Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters IX and X


Chapter IX of Part I, “The Sacred and the Profane” begins the morning after Hank and Dagny’s first night together. They have a horrible exchange, in which Hank says to her “What I feel for you is contempt. But it’s nothing, compared to the contempt I feel for myself. I don’t love you. I’ve never loved anyone. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. I wanted you as one wants a whore – for the same reason and purpose.” (254) Hank is seriously conflicted about his desire for Dagny, and is disappointed with himself for breaking his wedding vows. Dagny, defiant but not necessarily insulted by Hank’s frank admissions, and says “I am much more depraved than you are: you hold it as your guilt, and I – as my pride. I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve done, more proud than of building the Line. If I’m asked to name my proudest attainment, I will say: I have slept with Hank Rearden. I had earned it.” (256) The arrangement between them is that they will not conduct their affair publicly, but Dagny will have his “free time.” Hank leaves her disgusted with himself, but feeling that he cannot give her up. He is still of the opinion that sex is a low function of his body, and that he should deny himself, especially, this extra-marital affair. That he cannot, and Dagny does not want him to, confuses him greatly.

Jim Taggart, in New York, is thinking again about avoiding responsibility at work when he ducks into a five-and-dime store to buy paper handkerchiefs. He is slightly rude to a shop assistant who recognizes him. Cherryl Brooks thinks that Jim is responsible for the success of the John Galt line, and she sees him as a populist hero. He takes her out on a date, and she is surprised that he is respectful, if a bit condescending, to her. She is the product of a poor family in upstate New York, and she had come to New York to try to make something of herself. She does not really believe in the philosophy the educational system and government are spouting, which is why she begins to hero-worship Jim.

Dagny and Hank return to the East Coast together, spending their nights together, but when they arrive Hank leaves her without a word. They resume their business lives as if nothing happened, but they have an arrangement that he stays with her at her apartment whenever he is in New York. He contrives to be there often.

Dagny and Hank take a vacation in his Hammond convertible. Driving through Wisconsin, they notice the desolation of the countryside, and come upon a ruined factory of a business they both knew well when it was in its prime. Dagny finds the skeleton of a type of motor which would run on the static electricity inherent in the atmosphere. It is incomplete, but Dagny recognizes it just enough to know that a dedicated scientist might be able to make it work. She thinks that it would be the saving of her railway if she could somehow make it work and convert it into motive power for her engines. They arrange to have the motor shipped back to the Taggart Building in New York. Dagny wants to try to find the inventor of the motor, in order to bring this revolutionary technology to the world. As they search Dagny and Hank are particularly appalled by the state of the countryside; there are no industries anymore and the people are living in a state of almost medieval poverty.

Chapter X, “Wyatt’s Torch” is the last chapter of Part I. In Wisconsin, Dagny continues to search for the inventor of the motor. She encounters great resistance and ignorance on the part of everyone she interviews, but she does get a lead on who the motor’s inventor might have been. She is called back to New York because of new laws about to be passed which would hamper much of Taggart Transcontinental’s business. These laws seek to artificially limit certain successful railroads in order to bring them in line with the production levels of other less successful railroads. It is supposed to give the failing railroads a chance, but the consequence is that it makes the entire industry suffer.

In the meantime Hank Rearden is double-crossed by his friend Paul Larkin. Larkin owns the iron ore mine that Hank would have bought if it were not illegal for him to own more than one business, and Paul makes deals behind his back which make Rearden lose his supply of the much-needed ore.

Through a series of clues Dagny is finally led to a rural coffee shop in Colorado, where she happens upon the eminent professor of philosophy. Hugh Akston is running the diner, and she notes the efficiency and quality of his work, but she is aghast that such great thinker is spending his time working at a menial job. She learns from him that he knows the inventor of the motor, but he refuses to tell her. He gives her a cigarette, and she sees that it is imprinted with a golden dollar sign as its only identification. She brings it back to her friend the cigarette vendor in the Taggart Terminal, who tells her that it is not made by any company that he knows on the planet.

