We the Living

Topics include: 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; detailed discussion of the main theme and a number of related sub-themes.
This course will answer the following questions.

  • What are the qualities of the story’s heroine, Kira Argounova, that 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 the novel not essentially a novel about Communist Russia?

We the Living is Rand’s first and least well-known novel. It is the passionate story of a young woman, Kira Argounova, who is solemnly dedicated to living her life. But she is caught in a collectivist dictatorship that declares the individual is nothing and the group, everything—a collectivist state that, in Kira’s words, came and “forbade life to the living.” Set in Soviet Russia at the time of the Communist Revolution, We the Living depicts both the chilling, day-to-day consequences of life under a totalitarian state and the unconquerable human spirit.

This interactive video lecture course is an introduction to Ayn Rand’s We the Living. College and high school students studying the novel will derive much benefit from the material. But these lectures should be of interest to anyone seeking to learn more about the novel, Rand’s ideas, and her critique of communism and collectivism.

Each unit of the course is a self-contained module. Students should feel free to take the whole course in sequence or to peruse the course outline and jump around to sections of interest. Teachers who wish to use the course for classroom instruction are welcome to select the unit or units most relevant to their instructional goals.


User Interactions, such as quizzes, click-the-picture, and matching exercises, must be completed. Then click the “continue” button that appears on-screen. That way the section will check-mark.

Course video available on your mobile devices and tablets- but note that user interactions are not accessible on mobile devices. So watching courses on your smart phone or tablet is possible – but you won’t get the full experience and some check marks will remain unchecked until completed on a personal computer.

We the Living

Course Outline

  1. Introduction to Course

Unit 1: The Writing and Publication of We the Living

  1. Why Did Ayn Rand Write We the Living?
    1. The Goal of Her Writing Career
    2. Telling the Truth About Russia and Collectivism
  2. Is We the Living Autobiographical?
  3. Difficulty Getting We the Living Published

Unit 2: The Story

  1. How Ideas Impact a Person’s Life
  2. The Individual versus The Collective
  3. Kira versus The State
  4. Relationships of the Three Main Characters
  5. The Crisis at the End of Part One
  6. Plot-Theme of We the Living
  7. The Conflicts of the Main Characters
  8. Recap and Summary
  9. Knowledge Checks

Unit 3: The Characters

  1. Introduction
  2. Alexander—Kira’s Father
  3. Vasili—Kira’s Uncle
  4. Lydia—Kira’s Sister
  5. Sasha—A Counterrevolutionary
  6. Irina—Kira’s Cousin
  7. Galina—Kira’s Mother
  8. Victor—Kira’s Other Cousin
  9. Pavel Syerov—A Typical Party Member
  10. Andrei Taganov
  11. Kira Argounova
  12. Leo Kovalensky
  13. Knowledge Checks

Unit 4: The Themes

  1. Basic Theme of We the Living
    1. The Sanctity of Human Life
    2. The Evil of Collectivism
  2. Sub-themes
    1. The Misery of Ordinary Life Under Collectivism
    2. Why the Worst Rise Under Collectivism
    3. The Meaning of “Future” and “Abroad”
    4. The Impotence of Evil
    5. A Novel About Collectivism; Not Just Soviet Russia
  3. Knowledge Checks


  1. Conclusion to the Course

. . . for Those Familiar with Ayn Rand's Writings

Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living, edited by Robert Mayhew
This is a collection of scholarly essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. A few highlights include:

  • “Kira’s Family” by John David Lewis, which analyzes the characters of Kira’s family,
  • “Forbidding Life to Those Still Living” by Tara Smith, which explores into the theme of how a collectivist state crushes the individual,
  • “The Death Premise in We the Living and Atlas Shrugged” by Onkar Ghate, which contains more analysis by Dr. Ghate on Ayn Rand’s first novel.

. . . by Ayn Rand

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, edited by Tore Boeckmann
This book is an edited version of an informal course on fiction writing that Ayn Rand gave in her living room in 1958. This course includes some examples from We the Living.

Letters of Ayn Rand, edited by Michael Berliner
An edited collection of personal correspondence from Ayn Rand to a variety of individuals, which includes much discussion of We the Living.

Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman
An edited selection from Ayn Rand’s personal journals, which includes her notes capturing her thoughts on the writing and the themes of We the Living.

“The ‘Inexplicable Personal Alchemy’”, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
In this essay, Ayn Rand comments on a recent news story about the Soviet Union cracking down on student protestors, and touches upon her personal experience of growing up in Russia.

Red Pawn, in The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection From Her Unpublished Fiction
Ayn Rand’s other work of fiction that is set in Soviet Russia. It was an unpublished movie script that also dramatizes the individual’s struggle against the State.