Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters III and IV


“The Top and The Bottom”, Chapter III, opens in a strange bar. It is described as the “most expensive barroom in New York”, and it is decorated in the style of an underworld dive. It is dark and unpleasant, though it sits on top of a sixty-story building. In it four men sit around a table: Orren Boyle, the president of Associated Steel; James Taggart; Paul Larkin, the old friend of Hank Rearden we met in Chapter II; and Wesley Mouch, who works in Washington for Hank Rearden. The discussion is led by James and Orren, who alternately bluster about how civic duty is the responsibility of all business, and how the San Sebastian line will help fulfill this duty. This line is being built in Mexico ostensibly to carry away the wealth of copper coming from the new – but as yet non-productive – copper mines of the San Sebastian mountains started by Francisco d’Anconia.

Near the end of the meeting Orren remarks to James that there is a superannuated wood-burning locomotive running the one passenger train on the line, put there by James’ sister Dagny to save costs. Orren somewhat embarrasses James by this revelation, for he did not know the situation on that line even though he is the president of the railroad. It is evident from this meeting that the four men are in some kind of conspiracy, possibly against Hank Rearden.

The chapter continues with Dagny musing about how she wanted to run Taggart Transcontinental when she was nine years old. She and Eddie had been of one mind about this. They had always, as children, thought the railroad was the most important thing in their lives, and their only goal for their adulthood. Dagny, who was considered selfish and conceited in her confidence and industry-focused goals, began work as a night operator for Taggart at the age of sixteen. By contrast, her brother James began work at twenty-one, in the Public Relations Department. Dagny did well with operational and mechanical things, and her father acknowledges, albeit tacitly, her competence. However, when Mr. Taggart died, he gave the presidency over to James because he is a man. He said cryptically, however, to Dagny “There has always been a Taggart to run the railroad” (52). Dagny understood his meaning: though James might be the male figurehead, Dagny had the competence to keep the railroad running, and her father wanted her to do just that.

Francisco d’Anconia’s new copper mine was behind James’ first new policy at Taggart Transcontinental, the construction of the San Sebastian line in Mexico. Dagny had opposed it, but the work began. Francisco is a spectacularly wealthy Argentinean playboy, and thus far his business acumen had been unquestioned. On the strength of his mine alone – and Jim’s worthless platitudes about helping their “Mexican neighbors” – the line was built by Taggart Transcontinental for thirty million dollars. However, at this time The People’s State of Mexico is a communist country, and the mine and the railroad line were granted special property rights in a country which had no property rights. It was a risky proposition from the start.

Back in the Taggart office, Dagny leaves to go home after a fight with her brother about the old coaches on the San Sebastian line. Dagny walks home through the basement terminal where she admires the statue of her ancestor Nat Taggart, the founder of Taggart Transcontinental. She muses on the accomplishments of her ancestor, and worries about the future of Taggart Transcontinental. Meanwhile, Eddie Willers takes his modest evening meal in the employee’s cafeteria. He talks to a railway worker about the how the Rio Norte Line will save the railway, and also imparts to him that Dagny Taggart’s only interest outside of the railroad is the music of Richard Halley.

Chapter IV, “The Immovable Movers” opens with Dagny Taggart facing another problem. Her contractor MacNamara has quit the job Dagny had hired him to do on the Rio Norte Line. The situation with the construction has reached a crisis point. Dagny walks home through the big-city night, and witnesses the degradation of the culture of the society in which she lives. She witnesses a man strong-arming a drunken young woman out of a bar, on to a sordid adventure. The best-selling book in the shop windows is called The Vulture Is Molting. The music of the day is a cacophony of horrible sounds. Dagny buys a newspaper and goes home to listen to the music of Richard Halley, which is so different than the disorganized dreck she has heard on the street. She reflects on the life of Halley, who, after years of struggle finally became a success. On the night of his triumph, when his music was finally appreciated, he retired from writing music and was never seen again. She reads the paper, seeing the latest reports of Francisco d’Anconia’s depravity, and mourns the man Francisco used to be.

The scene changes to Jim Taggart’s apartment. Jim is nursing a headache the morning after a tryst with his current girlfriend, Betty Pope. She is an unattractive girl, who “has a look of condescension derived from the fact that she belonged to one of the very best families” (70). The two are not in love, and in fact seem to like each other very little. Jim and Betty seem to sleep together out of some habit, or to perform some ritual that other people do simply because it is considered normal. They discuss the goings-on at Taggart Transcontinental, and Betty displays her intense dislike of Dagny. Later on that day Jim Taggart addresses his Board of Directors, who are anxious about the nationalization by the State of Mexico of the San Sebastian line. Dagny had recommended that very few trains be run on that line because of the risk of nationalization; now that that eventuality has occurred, Jim takes the credit for Dagny’s good decision-making. Orren Boyle and Jim now know that Francisco d’Anconia has lost a great deal of money on the San Sebastian nationalization, and they are very surprised that he would let himself be duped like this. Jim wants to see Francisco, but he is denied because Francisco says that Jim bores him.

The National Alliance of Railroads passes the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule, which causes Dan Conway’s small but successful railway, the Phoenix-Durango, to go out of business. The rule is ostensibly designed to prevent profiteering, but it has the effect of limiting the freedom of businesses to such an extent that they fail. This is the beginning of a long decline for the transportation industry in the United States. Dagny tries to convince Conway to fight, but he is so bewildered and disillusioned that he thinks that the Alliance has the right to make his business fail. This upsets Dagny, because she doesn’t understand why Conway won’t fight the Alliance.