A special tax is levied by the government on the financially successful state of Colorado to help out the neighboring states. Ellis Wyatt, who produces a great deal of oil and a major fraction of the state’s revenue and is one the new John Galt Line’s major customers, is enraged. He lights his oil wells afire and disappears. The flaming waste of fuel is nicknamed “Wyatt’s Torch”, and it burns for a long time.


The story of Cherryl Brooks meeting Jim Taggart is a particularly poignant one in this novel about the cynicism of human beings. This character is shown to have a natural belief in her own goodness, and the correctness of hard work and achievement. Having come from a slum background, with a hard-drinking father and a complaining mother, Cherryl thought that if she came to the city and worked hard she’d be free of that kind of despair. She does not know it yet, but Jim Taggart is one of the chief enablers of the looters and moochers, and she is falling in love with a person who doesn’t exist. Jim Taggart puts up a front for her of an accomplished and civic-minded industrialist, and in her youth and inexperience she is taken in by his lies. Perhaps the most innocent and helpless victim that Rand portrays in any detail is this hapless shopgirl.

More and more clues to the mysterious West keep popping in Chapter X. Dagny learns that the engine’s inventor has gone out west to Colorado, and she is very surprised to find a man like Hugh Akston running a diner out there. Hugh confesses that he knows the inventor but refuses to give her information about it. This makes Dagny suspicious, and the information about the cigarette further intrigues her. She now has some inkling that there is more going on in Colorado than meets the eye. It is becoming clear that there is a group of important people in Colorado who don’t want to be found, and that they are working toward some mysterious goal.

Hank and Dagny’s relationship is certainly a complicated one. Dagny seems to find satisfaction merely in possessing Hank’s body. There are signs that she knows that he feels more deeply for her than he is letting on, but she does not feel the need to share this knowledge with Hank. She lets the relationship take its course. Her confessions of her affection for him are of his prowess as a businessman and inventor, and of her physical desire for him; notably absent from these admissions are any reference to the desire to win him away from his wife, or any mention of love. This almost business-like arrangement of sex and companionship seems incongruous, but it is perfectly in keeping with the rational beings that Dagny and Hank are. It is not until later that we know their finer feelings, or the depth and the nature of their morality.

Ellis Wyatt is the latest, and the most spectacular, of the “deserters” – successful businessmen who have retired or quit on a moment’s notice when faced with unfair regulation of their industries. Wyatt knew that the limitation of Taggart Transcontinental’s number and speed of trains would hurt his business to such a degree that he was unwilling to continue. That he decided practically overnight, and left such a destructive and visible reminder of his departure, gives the reader a clue that something other than human despair is at work here.

The pace of the decline of business in America is now accelerating, and the consequences of the Equalization of Opportunity Act are soon felt by Hank Rearden, his customers, the industry, and, soon, the whole country. Because he was prevented from vertically integrating his supply chain Rearden’s supply of ore was compromised; because of the arbitrary nature of the whims of the government regulations, and double-dealing on Jim Taggart’s part made possible by favor-trading in Washington, the conditions needed to produce Rearden Metal legally have been destroyed. Rand is showing how misguided notions of fairness in business, when controlled arbitrarily by government, create a culture of mediocrity and a decline of production. This idea runs through the entire novel, and is an important key to the formulation of objectivist philosophy.

These chapters end Part I, "Non-Contradition". What this beginning third of the novel has been primarily occupied with is asserting that there is no contradiction between reality and success, and, especially, human happiness and human desires. In this part the reader learns the story of two producers, Dagny and Francisco, and how their rational, independent, work-oriented upbringing has created in them the kind of psyche that rejects the irrationalism of the looter government's doctrine of self-sacrifice. In this part it is also hinted that things are not what they seem, particularly in regard to Francisco d'Anconia. Francisco and the philosopher Hugh Akston remind Dagny to "check her premises", and not to think something is that it is not. If Francisco appears to be a playboy, but that goes against everything Dagny has ever known about him, she should believe one or the other: not both. Likewise, in respect to the creeping changes in the government's attitude toward business, Hugh and Francisco are implying, Dagny should not believe that they do not want industry's destruction when the policies of the government work continually toward that goal. Dagny is still trying to reconcile contradictions to herself, and will continue in this mode in Part II. In that part, however, entitled "Either-Or", Dagny will have to make some hard choices.