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Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis

by Ayn Rand

Part III, Chapters I, II, and III

Summary

Part III, “A is A”, begins as Dagny looks into the eyes of the man she has been pursuing, in one way or another, for many years. John Galt, who is indeed the destroyer who has spirited Quentin Daniels away, has landed his plane and seen Dagny crash-land hers. He comes to her rescue, but Dagny is only mildly hurt. The airfield of the secret valley they are now in has been protected by a ray-shield, made by John Galt, that has somehow created an optical illusion that the valley is rocky and barren, when it is really level and green.

In wonder Dagny is brought to John Galt’s house, and tended by a famous surgeon who had defected from the outside world long ago. While Dagny is in this amazing place, called Galt’s Gulch, she finally learns what has been happening here in the last twelve years. Ken Danagger, Midas Mulligan, Ellis Wyatt, and Francisco d’Anconia, in addition to the philosopher Hugh Akston, all have helped build this valley. Some of them, such as Francisco and John, have continued to work for eleven months of the year in the outside world, but most of the people of the valley live there all the time. This enclave is completely unknown and deliberately hidden from the outside world. The valley has been able to become nearly self-sufficient, with farming, manufacturing, and its own power production. The valley is powered by John Galt’s static-electricity engine, which he will not let Dagny see for fear she would take the information back to the outside world. They visit the power station while she is in the valley, and it is protected by a sound lock. The door to the small power station will not open unless John’s voice will recite his motto, carved above the door, which is “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." This is the credo by which everyone in the valley lives.

John Galt refuses to take Dagny back to the outside world until the month of the yearly vacation has passed. Francisco is on his way to the valley, as is Ragnar Danneskjold. Dagny now learns that all three of them had been students of Hugh Akston and Robert Stadler at Patrick Henry University in their youth. Robert Stadler, the best scientist in the country, had been seduced by the looters’ beliefs, but Hugh Akston, the philosopher, had become convinced, like the three young men, that the only way to fight the collectivist policies which were growing in American society was to go on strike.

For that is what this group of people has been doing for the past twelve years—going on strike. They have been working, either passively by withdrawing their production, like Ellis Wyatt’s abandonment of his shale-extraction operations, or actively, like Francisco destroying his own company and Ragnar capturing cargoes by piracy, to bring down the economy of the United States as quickly as it can be managed. There is a moral element to this too for them, in that John and the others refuse to give the products of their minds to the looter government to be used for their own destruction. Dagny also meets Richard Halley, her favorite composer, in this valley. He has been here writing music since he left the world right after his night of triumph when he was finally recognized by the musical world, because he is unable to write music for people whose minds have been corrupted by collectivist thought.

In Chapter II, “The Utopia of Greed” Dagny is faced with a choice. She cannot leave the valley until the month’s vacation is up, when John Galt will take her back to the outside world in his plane and take her to somewhere that she can get back to New York. While she is there, Dagny refuses to take John’s charity, and she offers herself as a paid cook and housemaid. John takes her up on this, and they agree on her salary. All the exchange in the valley is done in gold, minted by Midas Mulligan’s bank, because they no longer recognize the outside world’s money and believe that money should be backed by the gold standard. During the month Dagny is there, Francisco returns and tells her what he has been doing in the outside world to hasten the destruction of d’Anconia Copper. He asks her to stay at his house the last few days of the month, but Dagny, who still likes Francisco a great deal but has fallen in love with John Galt, leaves the decision up to John. John refuses, saying that he is paying for her services and that she should stay with him

If Dagny decides to stay in the valley, she must give up her work in the outside world. Dagny isn’t ready to do that yet, and she is still considered a “scab” by the people in the valley. She is welcomed by everyone, however, and Dagny feels very at home in the valley cooking and cleaning for John. Their month living together has the feel of a vacation, or a blessed respite, to her.

John returns Dagny’s feelings, but they cannot be together until she has decided to give up on the outside world. He says that giving up the static-electricity motor was not the most difficult thing about going on strike. John had seen her, years ago, in the Taggart Terminal in an evening gown. Dagny had been called away from a party to attend to some emergency at the railway, and John had observed her working with efficiency and intelligence, and he had watched and admired her from afar ever since. Before they leave, the group gives John warning that there will be riots and violence in the world before the looter government falls; John decides that he must go to wait for Dagny, watching her from a distance and not letting her know where he is, and Dagny must go back in order to try to save her railway.

Chapter III of this last part of Atlas Shrugged is entitled “Anti-Greed”. An unexpected scene greets the reader, of Robert Stadler transported to Iowa to witness some government demonstration of “Project X”. Though Project X has been worked on at the State Science Institute where Stadler works for some time now, it is top-secret and Stadler knows nothing about what it is. The party faithful, or those intellectuals who say that they believe in the looter government’s principles of self-sacrifice, authoritarianism, collectivism, and redistribution, give and listen to vapid speeches on specious topics such as the positive effect of privation on human character. The demonstration of Project X turns out to be a weapons test: Project X is a deadly weapon that wreaks destruction through sound waves. The assembled watch in horror as a barn and some tethered goats are destroyed in an instant by this weapon of mass destruction. The government scientists, lead by Floyd Ferris, have developed this weapon based on Stadler’s earlier research in cosmic rays. The speeches after the demonstration go so far to extol this project as an instrument of peace, but everyone in the audience is terrified of the power of this new, totally destructive weapon against which there is no defense.

