The tramp’s suit was a mass of careful patches on a cloth so stiff and shiny with wear that one expected it to crack like glass if bent; but she noticed the collar of his shirt: it was bone-white from repeated laundering and it still preserved a semblance of shape. He had pulled himself up to his feet, he was looking indifferently at the black hole open upon miles of uninhabited wilderness where no one would see the body or hear the voice of a mangled man, but the only gesture of concern he made was to tighten his grip on a small bundle, as if to make sure he would not lose it in leaping off the train.
It was the laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions – the gesture of a sense of property – that made her feel an emotion like a sudden burning twist within her. “Wait,” she said.
“When did you get aboard the train?” she asked.
“Back at the division point, ma’am. Your door wasn’t locked.” He added, “I figured maybe nobody would notice me till morning on account of it being a private car.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.” Then, almost as if he sensed this could sound too much like an appeal for pity, he added, “I guess I just wanted to keep moving till I saw some place that looked like there might be a chance to find work there.” This was his attempt to assume the responsibility of a purpose, rather than to throw his aimlessness upon her mercy – an attempt of the same order as his shirt collar.
This is an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged, the part where we are introduced to the character Jeff Allen, a former workshop foreman of the Twentieth Century Motor Company and the source of John Galt’s back story. In the piece, Rand gives us little clues as to his character inviting our inductive faculty to work in reverse upon her deductive process. She deduced, from her philosophy, how the character would act in the company of someone more fortunate than themselves. The character was in desperate need, but had integrity and an independent spirit that Rand wanted to show.
Because Rand gives Allen some positive virtues, it is fair to call him a minor hero, not just a device to carry words but someone who acts according to a principle and produces a positive outcome in the book. I have seen the same, if not less, of Robbie Hance than any viewer but it seems to me that the X Factor contestant is as much a Randian hero as the tramp Jeff Allen or the wealthy steel magnate Hank Rearden. I want to talk about some of the little things that made me like him.
The first was the shyness with which he revealed he was homeless. It seemed he was shy, just as Jeff Allen was, because he did not want to place his needs upon the judges or the audience. It became quite clear he wanted to be judged on his music, but there is more, he did not say he lived “nowhere”, he said he lived “everywhere”, as if it was natural for him that with no fixed home of his own he would exploit any place he wished for his purposes.
Second, in the interview package, he revealed the constraints under which he lived. These were not financial constraints but points of principle. His mother worked three jobs to maintain her family and he knew he was burden. He left rather than impose his needs upon his loved ones. The same applied to his friends, with whom he only stayed two nights a week. One assumes the reason he does not stay more with friends is the same as why he doesn’t return home to his mother. It was when I heard this that my mind flashed back to Atlas Shrugged and Jeff Allen and the line about burdens.
He scrubbed up. Exactly like Jeff Allen, he was wearing clothes that concealed the difficulty of laundry and did not appear at all in need in that respect. In fact, there was another contestant, Adam Burridge, that was dressed very similarly and who was not homeless as you can tell from photos of the evening.
The video of him in the dressing room showed he suffered from nerves, quite rationally, but the way he sat apart from the others showed that he had no need of them at all. He did not look at them, yet seemed comfortable that they were there.
His performance was amazing, but there are a couple of details of interest philosophically. First was the introductory instrumental section that seemed to go on a second longer than necessary. He was making you wait to hear his voice, confident enough in his vocal abilities to know for certain that you’ll like it. He also strummed well, to my ear, and showed off his talent with the guitar.
This contrasted sharply with the end of the performance. Rather than lengthening the performance by emoting, or making melodic noises, he stopped quickly and thanked the audience simply and plainly. He had delivered musically and just wanted to get on and hear the feedback.
The reaction of the judges though was frankly bizarre. The only footage that showed of any fear or apprehension was from before he was on stage. When talking to the judges before and after the performance he stood confidently, slightly stooped as a lanky man will, but making eye contact and speaking without hesitation. He was a confident man on stage.
Why then did at least two judges mention a lack of confidence? That he “just needed a break” etc. Their self-righteous pity for him was utterly unrelated to the confident performance he gave. It was as if they expected a homeless person to be needy and lack self-worth and this is what they projected onto him. If that was how he was going to be packaged and sold by ITV, with non-existent needs pushed onto TV audiences for him in the most insincere way, then no wonder he’s gone AWOL.
I hope he turns up in a pub somewhere singing his heart out with a copy of Atlas in his pack. Not so that he can defiantly claim the role of Randian hero but so that he can know – quietly, privately, but in full – how much better he was than the ITV judges.
UPDATE: perhaps a touch of Gail Wynand’s back story about him.