Related: How should we view Dan Conway?
First, a quote from the opening scene of the book:
"Who is John Galt?"
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still - as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.
"Why did you say that?" asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of a doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
"Why does it bother you?" he asked.
"It doesn't," snapped Eddie Willers.
Later, towards the end of Part 1, Chapter 3, Dagney Taggert encounters a newspaper vendor in the Taggart Terminal:
In the corner of the concourse, by the main entrance, there was a small newsstand. The owner, a quiet, courteous old man with an air of breeding, had stood behind his counter for twenty years. He had owned a cigarette factory once, but it had gone bankrupt, and he had resigned himself to the lonely obscurity of his little stand in the midst of an eternal whirlpool of strangers. He had no family or friends left alive. He had a hobby which was his only pleasure; he gathered cigarettes from all over the world for his private collection; he knew every brand made or that had ever been made.
Dagney liked to stop at his newsstand on his way out. He seemed to be part of the Taggart Terminal, like an old watchdog too feeble to protect it, but reassuring by the loyalty of his presence. He liked to see her coming... she stopped tonight, as usual, to buy a pack of cigarettes... "
"I like cigarettes, Miss Taggart. I like to think of fire held in a man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what get things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind - and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression."...
After they muse about whether people do think these days, he continued:
"I don't like the thing that's happening to people, Miss Taggert."
"I don't know. But I've watched them here for twenty years and I've seen the change. They used to rush through here, and it was wonderful to watch, it was the hurry of men who knew where they were going and were eager to get there. Now they're hurrying because they are afraid. It's not a purpose that drives them, it's fear. They're not going anywhere, they're escaping. And I don't think they know what it is that they want to escape. They don't look at one another. They jerk when brushed against. They smile too much, but it's an ugly kind of smiling; it's not joy, it's pleading. I don't know what it is that's happening to the world." He shrugged. "Oh, well, who is John Galt?"
"He's just a meaningless phrase!"
She was surprised by the sharpness of her own voice... "Why do people keep saying it? Nobody seems able to explain just what it stands for, yet they all use it as if they knew the meaning."
"Why does it disturb you?" he asked.
"I just don't like what they seem to mean when they say it."
"I don't, either, Miss Taggart."
There are some interesting parallels here. First, the parallel phrase "Why does it bother you?" (the bum) vs. "Why does it disturb you?" (the newspaperman). Both Dagney and Eddie replied (Eddie "snapped" and Dagney replied "sharply").
Eddie denies that it bothers him at all, and Dagney says that it bothers her because she doesn't like what she thinks people mean by it.
The bum seems to be a permanent fixture of the streets ("pleas for dimes were so common on the streets these days that it was not necessary to listen to explanations") and the newspaperman is a fixture of the Taggart Terminal itself.
Both the bum and the newspaperman have at least some degree of insight into the situation. The bum "had spoken as if he knew that Eddie felt [the causeless uneasiness], and as if he thought that one should feel it, and more: as if he knew the reason."
The newspaperman displays passive resignation to his situation, and the bum is described as having a "cynical" resignation to his situation. And yet the bum is described as "intelligent."
What do we make of these parallels? Are the characters supposed to be similar, or is there supposed to be a contrast?
The newspaper seems almost like a cross between Eddie Willers and Dan Conway in a weird sort of way.
Normally, passive resignation is seen as a bad trait, and the newspaperman's factory had gone bankrupt at least 20 years earlier. (The circumstances are never described, so it's not clear if it was due to incompetence or mismanagement on his part or if it was just bad luck or some other set of circumstances). With that said, he was aware of what was happening to people, didn't seem to share in their fear or purposelessness, and didn't like what was happening.
What are we to make of him? How did Ayn Rand want us to view him?