Q: What is objectivism? How is it presented in Atlas Shrugged?
A: Objectivism, a philosophy created by Ayn Rand, is concerned mainly with the freedom of the individual. Many of the traditional constraints of community and service to others are denigrated in this philosophy, and the creative and independent spirit of individuals is prized. The character of John Galt is the epitome of the ideal objectivist man in Atlas Shrugged.
Q: Why does Hank Rearden hate himself after he first starts his relationship with Dagny?
A: Hank has some traditional values about sex, and perhaps even some antiquated notions about women. When he first sleeps with Dagny he is married to someone else and, being an honorable man who prides himself not breaking his word, he is ashamed of breaking his oath to his wife Lillian. He also has always believed that women must be "pure" and not enjoy sex. The fact that Dagny does makes him hate himself for wanting to be with her. Hank is very conflicted about his desires, and this causes him the "price of his self-esteem" (255).
Q: At what point in the novel is it completely clear that America is becoming another "People's State"?
A: In Part II Chapter VI, when Wesley Mouch, Jim Taggart, the Head of State, and their cronies are discussing the passing of Directive 10-289, which would effectively enslave the population in their jobs, it becomes clear that America has become an authoritarian communist state in all but name. All businesses must remain in operation or face prosecution (including desertion of head executives), all patents must be "signed voluntarily" (538) over to the state, no new devices shall be produced or invented, production levels must be exactly what they produced during that year, every person must spend the same amount every year, all wages must be frozen, and all decisions regarding business must be made by the Unification Board.
Q: Imagine Ragnar Danneskjold came to you like he did to Hank Rearden. Hank is taken aback because Ragnar is a pirate, but Hank does not give Ragnar away when the police are looking for him. How would you react?
A: Hank has had to give over the rights to Rearden Metal, and he is understandably nearing despair. Rearden reacts at first like any law-abiding man would to a pirate. But when he sees that Ragnar is threatened by the police, and he has had a chance to listen to Ragnar's reasons for his actions, he cannot give him up. Expand on how you would react, and why Rearden does what he does. Do you agree or disagree with Ragnar's actions? What about Hank's?
Q: What is Dagny's experience in Galt's Gulch? How realistic is it?
A: Dagny's accidental visit to Galt's Gulch introduces her to a self-contained, utopian society created by John Galt and his friends. The "ray shield" that is created to hide the valley from airplanes flying above it is a science-fiction touch, for nothing like it existed in the 1950s when the book was written, or today. The fact that all the people in the valley would voluntarily leave their own society and remove themselves to a remote life and cease contact with the outside world seems fantastic, but the society they left is also an extreme (and, perhaps, unrealistic) one.
Q: What is the progression of Cherryl Brooks' opinion of James Taggart?
A: Jim Taggart's wife, Cherryl Brooks, goes from bewilderment at Jim Taggart's attention to her to a form of misguided hero-worship when they begin to have a relationship. By the time they are married Cherryl has a completely different idea of what Jim is than what is reality. Soon after they are married, however, Cherryl begins to understand that Jim is not the hero of industry that he claims to be, and her disillusionment continues as the novel progresses. She ends up having very little but contempt for her husband.
Q: What sort of transformation does the Wet Nurse go through? What does it mean to Hank Rearden?
A: The young man who is assigned by the goverment to oversee Hank's production levels at the Rearden Steel plant goes through a character change from believing wholeheartedly in the collectivist principles of the government to a desire to work for his money. In Part III Chapter V the young man asks to be a cinder sweeper or other menial job, just to get out of the "Deputy-Director-of-Distribution racket" (934). After several years of the policies of the looter government, even the government's officials are disillusioned with the new philosophy and long to return the more capitalist principles represented by Hank's company. Hank is not surprised that the young man has had a change of heart, but he shows his concern by reminding him that there is no way to legally change his job under the current system.
Q: What does Rand mean by the title of Part I, Chapter 9 "The Sacred and the Profane"?
A: Rand found little in 1950s sexual morality to like; she thought that the restrictions on women and the double standard, in particular, to be unfair and a kind of false modesty. But Rand is not an unrelieved sensualist. In all of the sexual relationships in this novel physical desire is an expression of a spiritual one. She sees no disconnect between the desires of the mind and the desires of the body, and draws a very clear line between the kind of love Dagny and John Galt have for each other, and the pointless pleasure seeking of Jim or his cronies. The combination of the sacred and the profane, in this chapter specifically in regard to Hank and Dagny's relationship, is meant to dissolve the contradiction of genuine physical desire being something to be ashamed of, as Hank is of his desire for Dagny. Dagny, however, represents Rand's ideal, of the integrated character which sees all her genuine desires as moral and right.
Q: Francisco says "Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion -- when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permision from men who deal, not in goods, but in favors -- when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws won't protect you against them, but protect them against you...you may know your society is doomed." (413) What does he mean by this?
A: Francisco is saying that the ultimate immoral act of a government is the coercion of trade in any form. Particularly the military or forcible control of business, or the threat thereof, is detrimental to society in such a way that it means that the whole culture is tipping toward doom. Francisco believes that there is no way that justice and fair dealing can survive in such a society.
Q: Who is the mysterious railway worker to whom Eddie Willers talks so much in the cafeteria of the Taggart Terminal? Why is this character important?
A: This man is none other than John Galt who has, for the last twelve years, been working at a very menial job in the Terminal and spending a month each year in Galt's Gulch. The importance of these meetings with Eddie are to establish that John Galt has been observing Dagny from afar for many years, following her successes and her heroic fight against the looter government. He is the main character in the novel in that he is the original motivator behind the destruction of the American economy, hastening the fall of the looter government, aided by his friends Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjold. In the end, John Galt is the one who instructs the American people on how to rebuild a just and prosperous society.