, how would you behave toward the soldiers who mindlessly carried out the orders of such a government?

Dagny Taggart, the heroine of Ayn Rand’s epic novel ATLAS SHRUGGED, found herself in just such a situation.  The following passage illustrates the attitude she chose to adopt.

Dagny walked straight toward the guard who stood at the door of "Project F." Her steps sounded purposeful, even and open, ringing in the silence of the path among the trees. She raised her head to a ray of moonlight, to let him recognize her face. "Let me in," she said.

"No admittance," he answered in the voice of a robot. "By order of Dr. Ferris."

"I am here by order of Mr. Thompson."

"Huh? … I … I don't know about that."

"I do."

"I mean, Dr. Ferris hasn't told me … ma'am."

"I am telling you."

"But I'm not supposed to take any orders from anyone excepting Dr. Ferris."

"Do you wish to disobey Mr. Thompson?"

“Oh, no, ma'am! But … but if Dr. Ferris said to let nobody in, that means nobody—" He added uncertainly and pleadingly, "—doesn't it?"

"Do you know that I am Dagny Taggart and that you've seen my pictures in the papers with Mr. Thompson and all the top leaders of the country?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then decide whether you wish to disobey their orders."

"Oh, no, ma'am! I don't!"

"Then let me in."

"But I can't disobey Dr. Ferris, either!"

"Then choose."

"But I can't choose, ma'am! Who am I to choose?"

"You'll have to."

"Look," he said hastily, pulling a key from his pocket and turning to the door, "I'll ask the chief. He—"

"No," she said.

Some quality in the tone of her voice made him whirl back to her: she was holding a gun pointed levelly at his heart.

"Listen carefully," she said. "Either you let me in or I shoot you. You may try to shoot me first, if you can. You have that choice—and no other. Now decide."

His mouth fell open and the key dropped from his hand.

"Get out of my way," she said.

He shook his head frantically, pressing his back against the door. "Oh Christ, ma'am!" he gulped in the whine of a desperate plea. "I can’t shoot at you, seeing as you come from Mr. Thompson! And I can't let you in against the word of Dr. Ferris! What am I to do? I'm only a little fellow! I'm only obeying orders! It's not up to me!"

"It's your life," she said.

"If you let me ask the chief, he'll tell me, he'll—"

"I won't let you ask anyone."

"But how do I know that you really have an order from Mr. Thompson?"

"You don't. Maybe I haven't. Maybe I'm acting on my own—and you'll be punished for obeying me. Maybe I have—and you'll be thrown in jail for disobeying. Maybe Dr. Ferris and Mr. Thompson agree about this. Maybe they don't—and you have to defy one or the other. These are the things you have to decide. There is no one to ask, no one to call, no one to tell you. You will have to decide them yourself."

"But I can't decide! Why me?"

"Because it's your body that's barring my way."

"But I can't decide! I'm not supposed to decide!"

"I'll count to three," she said. "Then I'll shoot."

"Wait! Wait! I haven't said yes or no!" he cried, cringing tighter against the door, as if immobility of mind and body were his best protection.

"One—" she counted; she could see his eyes staring at her in terror—"Two—" she could see that the gun held less terror for him than the alternative she offered—"Three."

Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.

Her gun was equipped with a silencer; there was no sound to attract anyone's attention, only the thud of a body falling at her feet.

She picked up the key from the ground—then waited for a few brief moments, as had been agreed upon.

Francisco was first to join her, coming from behind a corner of the building, then Hank Rearden, then Ragnar Danneskjöld. There had been four guards posted at intervals among the trees, around the building. They were now disposed of: one was dead, three were left in the brush, bound and gagged.


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101