Atlas Shrugged

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Atlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
For Further Study


The final novel written by Russian-born American philosopher and author Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged is a controversial and widely popular work. According to a 1991 Library of Congress report, it is considered the second most influential book after the Bible in the lives of its readers. A complex combination of mystery, love story, social criticism, and philosophical concepts, the 1,100—page novel embodies the author's passionate celebration of individualism, free will, capitalism, logic, and reason.

Set in an imaginary America in a communist world, Atlas Shrugged is a sharp critique of a corrupt communist system and its damaging effects on areas as various as love, science, and industrial productivity. The novel's main protagonists, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, are capitalist-minded industrialists, "Atlases" who carry the collapsing national economy on their backs. Things change, however, when the mysterious John Galt begins a revolution against the existing order, believing that the parasitic society would destroy itself if its competent and hard-working members would simply stop working. But first, the protagonists must learn how to let go of the ties of obligation, responsibility, and guilt connecting them to the abusive community in all aspects of their lives.

As Rand said to her biographer, Nathaniel Branden, the novel explains her philosophical principles in a dramatic action story combining "metaphysics, morality, economics, politics and sex." Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged with a sense of mission; she said, "[A]fter Atlas I was no longer pres-sured, my lifelong assignment was over." Despite tremendous popular success—the novel sold over 5 million copies by 1984—Rand believed she had explained her philosophical views clearly enough and did not write another word of fiction for the rest of her life

Author Biography

Ayn Rand, a.k.a. Alice Rosenbaum, was born on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her family was relatively wealthy; Rand's father was a self-made man who owned a pharmacy. According to her biographer, Barbara Brandon in The Passion of Ayn Rand, Rand was a precocious child who spent much time among adults, gathering information about the world around her. At the age of nine, she had already developed a strong fascination about the battle between good and evil, as well as her notion of the characteristics of the ideal man. "Intelligence, independence, courage. The heroic man," she described him to her biographer. Rand later recreated this model in many of her fictional characters, including the mysterious John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.

Rand's keen awareness of her ideological and political surroundings easily detected the problems that would begin to plague Russia in her childhood; she grew to despise the communist rule of Lenin's Bolsheviks, who came into power with the 1917 revolution. Under communism, her family was forced to give up her father's business, leave their home under the threat of ongoing internal conflicts, and almost starve to death. In her biography, Rand remembers that she "began to understand that politics was a moral issue" and that she detested any "government or society or any authorities imposing anything on anyone."

While working on a bachelor's degree in history in St. Petersburg, by then named Leningrad, Rand studied American history. She told Branden that she found it incredible: "I saw America as the country of individualism, of strong men, of freedom and important purposes. I thought, 'This is the kind of government I approve of.'" In 1926, Rand got a chance to visit relatives in America; even before she took off, she had decided not to return from her trip.

As a struggling writer in America, Rand went from summarizing works to be adapted as Hollywood scripts, to writing plays (one of which was produced on Broadway), to publishing a semi-autobiographical first novel. However, it was not until the publication of her later novels, The Foun-tainhead and Atlas Shrugged, that she achieved fame on a grand scale. Her novella Anthem served as an outline for both of these works; in her fiction, Rand described the threat and immorality of communism while developing her own strictly capitalist philosophy of Objectivism. In Atlas Shrugged, her self-proclaimed masterpiece of Objectivist theory, she proposes the destruction of a parasite communist society as the only way to achieve the capitalist utopia. In the postscript to Atlas Shrugged, she described the essence of Objectivism and the novel's major theme as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with his productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Rand's later theoretical pieces—The Virtue of Selfishness, a New Concept of Egoism, her newsletter The Objectivist, and other works—further develop the principles of her philosophy. Although her novels became bestsellers worldwide, Rand did not write fiction after Atlas Shrugged. She died on March 6, 1982; ironically, the author who used the cigarette as a symbol of glowing human intellect in her last novel lost a lung to cancer shortly before her death.

