This means that its events are not to be taken literally; they dramatize certain fundamental psychological characteristics, deliberately isolated and emphasized in order to convey a single abstraction: the characters' attitude toward life. The events serve to feature the motives of the characters' actions, regardless of the particular forms of the actions—i.e., the motives, not their specific concretization. The events feature the confrontation of two extremes, two opposite ways of facing existence' passionate self-assertiveness, self-confidence, ambition, audacity, independence—versus conventionality, servility, envy, hatred, power-lust.
I do not think, nor did I think when I wrote this play, that a swindler is a heroic character or that a respectable banker is a villain. But for the purpose of dramatizing the conflict of independence versus conformity, a
criminal—a social outcast—can be an eloquent symbol. This, incidentally, is the reason of the profound appeal of the "noble crook" in fiction. He is the symbol of the rebel as such, regardless of the kind of society he rebels against, the symbol—for most people—of their vague, undefined, unrealized groping toward a concept, or a shadowy image, of man's self-esteem.
That a career of crime is not, in fact, the way to implement one's self-esteem, is irrelevant in sense-of-life terms. A sense of life is concerned mainly with consciousness, not with existence—or rather: with the way a man's consciousness faces existence. It is concerned with a basic frame of mind, not with rules of conduct.
If this play's sense of life were to be verbalized, it would say, in effect: 'Your life, your achievement, your happiness, your person are of paramount importance. Live up to your highest vision of yourself no matter what circumstances you might encounter. An exalted view of self-esteem is a man's most admirable quality: How one is to live up to this vision—how this frame of mind is to be implemented in action and in reality—is a question that a sense of life cannot answer: that is the task of philosophy.
The Journals of Ayn Rand, David Harriman (editor), p.22
I always felt this way about The Godfather. Many of the characters seemed heroic because of their ambition and independence. But of course, they were not heroic. And Michael Corleone certainly was not a man of self-esteem.