Ellis Wyatt, the oil magnate, shows up at Dagny’s office just as she is making an appointment to meet with Hank Rearden. Wyatt says that he is here to see Dagny because he has heard that she is the “brains in this rotten outfit” (81). Wyatt is angry about the Alliance’s destruction of the Phoenix-Durango, a railroad he has depended upon in the past. He demands that Taggart Transcontinental run trains as his business requires, because he is now forced to deal with them in an environment of non-competition. Dagny assures him that he will get the transportation that he needs to move his oil, and her response, with its lack of excuses, momentarily stuns the oilman. The two agree, and Wyatt leaves.

Hank and Dagny have a conference about the delivery of Rearden Metal to build Taggart’s Rio Norte line. The railway is completely in Rearden’s power, and is obliged to pay a higher price to receive its rails on time. The first shipment of Rearden Metal rails is being loaded outside Hank’s office window, and Hank and Dagny watch and admire this important moment. They discuss the metal’s properties, and that the rails could take train speeds up to two hundred and fifty miles an hour. While they are enraptured with the material success of the new metal, Rearden mentions that they are a “…couple of blackguards” (87) for not having spiritual goals. Dagny doesn’t answer, not understanding what he means, and he ends their conversation pointedly by saying “…whatever we are, it’s we who move the world and it’s we who’ll pull it through.” (88)


While much of the plan of the men gathered at the expensive cave-like bar (in the beginning of Chapter III) is not overtly stated, it is clear that this group of Washington and industry insiders is planning some sort of unfair (or perhaps illegal) cartel or interest group. They seem to think that they can work underhandedly toward their own goals, while spouting aloud (and making others believe) things like what Orren Boyle says, “The only justification of private property…is public service” (45) and “After all, private property is a trusteeship held for the benefit of society as a whole” (46). These kinds of statements of circular logic are allowed to stand, without being explained or challenged by the group. Rand, coming from a country in which private property rights were destroyed by a Communist revolution (Russia,) is wary of any infringement of property rights, so a statement such as this is a loaded one. That it is mentioned by a captain of industry (Boyle is the head of Associated Steel) this early in the novel is particularly damning. It shows that even the people who should be defending property rights (the people who make money, and should therefore want to keep it) are duped into the current ideology which is overwhelming most of the people of the country. That business is nothing but greed, and something as vague as “public welfare” is the goal, Rand is saying, is dangerous in the extreme.

Foreshadowing about the San Sebastian mine occurs in Chapter III, also. Everyone at the table is convinced that the mines will, eventually, become hugely profitable, based solely on the fact that Francisco d’Anconia is the one who has bought and is attempting to mine them. The extreme hypocrisy and ineptitude of all the players in this scene is shown by the fact that none of them has any knowledge of mining or the mining business, or seems to care about learning anything substantive about d’Anconia’s mines. They are simply interested in profiting from d’Anconia’s anticipated success, without having earned anything themselves. Jim’s lack of knowledge about the downgraded service on his own railway line shows how little he is involved in the real business of the firm of which he is president. These men are held up by Rand as examples of venality and incompetence, and the fact that they are all in positions of power is an ominous sign for the country.

Rand leaves no doubt as to the kind of people these are, and even telegraphs their baseness and worthlessness by their names. Orren Boyle’s name conjures up visions of an unfortunate skin condition, and Wesley Mouch’s name could not be more obvious (he becomes, later in the novel, one of the main “looters” or “mooches” in the government.) Paul Larkin, who the reader knows is a friend of Hank Rearden, has a name which gives the impression that he is slacking off work (something he certainly does later in the novel when he fails to run efficiently the iron ore mine Hank Rearden is forced to give to him) and “larking” rather than working. None of these characters, including Jim Taggart, are characterized in a round way; they are simply different-named examples of men who live off of other’s work and brains. These characters remain this way throughout the novel (with the slight exception of Jim), and can be considered almost interchangeable “looters” in Rand’s plot.

Some of Dagny’s back story is revealed in these chapters, and the reader learns that she has worked her way up in Taggart Transcontinental, unlike her brother. There is certainly a feminist stream running through Rand’s narrative, as she notes that Dagny had to work much harder for a less important position than her brother, simply because she is female. This is not the feminism of later decades of women novelists, however, or even of Virginia Woolf, because Dagny is far too sexualized by the author (and most of the men around her) to stand as a traditional feminist heroine. With all her accomplishment and hard work, she still has to maintain a spotless sexual reputation, and be attractive enough for the men around her to feel comfortable dealing with her. Dagny is successful in spite of her femininity, not because of it. While it can be argued that this is simply a character trait, and not a commentary on feminist thought as a whole, Rand is as concerned with Dagny as a sexual being as she is a businesswoman. The same cannot be said about other male characters in the novel (Francisco and Hank excepted,) and Rand has no other examples of successful businesswomen in any position of power in the novel. Add to that Dagny’s rise in a company whose name is the same as her own; it could be argued easily that Dagny would never had the privilege of an engineering degree, and the chance to rise in Taggart Transcontinental at all, if she were not a Taggart herself. Rand is not, in this novel, an iconoclastic feminist; Dagny is the exception that proves the rule. Business, for Rand (and for the world at the time this novel was published) is almost entirely run by men.

Dagny’s past as a somewhat emotionless, driven child, and Francisco’s decline from the most promising business heir in the world to “the most spectacularly worthless playboy on earth” (53) is revealed in this chapters. The connection between these two characters is yet to be explored, but a similarity in the characters is already apparent. Both of them were born into families of long-held wealth and influence, and both of them recognized early their own ability and drive. More of their history will be recounted in later chapters.