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The following is a line from the novel 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand.

Why, then—she wondered—should he have had to carry a burden of tragedy which, in silent endurance, he had accepted so completely that he had barely known he carried it?

I have learnt that 'have had' is used when the main verb is 'have' in the present perfect tense. But in the above line, the main verb is 'carry' and 'have had' was used. Please explain this.

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  • There's quite a lot going on in that sentence. I would look into have to as in I have to go to London next week and then why should as in why should I fix it when you broke it. It may then be clearer.
    – Minty
    Apr 30, 2019 at 11:09
  • @Minty I can understand the meaning of both the 'why should' and 'have to' parts.But I am skeptical about the usage of 'have had' in this line.Why shouldn't it just be 'should he have to carry....'?
    – Mohan
    Apr 30, 2019 at 11:47
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    'Why should he have to carry....' implies that he is still carrying it [the burden]. 'Why should he have had to carry....' implies he is no longer carrying it.
    – Charl E
    Apr 30, 2019 at 12:26
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    @Moham a very good place to start is this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/4870/…
    – Charl E
    Apr 30, 2019 at 13:02
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    Why ... should he have been obliged to to carry this burden, because he did carry it - because he had to (in the past). Whereas Why should he be obliged to to carry this burden refers to current or future obligation). Feb 8, 2021 at 14:23

3 Answers 3

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This is intended to suggest a transition from carrying the burden in the past, to not carrying in the future. That is, the person doing the wondering is looking at something that occurred in the past and projecting it not occurring in the future.

This is related to a major theme of the novel, specifically, people who have accepted an unearned guilt becoming aware of it, and discarding it. This is related to the title of the book.

So the person doing the wondering is asking what the justification for the burden was. This is the "why should he?" part. And, by implication, saying that there was no justification. And so the person with the burden should have long since thrown it off.

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  • "Have had to carry", have had to is used to express is has been going on for a period of time, from the past to the present.
    – anouk
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:30
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Sample sentence: Why, then—she wondered—should he have had to carry a burden of tragedy which, in silent endurance, he had accepted so completely that he had barely known he carried it?

Let's simplify this and put it in the declarative form first:

She wondered why he should have had to carry a burden of tragedy which, in silent endurance, he had accepted so completely that he had barely known he carried it.

Question form: She wondered why he should have had to carry a burden of tragedy which, in silent endurance, he had accepted so completely that he had barely known he carried it?

The verb here is: should have had to carry, and not just have had to carry. Notice the inversion: should he have had in the question is "he should have had" in the declarative. The sample sentence is a question.

should have had is a modal usage of should, like should have seen, should have gone.

  • Should he have had to do the work?
  • He should have had to do the work.
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Ms. Rand used the simple past perfect tense.

He had carried his burden for quite a bit it seems--before something dawned on him.

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