Plot Summary

Part 1: Non-Contradiction

Atlas Shrugged opens in a devastated New York City with crumbling buildings, empty stores, and closed businesses. It is a vision of an impoverished country in a communist world system, which slowly but surely destroys national and foreign economy alike. As capable, productive workers and business owners are devastated by bureaucratic machinations, they begin to abandon the existing order one by one and mysteriously disappear. In the meantime, the political and industrial parasites support each other and live off of the creative and productive "giants" who remain and must support them on their shoulders. The apathy of the people is summed up in a new slang expression, "Who is John Galt?" which conveys hopelessness, fear, and a sense of futility, as well as everything unachievable and imagined.

In the first part of the novel, Rand introduces several industries that keep the weakened communist system from failing. Taggart Transcontinental, the economic artery of the United States on which all the other industries depend, is the largest and most reliable railroad in the country. Although Jim Taggart is the official president, it is his competent and capitalist-minded sister Dagny Taggart who actually runs the business. When a part of the railroad collapses, Dagny decides to rebuild it with the new and publicly condemned Rearden Metal, a revolutionary alloy lighter and stronger than steel. Hank Rearden, the inventor, is the self-made owner of Rearden Steel and several other related companies, and a fellow capitalist businessman who shares Dagny's work philosophy. The new line is planned to connect the rest of the country to Colorado's Wyatt Oil, the only flourishing refinery on the continent. Wyatt, Dagny, and Hank are united in their battle to preserve competition and productivity in the nation's economy, so their own businesses can survive. The establishment, however, regards them as cruel and selfish businesspeople who only care about their work and the money they make from it.

Although the project seems to be doomed from the start due to governmental censure, the line is completed and has a successful first run; Dagny names it the John Galt line to spite her opponents. In the meantime, Dagny and Hank fall in love and begin a secret affair (secret because Hank is married). While on a vacation together, the two stumble upon a revolutionary model of a motor in an abandoned factory. Dagny begins a quest to find the engineer who invented it, but the search is a dead end; instead, she hires the promising physicist Daniels to try to finish the motor.

In the meantime, with the passing of a new communist law of equal opportunity, the successful businesses in the country are forced to reduce their production. The governmental excuse for this restriction is that the rest of the businesses cannot compete with them. Dagny, Hank, and Wyatt all take a serious financial blow; in his final protest before he disappears (like many before him), Wy-att burns down his refinery.

Part 2: Either-Or

In the second part of the novel, the decay of the national economy continues. Francisco d'An-conia, Dagny's childhood friend and former lover, seems to be running the family business of d'An-conia Copper straight into ground after many generations of flourishing success. Francisco befriends Hank and leads him to a conclusion that, in an unjust and abusive society, his work is worthless because it can only be used by parasites for their own survival and further exploitation. When Hank is put on trial for selling more Rearden Metal to a customer than the state regulations allow (in efforts to keep a supplier in business), he clearly understands the idea of a noble man's guilt used as a weapon of obligation against him. However, the society still holds some reins on Hank: when his wife Lillian finds out about Dagny, she uses the information to establish herself higher in the hierarchy of corruption. Hank is blackmailed into giving all the rights to Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute, to be used in Project X—a destruction device based on sound waves and as powerful as the atomic bomb.

In the meantime, another set of laws is passed that takes away almost all the rights of individuals in the community; however, by this time even those who decide which laws to pass are becoming anxious because the resources are running out. Under the new pressure imposed by the laws, Dagny quits her job and goes to a cabin in the countryside. In her absence, a terrible accident occurs on the railroad: due to the establishment's incompetence, the Taggart Tunnel caves in on one of the trains. Dagny rushes back to work, followed by Francisco, who tries in vain to persuade her to abandon the lost cause and quit the railroad she loves too much.

Upon her return, Dagny continues to try to salvage the railroad, cutting off some lines to make up for the others. On one of her trips across the deteriorating country, she meets a tramp sneaking on her train. The tramp tells her he used to work with a man called John Galt, a worker who abandoned the factory declaring he would stop the motor of the world before he would participate in the unjust system. With an ominous premonition, Dagny heads out to reach Daniels and prevent him from quitting his work on the motor, but she arrives only to see him taking off in a plane with "the de-stroyer"—a strange man who persuades the capable members of society to desert what they are doing. Dagny flies after them and ends up crashing in the Rocky Mountains.

