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Atlas Shrugged is a novel written by Ayn Rand.

Characters

  • Dagny Taggart - The novel's protagonist and vice president in charge of operations of Taggart Transcontinental. Dagny is Galt's greatest love and worst enemy. Her brilliant management style and unwavering commitment to the railroad enable her to remain in the world of the “looters”—Rand's word for the people and government agencies that seize property from capitalists—and to keep her railroad running despite the growing chaos. In so doing, she continues to provide the looters with transportation that sustains their system. She mistakenly believes the looters are capable of reason and will understand their mistakes before it is too late. When she realizes the looters are in fact agents of death, she withdraws and is the last to join the strike.
  • Hank Rearden - The greatest of the nation's industrialists, Rearden is a steel baron with an astonishing capacity to produce. He is also Dagny's lover for most of the novel. Rearden represents a threat to the strikers because he continues to fight for his mills and inadvertently props up the looters' regime. His main flaw is his willingness to accept the looters' idea that he is obligated to serve others. When he finally gives up this premise, he sees the looters' system for what it is and joins the strike.
  • John Galt - The man around whom the action of the novel revolves, Galt organizes and leads the strike of the mind. He is simultaneously the destroyer, the inventor of the revolutionary motor, Eddie's mysterious friend, and Dagny's greatest love. Brilliant and perceptive, he is the physical and intellectual representation of man's ideal.
  • Francisco d'Anconia - An enormously wealthy and brilliant industrialist, Francisco is the first to join Galt's strike and the man who pays the highest price for it, losing his first and only love, Dagny. Francisco works as the strike's most active recruiter, focusing much of his attention on Rearden. By pretending to be a worthless playboy, Francisco is able to hide his efforts to destroy d'Anconia copper and thereby keep it out of the hands of the looters.
  • James Taggart (Jim) - Dagny's brother and president of Taggart Transcontinental. An inferior businessman, Jim excels at influence peddling and becomes highly skilled at manipulating the system. Though he claims to be motivated by both personal wealth and public service, his true motive is destruction of the productive. Jim carefully represses the nature of his depravity, but his final encounter with John Galt completely shatters his illusions.
  • Eddie Willers - Dagny's assistant at Taggart and a hard worker dedicated to the preservation of the railroad. Through his friendship with the mysterious track worker in the cafeteria, Eddie unwittingly provides the destroyer with valuable information about Dagny and the railroad.
  • Lillian Rearden - Hank Rearden's lifeless, beautiful wife. Lillian is dominated by a hatred of the good, and her purpose in life is to destroy her husband. Unlike Jim, who shares her need for destruction but deludes himself that he has other motivations, Lillian is honest with herself about her goals.
  • Ellis Wyatt - An oil tycoon who sparks the growth of Colorado's industry through his innovations. When the government burdens Colorado with impossible regulations and demands, Wyatt refuses to cooperate and withdraws. Leaving nothing behind for the looters, he sets fire to his wells, creating the spectacular and symbolic Wyatt's Torch.
  • Ragnar Danneskjold - A notorious pirate and one of the first strikers. Danneskjold fights the looters on their own violent terms. A reverse Robin Hood, he steals from the parasites and returns wealth to the productive.
  • Dr. Robert Stadler - Once a brilliant professor and scientist who taught physics to Galt, Danneskjold, and Francisco at Patrick Henry University, Stadler is the disillusioned head scientist at the State Science Institute. He allows the looters to appropriate his mind.
  • Hugh Akston - A philosopher who champions reason, Akston taught Galt, Danneskjold, and Francisco at Patrick Henry University. He joins the strike early on, after society proclaims the death of reason. He works as a short-order cook in a diner.
  • Wesley Mouch - Originally Rearden's “Washington Man,” Mouch is a mediocre bureaucrat who rises to the role of economic dictator through his betrayal of Rearden and his well-placed connections.
  • Orren Boyle - The corrupt owner of Associated Steel. Although his product is inferior to Rearden's, he uses his government connections to protect his business and obtain the rights to make Rearden Metal.
  • Cherryl Brooks - A young, idealistic hero worshipper who marries Jim, mistakenly believing he is a good man. Jim seeks to destroy her and the good she represents, and is ultimately successful.
  • The Wet Nurse (Tony) - A young bureaucrat sent by the government to watch over Rearden's mills. Though he starts out as a cynical follower of the looters' code, his experience at the mills transforms him, and he comes to respect and admire the producers.
  • Owen Kellogg - A talented employee of Taggart and one of the first men in the novel to retire mysteriously.
  • Midas Mulligan - The most successful banker of all time and the owner of the valley where the strikers live. Mulligan withdrew from society after realizing that he cannot thrive in a system that rewards need over ability.
  • Judge Narrangansett - The legal mind that champions the freedom of individuals to produce and trade free of government intervention. He is one of the strikers who live in the valley.
  • Dr. Floyd Ferris - The head of the State Science Institute and author of Why Do You Think You Think? Ferris rejects the mind and recognizes only bald power. He leads the faction that seeks to kill John Galt instead of working with him and jeopardizing its own power.
  • Mr. Thompson - The Head of State, Thompson is pragmatic and driven only by the immediacy of the moment. He cynically believes that everyone, including Galt, is willing to cut a deal in exchange for power. He is genuinely stunned when Galt rejects his offer.
  • Richard Halley - A brilliant composer who joins the strike after his work is praised only for having been borne of suffering. His fifth concerto is played throughout the strikers' valley.
  • Dan Conway - The owner of the Phoenix-Durango Line in Colorado, who disappears after Taggart uses his influence to destroy his railroad with the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule.
  • Ken Dannager - A self-made Pennsylvania coal producer and friend of Rearden's. He recognizes the irrationality of the looters' laws and breaks them. He joins the strike after he is arrested for making illegal deals with Rearden.
  • Philip Rearden - Hank Rearden's parasitic brother. He lives off of Rearden's accomplishments while simultaneously criticizing him for pursuing them.

