Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis of Part II Chapters VII and VIII


“The Moratorium on Brains, Chapter VII of this middle part of the book, has Eddie talking to his mysterious railway-worker friend in the cafeteria at the Taggart Terminal again. He is fond of telling this understanding and anonymous man the troubles the railway is having with the ridiculous demands of the looter government. He learns from the man that he is leaving on vacation for a month to visit friends, a practice he has been doing for twelve years. This is the first real clue that the rail worker is not what he seems to be, for most people in his position would not have the money to take an entire month off every year.

Hank Rearden instructs his lawyers to begin divorce proceedings against Lillian, and says that he does not care how they are able effect this dissolution of marriage except that there is to be no monetary settlement and no alimony for Lillian. His wife is to be left penniless. With the current state of justice in the country, this sort divorce will be possible. Hank moves out of the house and takes an apartment in Philadelphia.

A nocturnal vignette is the setting in which Hank first meets the famous pirate Ragnar Danneskjold. As Hank walks home from the mills one night he meets a man who stops him to talk. Ragnar tells him he wants to give him a bar of gold, which is a mere fraction of the money which is held in an account for him with his friends in some mysterious location. Ragnar tells him who he is, which shocks Hank, and that he, Ragnar, has somehow obtained Hank’s income tax records from the government and put aside the exact amount Hank has paid to the government for several years. Hank refuses to accept the gold, but when a police patrol asks him if they have seen the notorious pirate, Hank lies to save Ragnar. When he turns back to him Ragnar has gone, leaving the gold. Hank takes it home and locks it in a safe in his apartment.

Bad things are coming for the Taggart Comet, which is carrying some of the looter government’s officials to a rally in San Francisco. Since Diesel engines are in short supply, and since Ellis Wyatt has defected oil is less easy to obtain than coal, the Comet is being pulled by a coal-burning engine. Dagny is no longer in charge of the railway so the culture of shirking responsibility has become rife in all the ranks of Taggart Transcontinental employees.

Kip Chalmers, the ranking official on the train, insists that they go through the Taggart Tunnel in the Rockies as soon as possible and he tells the railway workers he doesn’t care how they get him through. The area manager and stationmaster duck responsibility, and the train goes through the tunnel with a coal engine, causing the death by suffocation of everyone on the train. Another train carrying munitions runs into the stalled train, causing an explosion and the collapse of the tunnel. It is a disaster of epic proportions for Taggart Transcontinental. There truly has been a moratorium on brains in the ranks at Taggart Transcontinental, now that no one takes responsibility for anything any longer. Before the tragedy, a description of many of the passengers shows that almost all have them believe in the platitudes of self-sacrifice and public welfare, but they are hypocritical in their own dedication to self-interest.

Chapter VIII is called “By Our Love”. Francisco visits Dagny at her remote cabin. She has been staying there utterly alone for a month, and has been doing make-work projects such as rebuilding the stairs and painting and repairing the cabin. When Francisco runs to her, and she to him, they greet each other with old nicknames from their childhood and kiss. He tries to tell her that she doesn’t have to fight the looters any longer because “It’s over” (615). But Dagny isn’t ready to hear of Francisco’s and his friends’ subversive actions, because she hears on the radio of the disaster at the Taggart Tunnel. In a flash she is gone, back to her job at Taggart Transcontinental. She knows now that Francisco has waited for her all these years, but even that knowledge is not enough to hold her back from wanting to save her railroad.

The transcontinental traffic will be very difficult to maintain now that the tunnel through the Rockies is irreparably blocked, but Dagny manages to find a workaround solution by cobbling together other railroad’s tracks and building new tracks over the gaps. This considerably lengthens the trip across the country, but the main line is finally restored. She orders rails from Hank, and they have now both come to the realization that the looter government and parasites like Jim are using Hank and Dagnny’s dedication – their love – for their work to keep them in their jobs. Jim Taggart considers resigning, but he is buoyed up by the return of his sister and propped up only by her competence. Dagny is not angry with Hank because he signed the Gift Certificate – she says they have both given in. Hank and Dagny resume their relationship.


One of the very few mentions of children in this novel takes place in the description of the passengers of the Comet just before its destruction. Rand describes the children of a wife of a government official, who tucks them into bed and protects them from drafts and bumps, (606) but does not know how to protect them from the incompetency engendered by the directives that her husband is paid to enforce. Rand rarely talks about the education of children or their place or welfare in either her philosophical system or the looters’. Her focus is entirely on adults in this novel, even creating a situation wherein her main character, Dagny, is able to have three lovers in succession without ever once considering children or contraception. This was a taboo subject in Rand’s day, and the sexual problems of the single woman were not discussed as easily are today; still, in the modern reader’s mind, it can create some feeling of doubt as to the veracity of the characters in Rand’s novels.

Rand’s characters are, in some respects, allegories, which means that they don’t necessarily have to be depicted with the all the detail that a more realistic novel would include. Rand’s primary goal was not necessarily realism, although parts of this novel are very realistic and depict very believable situations and events from the middle part of the twentieth century. Rand was espousing a philosophy in the form of a novel, and many of the characters and situations were created with the goal of explaining her philosophy rather than simply telling a story or creating a work of literature. While this is useful for the popular study of philosophy, it also somewhat distances the reader from the characters. It seems unlikely, for example, that Francisco, Dagny, Hank, and John Galt, all successful and attractive professional people in their thirties and forties, would not have or have ever desired to have children. It is the same with many of the other industrialists in the novel (Wyatt, Danagger, and Mulligan, for example). They are all without children or wives, so when the time comes for the abandonment of their enterprises to fight the looter government there is no one else to consider but themselves. This fits neatly within Rand’s doctrine of the “virtue of selfishness” – it is certainly easier to be selfish when no one is depending on you for anything. None of the main characters, either, seem to have or to have ever had in the past any sort of faith or religion hampering their intellectual acceptance of objectivism. This, too, seems statistically unlikely in a country like America, which, in the 1950s as now, had an unusually high rate of faith identification when compared to other industrialized nations. So in some ways Rand’s novel is skewed by being populated with a special sort of person who would be free to practice Rand’s values; this does not detract, however, from Rand’s ability to argue her case through events in a novel. Not every work of literature needs to be in the tradition of realism to contain truths, should the reader find sympathy with the author’s ideas.

No one is particularly surprised when Dagny comes back to her job at the railroad; for her to abandon it at this critical juncture would mean, probably, the deaths of many more passengers and crew than if she had stayed away. Dagny is not yet willing to have that sort of guilt on her head, even though she and Hank now know that they are being used for their own destruction by the looter government. Francisco turning up really wouldn’t have changed her mind at all, it appears. Even though he was beginning to tell her all about his work against the government, and the people involved in his movement, she was still not ready to hear it. His faithful love, through the years, is not enough to hold her to him. Perhaps any love for him died out during the years when she thought he had abandoned her and devoted himself to debauchery.

The venality and stupidity of the crew which sends the Comet through the tunnel is almost unbelievable, but this part of the story is meant to show that when the government asserts that there are no moral absolutes then there will be no way to maintain order. The man sent to replace Dagny as Operating Vice President, Clifton Locey, was the one ultimately responsible for the destruction of the train, but he managed to fob off responsibility until it rested on the shoulders of a boy clerk who did not understand what was being asked of him. This kind of passing of the buck, Rand is saying, is endemic to collectivist societies, and is one of its chief evils.