Back in New York, Dagny is now subject to the whims of Cuffy Meigs, the Director of Unification in charge of Taggart Transcontinental. There is no reason behind the decisions made for the railway anymore; it is all based on favors and who is on the good side of Cuffy Meigs. Dagny knows that this will destroy the railway in time; she is merely trying to save the railway until she can beat the looters.

Lillian Rearden, Hank’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, comes to Dagny and tells her that she must do the radio address that the Unification Board is trying to make her do, because they know about her two-year affair with Hank Rearden and are ready to expose it if she does not. Dagny, outflanking the government, appears on Bertram Scudder’s radio show and announces the details of the affair for all to hear, showing no shame or remorse. In addition, Dagny attacks the government by telling everyone that the only way that Rearden would have given up the rights to Rearden Metal was by the government blackmailing him with the same information. She is now removing any threat they have over her or Hank by announcing the affair herself. After this announcement, instead of receiving reproach from the public, Dagny finds that people seem supportive of her honesty. Bertram Scudder, who was innocent of all this intrigue, is the one blamed by the government for this fiasco, and his radio show is taken off the air. Nothing is done by the government to Dagny.

When Dagny goes back to her apartment and sees Rearden he now knows that their affair is over. He has deduced from the period of her absence that the only thing that would keep them apart was Dagny meeting a man whom she truly loved. In addition, in Dagny’s radio address, every verb she used to describe her affair with Hank was in the past tense. It is an emotionally difficult moment, but neither of them wants to hurt the other so they part amicably.

Analysis

At this point in the story, when Dagny has been rescued by the dashing John Galt and brought to this Shangri-La of capitalist objectivism, it seems odd that she would even consider going back to the drab world of declining economy, evasive and incompetent workers, and criminal government “directives”. But Dagny has, since her earliest youth, identified herself with Taggart Transcontinental. When, in Part I, her brother Jim compared her to the statue of their ancestor Nat Taggart - insulting her by saying that she looked more like Nat Taggart than his famously beautiful wife the first Dagny Taggart - she took it as a compliment. Dagny doesn’t see herself as many woman of her time did; she values her job highly enough to sacrifice herself to it, on certain occasions. When she begins her affair with Hank Rearden, she tells him that if being with him required more than she was willing to give, such as giving up Taggart Transcontinental, she would leave him. The railway has, up until this point in Dagny’s life, been more important than anything to her. She has no husband or children, and Taggart Transcontinental has been more to her, and more a part of her daily life, than either of her previous lovers Francisco and Hank (the first who abandoned her inexplicably, and the second who was married and began an affair with her by calling her names). It is not surprising that Dagny has put her work first, up until now.

This is a part of Rand’s philosophy, namely that one’s work is one’s worth. The products of the human mind, properly a human being’s life’s work, are of utmost importance. But this is not a simple workaholic’s code; it is the reverse. Rand starts from the point that human beings are good -- and in fact human life is the only value (Uyl and Rasmussen 105) that can be truly believed. All other values flow from it, and, therefore, the honest and worthwhile work of a human being, as a product of that valuable mind, is of great value indeed. This is perhaps hammered home a bit in Atlas Shrugged, to sharpen the contrast between the hard-working, uncomplaining characters such as Francisco, Hank, Dagny, and John, and the gelatinous, complaining, inchoate characters, such as Wesley Mouch and Jim Taggart, who are always whining about vague principles based on nothing logical other than their feelings. Worth of human work, Rand believes, is a value based in logic, not in feeling or instinct. This idea underlies all of Rand’s philosophy.

Stadler’s horror at his name being used as the inventor of Project X shows not only the perfidy of the government, but the perils of being an ivory-tower academic. When confronted by Dagny about the inventor of the static-electricity motor Stadler, is scornful about so brilliant a mind being reduced to producing “practical appliances.” But Stadler, while working in an ivory tower, was not directing the practical applications of his works, so they were able to be used for evil purposes by the government. This is an extreme example, of course, for it is certainly not true that all theoretical scientific research could be used to make a weapon, but the point Rand is making is that John Galt, by using his physics genius to make a practical, life-supporting invention such as his static-electricity motor was using his mind for a good purpose. While Stadler’s original purpose was undoubtedly good, in the investigation of the universe for its own sake, he ran the risk, by being part of the looter government, that that research would be appropriated and used by them for a purpose he had not intended. By escaping and going on “strike”, as John Galt has, Galt escapes this fate and denies the looters access to the products of his mind. Again, this is an affirmation of the producers’ refusal to participate in a government that plans their destruction.

Project X is supposed to be like the atomic bomb. This was written in the post-war world, when societies around the world were just getting used to the idea that there were bombs which could wipe out entire communities or even countries, developed and aimed at other states in a permanent Cold War. The terror in America over nuclear weapons, deployed by an authoritarian government such as the Soviet Union at the time, was very real, and this demonstration would have been particularly chilling to Rand’s 1950s readers.

Hank and Dagny’s breakup seems particularly civilized, considering the tumultuous way they began their affair. But Hank has come to realize the Dagny will never love him, and he knows her well enough to know that it is not because of any deficiency in him, or fickleness on her part. Hank is now seriously disillusioned with everything in his life but Dagny. The fact that she has been honest with him and he can trust her and understand her means that he will not rail against her now that their relationship is at an end. She is one of the only people in the world who agrees with him about the fight against the looters, and he cannot demonize her because she has fallen in love with someone else. Though he feels understandable jealousy, he suppresses it. This is a particularly mature and rational ending of a relationship, between two people who will always be fond of each other. Rearden, true to John Galt’s creed though he does not know of it yet, does not want Dagny to stay with him for his own sake. He truly wants her to follow her own happiness, even though it means losing her.

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