Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters I and II


Part II, “Either-Or”, begins with a chapter called “The Man Who Belonged on Earth”. Dagny doesn’t know it, but when she goes to see the eminent scientist, Dr. Robert Stadler of the State Science Institute, she is going to learn about the mysterious John Galt. Her search for the inventor of the static-electricity motor has brought her here, and she is demanding to know from Stadler what physicist in the country would have the ability to create a motor which would need no fuel other than the electricity surrounding the earth. She is convinced that an invention of such utility could save the current decline of the American economy, and that Robert Stadler should do everything to help her. There is already antagonism between the two of them because Stadler is part of the State Science Institute, which issued the public denunciation of Rearden Metal and caused Dagny’s and Hank’s companies so much difficulty.

Stadler knows nothing of the motor’s inventor, and refuses to help Dagny with the reconstruction of it, not because he thinks that it won’t work, but because he cannot imagine why such a great mind capable of creating it would waste his time on “practical appliances” (356). He finally relents and tells her that there is one man, Quentin Daniels of the Utah Institute of Technology who may, with time and luck, be able to reconstruct the motor. Dagny resolves to hire him to work on this as a private project for her.

The economy of the West is deteriorating, and it is becoming clear to Dagny that the freight traffic on the Rio Norte Line (the line the John Galt line now goes under as it is now part of Taggart Transcontinental) will only continue to dwindle. Since the dissolution of Wyatt Oil every major industrial concern in that area of the country is either moving toward bankruptcy or has experienced the desertion of its top executives.

Rearden Metal is once again under attack, not because of its perceived lack of safety, but rather because of its success. A young man from the government whom the steelworkers nickname “The Wet Nurse” comes to Rearden Steel, and is put in charge of making sure that Hank does not sell Metal to anyone not approved by the government. The idea behind these limits is to allow other companies, like Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel, to maintain their business without undue competition. It also limits the amount of steel each customer could receive to a “fair share” amount, which could not be determined rationally by the government officials. A black market in the rights to “fair share” amounts quickly springs up. Rearden angers the government by refusing to sell Metal to the State Science Institute for Project X, a secret project whose purpose no one will tell him. Rearden is afraid it is for a weapon, possibly to be used against the American people, and he will not allow the government to make him sell them the Metal. He tells the Wet Nurse that if the government wants the metal they will have to come with guns to seize it.

Chapter II, “The Aristocracy of Pull” shows how the new government has created a different currency for getting things done: a phenomenon called pull. The people and businesses with friends in Washington, or with blackmail material held over people in powerful positions, are now the people who get directives in their favor. There is no longer any objective standard of justice or fair dealing. Entire industries are artificially supported or are destroyed solely at the whim of the men in Washington.

Dagny sits in her office contemplating the destruction of so many towns and business in Colorado in the wake of what happened to Wyatt Oil. She is beginning to believe that there is an actual agent at work – she names him in her mind “the destroyer” – who is seducing these men away from their businesses and making them disappear. She is particularly concerned that the destroyer will visit Ken Danagger, or the head of some other business which is vitally important to her railway or to Hank’s mills, and cause havoc with their supply chain. She works to fight the destroyer by hiring and setting to work the young scientist Quentin Daniels. He agrees to work for her personally at his old place of research the Utah Institute of Technology, at which he has been reduced to night-watchman because there are no scientists left to work at the building.

Cherryl Brooks and Jim Taggart have become engaged, because Cherryl has fallen in love with what she thinks is Jim’s persona of a successful but essentially populist businessman. Jim knows that her hero-worship is misguided, but he wants to marry her anyway because he enjoys her admiration. Hank Rearden, against his will, agrees to go to the Taggart wedding because his wife, Lillian, asks him to. He has no desire to see Jim get married, or to be in a social situation at which both his wife and his mistress are in attendance, but he nevertheless goes to the reception and has a conversation with Francisco d’Anconia there. Francisco has benefited greatly from the destruction of the copper industry in the United States, the product of vicious laws perpetrated by Jim Taggart and his friends. They had done so primarily to line their own pockets, because they are all great shareholders in d’Anconia Copper. Francisco, who did not ask for such a favor, nevertheless mockingly thanks Jim Taggart, and says aloud to everyone who wants to hear it that d’Anconia Copper is currently undergoing grave difficulties and the stock may soon crash. This causes panic among the guests.

Before the stampede ruins the wedding reception, however, Francisco explains to those around him that money is the only moral unit of exchange in the world, and it “allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return.” (411). This speech in praise of wealth offends most of the cultured people around him, who are nonetheless rich themselves, but who spout vague generalities about “helping the poor” and the “common welfare.” Francisco qualifies it by saying that it isn’t money which creates happiness, but values. “Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he’s evaded the choice of what to seek.” (412).

Rearden reproaches d’Anconia for being a playboy and for letting his company deteriorate, but Francisco asks Hank to check his assumptions. Why should d’Anconia copper continue to make money for people who do not deserve it, and will either take its wealth by fraud or redistribute it unfairly? Francisco gives Hank an inkling that perhaps he, Francisco, is not what he seems to be, and that there is a purpose behind his seemingly destructive actions.


Francisco’s speech about the purpose and goodness of money is the first long treatise in defense of objectivist economics in the novel. His premise, that the fair trading of effort and the products of the mind for money is the only way that human beings have any chance for real happiness on earth, is based on the premise that the former methods of economics, namely the oligarchies and tyrannies which, in other countries, have controlled the sources of wealth through force and coercion, were inherently unfair and denigrated the goodness and power of each human being. Money creates a fair playing field for the skilled and the dedicated to earn their livelihood without fear of it being taken away. It is the only system, Francisco argues, which honors the principle of humanity’s right to enjoy their lives.

It is clear from Francisco’s speech that his lauding of money is not crass materialism. The values of production, honesty, and fairness are what make the system of money and exchange worthwhile, and Francisco says “The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves…If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame.” Francisco says that the people who say money is evil are those who let it “pinch-hit for [their] self-respect.” (412).

This idea of money creating an environment of fairness and of encouragement of achievement is not entirely Rand’s own, but the way she integrates it into her political and economic philosophy buttresses the whole of objectivism. She argues that economic competition is a broader form of cooperation, (Hicks) and one that allows the most fairness to the most people. Specifically the kind of artificial manipulation of markets, such as Taggart and his friends’ destruction of Francisco’s competitors, nullifies the good society of fair competition.

The marriage of Cherryl and Jim begins with an evil portent. The fact that the wedding guests, who make a practice of repeating platitudes about selflessness and the public interest, cannot even control their hysteria for the length of time of a wedding reception without a public panic in which their own interests are threatened. The message is that all the people, such as the woman who disagrees with Francisco and protests that “I don’t feel that you’re right” (415) are actually hypocritical, and when faced with the real prospect of their own loss their true and undeniable self-interest comes out, often in ugly ways.

The new government, no matter what high ideals it purports to be founded on, is really just a new kind of unjust oligarchy. The noun “pull” has come to mean the influence and coercion peddling that goes on in Washington, in which favors and fear of exposure or reprisal are the motivators rather than reason or justice. The America of Francisco and Dagny’s youth is gone, and a new world which has been created is not based on the values that they hold. Hank is coming to this realization perhaps even faster than Dagny, though she holds the values of self-worth and the nobility of production more dearly than he does. Francisco, while not giving anything away directly, has hinted enough so that both Hank and Dagny are suspicious that there is a group of people working directly against the American government.