Plot

In an environment of worsening economic conditions, Dagny Taggart, vice president in charge of operations, works to repair Taggart Transcontinental's crumbling Rio Norte Line to service Colorado, the last booming industrial area in the country. Her efforts are hampered by the fact that many of the country's most talented entrepreneurs are retiring and disappearing. The railroad's crisis worsens when the Mexican government nationalizes Taggart's San Sebastian Line. The line had been built to service Francisco d'Anconia's copper mills, but the mills turn out to be worthless. Francisco had been a successful industrialist, and Dagny's lover, but has become a worthless playboy. To solve the railroad's financial problems, Dagny's brother Jim uses political influence to pass legislation that destroys Taggart's only competition in Colorado. Dagny must fix the Rio Norte Line immediately and plans to use Rearden Metal, a new alloy created by Hank Rearden. When confronted about the San Sebastian mines, Francisco tells Dagny he is deliberately destroying d'Anconia Copper. Later he appears at Rearden's anniversary party and, meeting him for the first time, urges Rearden to reject the freeloaders who live off of him.

The State Science Institute issues a denunciation of Rearden metal, and Taggart's stock crashes. Dagny decides to start her own company to rebuild the line, and it is a huge success. Dagny and Rearden become lovers. Together they discover a motor in an abandoned factory that runs on static electricity, and they seek the inventor. The government passes new legislation that cripples industry in Colorado. Ellis Wyatt, an oil industrialist, suddenly disappears after setting fire to his wells. Dagny is forced to cut trains, and the situation worsens. Soon, more industrialists disappear. Dagny believes there is a destroyer at work, taking men away when they are most needed. Francisco visits Rearden and asks him why he remains in business under such repressive conditions. When a fire breaks out and they work together to put it out, Francisco understands Rearden's love for his mills.

Rearden goes on trial for breaking one of the new laws, but refuses to participate in the proceedings, telling the judges they can coerce him by force but he won't help them to convict him. Unwilling to be seen as thugs, they let him go. Economic dictator Wesley Mouch needs Rearden's cooperation for a new set of socialist laws, and Jim needs economic favors that will keep his ailing railroad running after the collapse of Colorado. Jim appeals to Rearden's wife Lillian, who wants to destroy her husband. She tells him Rearden and Dagny are having an affair, and he uses this information in a trade. The new set of laws, Directive 10-289, is irrational and repressive. It includes a ruling that requires all patents to be signed over to the government. Rearden is blackmailed into signing over his metal to protect Dagny's reputation.

