We the Living is Ayn Rand’s first and least-known novel. It is the story of a young woman, Kira Argounova, who is solemnly dedicated to living her own life. But she is trapped in a collectivist dictatorship that declares the individual is nothing and the group, everything. Set in Soviet Russia just after the communist revolution, We the Living not only depicts the chilling, day-to-day reality of life under totalitarian rule but also celebrates the unconquerable human spirit.

This video lecture course is an introduction to We the Living that includes background material on Rand, the era in which she wrote the novel and some of her reasons for writing it; an overview of the story; an analysis of many of the characters and detailed discussion of the main themes. Among the questions answered in this course:

  • What qualities of the story’s heroine, Kira Argounova, set her apart from the other characters?
  • Why does Leo Kovalensky disintegrate in the way that he does?
  • Why do the other communists want to get rid of Andrei Taganov, an honest man ardently devoted to their cause?
  • What role do the more minor characters play in helping Rand convey her theme — and what is that theme?
  • Why is We the Living not essentially a novel about Communist Russia?

College and high school students studying the novel will find this course especially valuable, but the material is designed to interest all viewers wanting to learn more about the novel, Rand’s ideas and her critique of communism and collectivism. You may take the whole course in sequence or select lessons of particular interest, since each lesson is a self-contained module. Teachers who wish to use the course for classroom instruction are encouraged to select lessons most relevant to their instructional goals.

Spoiler alert: This course assumes that students have read We the Living.