Dagny quits over the new directive and retreats to a mountain lodge. When she learns of a massive accident at the Taggart Tunnel, she returns to her job. She receives a letter from the scientist she had hired to help rebuild the motor, and fears he will be the next target of the destroyer. In an attempt to stop him from disappearing, she follows him in an airplane and crashes in the mountains. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a remote valley where all the retired industrialists are living. They are on strike, calling it a strike of the mind. There, she meets John Galt, who turns out to be both the destroyer and the man who built the motor. She falls in love with him, but she cannot give up her railroad, and she leaves the valley. When she returns to work, she finds that the government has nationalized the railroad industry. Government leaders want her to make a speech reassuring the public about the new laws. She refuses until Lillian comes to blackmail her. On the air, she proudly announces her affair with Rearden and reveals that he has been blackmailed. She warns the country about its repressive government.

With the economy on the verge of collapse, Francisco destroys the rest of his holdings and disappears. The politicians no longer even pretend to work for the public good. Their vast network of influence peddling creates worse chaos, as crops rot waiting for freight trains that are diverted for personal favors. In an attempt to gain control of Francisco's mills, the government stages a riot at Rearden Steel. But the steelworkers organize and fight back, led by Francisco, who has been working undercover at the mills. Francisco saves Rearden's life, then convinces him to join the strike.

Just as the head of state prepares to give a speech on the economic situation, John Galt takes over the airwaves and delivers a lengthy address to the country, laying out the terms of the strike he has organized. In desperation, the government seeks Galt to make him their economic dictator. Dagny inadvertently leads them to him, and they take him prisoner. But Galt refuses to help them, even after he is tortured. Finally, Dagny and the strikers rescue him in an armed confrontation with guards. They return to the valley, where Dagny finally joins the strike. Soon, the country's collapse is complete and the strikers prepare to return.

Symbolism

The Sign of the Dollar

The dollar sign is the symbol of the strikers. Their cigarettes are stamped with it, and their town square displays a giant dollar sign. For them, the symbol is not merely shorthand for money, but a symbol of a way of life. The dollar sign represents the things it is exchanged for, namely, the productive abilities of man and the goods and services created by the mind at work. The very existence of money suggests that there are goods produced and people able to produce them, which is what makes money meaningful and valued. In his “money speech,” Francisco says, “To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will.” The strikers value the dollar so much that they have their own mint in the valley and use only gold as the standard for exchange.

The Bracelet

The bracelet Rearden creates from the first batch of Rearden Metal symbolizes everything he has worked toward for ten years, and in a larger sense, the purest product of the unfettered, creative mind. It represents his pride in and love for his work, and he wants desperately to share these values with someone. Lillian, who hates and wants to destroy Rearden, misses the point entirely and wears the bracelet only to mock him. She wrongly interprets its meaning as a reference to her bondage, though it is clearly Rearden who is chained to her. Dagny, on the other hand, understands all that the bracelet stands for and shares the values it represents, as demonstrated by her insistence on trading her diamonds for it. In their reactions to the bracelet, we see a sharp contrast between the two women, and it becomes clear that Dagny is the one for Rearden.

Wyatt's Torch

Before Ellis Wyatt disappears to join the strike, he destroys his own oil fields by setting fire to them, and the fires continue to burn night and day. Wyatt's Torch, as the huge flame comes to be known, symbolizes his unwillingness to sanction and participate in the looters' system or to offer them any useful resources to drain. The flame is a powerful symbol of individualism and the refusal to surrender the mind. Wyatt's Torch is the very last thing the passengers see before dying in the Taggart Tunnel disaster and the only part of the outside world visible to the residents of the valley.

Atlas

Atlas, the hero of Greek mythology who carried the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, symbolizes the exploited industrialists, particularly Rearden, whose hard work and great strength support the parasites who live off their productive capabilities. When Francisco tells Rearden that he would advise Atlas to shrug and let go of his burden, he is referring to the strike and calling upon Rearden to lay down his burden and stop believing it is his duty to bear so much weight for the undeserving. Rearden's only reward for his efforts is the persecution of a corrupt government and the exhaustion of carrying others. Francisco knows it is unjust for Rearden, or anyone, to be cast in this role. By recruiting him for the strike, he tries to show Rearden a way out.

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