Part 3: A Is A

Dagny awakens in a damaged plane after a rough landing into a well-hidden valley in the mountains; the valley is the seat of Galt's new world. Galt takes her on a tour of the place: all of the capable social "dropouts" gather here to establish their own free-enterprise system. Ragnar Danneskjold, a notorious pirate on the outside, works as the new world's internal revenue service with the goal of returning to the competent all the wealth they have lost to the corrupt system. The motto of the valley is "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." The members of this community are on a strike of the mind, denying the most precious human resource to the outside society which opposes it. However, Dagny cannot stay in the new paradise, although she feels that she has fallen in love with Galt; instead, she returns to the decaying outside world to continue fighting alongside Hank for its preservation.

The country is falling into despair due to the overwhelming economic crisis; Lillian tries to use Hank's affair to blackmail Dagny into reassuring the nation in a radio address, but Dagny turns the tables and instead reveals the blackmail on the radio. Another national broadcast is scheduled, this time to be given by the head of the state, but the airwaves are taken over by Galt who, in a lengthy speech, explicates his philosophy and beckons those remaining to escape and never let their strength be used by the weak.

Galt gets caught; the government, by this time in panic over the impending world collapse, tortures him to make him take over and restore the failing economy. Dagny, Francisco, and Hank manage to find and rescue him, but just then the old world crumbles: the lights of New York City go out, the motor of the world stops. The novel ends with Galt's little army looking at the civilization they will rebuild under the sign of the dollar.


Hugh Akston

A famous philosopher, "the last advocate of reason" and a renowned teacher at the Patrick Henry University; John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, and Ragnar Danneskjold were his students. Galt persuades him to leave the society that rejects reason and to join his cause, and Akston accepts, moving deep into the countryside and opening a small diner. In Galt's utopian refuge, Akston dedicates all of his intellectual power to educating others in the philosophy of reason.

Orren Boyle

The president of Associated Steel, Boyle works closely with the government to ensure his success in business. He bribes politicians to eliminate his competition, especially the steel industry owned by Hank Rearden. Boyle can sell defective steel because it is the only product on the market; however, constructions of his material collapse and people get killed. Boyle is an illustration of corruption in industry.

Cherryl Brooks

A salesgirl at a dime store who catches Jim Taggart's eye because she naively considers him a national hero. Before Cherryl realizes that Jim has been taking credit for all of Dagny's visionary achievements at the railroad, the two are married. Her husband uses her to gain popularity as a man of the people who embraces the working class.

Kip Chalmers

A petty politician whose arrogance and ignorance leads to the disaster in the Taggart Tunnel.

Ken Danagger

The last competent producer of coal in the country nearing economic collapse. He secretly purchases much-needed Rearden Metal from Hank, because the portion assigned by the government is not enough to keep his business running. The ille-gal sale is discovered and the two of them are sued, but before the trial, John Galt pays Danagger a visit and persuades him to join the revolution.

Francisco d'Anconia

In his conversations with Hank Rearden (whom he eventually converts to Galt's revolution), Francisco serves as the author's mouthpiece, preaching the Objectivist philosophy in many areas of human life, from industry to sex to psychology. He is a brilliant businessman and heir to the largest and oldest company on earth, d'Anconia Copper, which originated in Argentina but has expanded over several generations to all the parts of the world. Superbly intelligent, ingenious, energetic, and determined, Francisco is Dagny's childhood friend and first lover; the two of them share the concept of a world of invention and productivity, and both believe in the inherent morality of capitalism.

About his family, Francisco says, "None of us has ever been permitted to think he is born d'Anconia. We are expected to become one." In that sense, Francisco is also a self-made man: he worked in the mines since childhood and independently acquired his first copper mine at the age of 20, parallel with his college degree. At the Patrick Henry University he befriends two brilliant students with whom he forms a trio of prodigies, the future leaders of the John Galt revolution. As part of his fight, Francisco has the difficult task of sacrificing his family business so that it does not become a tool in the communist system of corruption. He conducts a gigantic cover-up to present his company as still successful, while he invests in dry copper mines and even sabotages the productive ones.

Quentin Daniels

A young physicist who used to study at the Utah Institute of Technology, but now works at the deserted institute as a night watchman. Dr. Stadler recommends him to Dagny when she asks for someone who would be able to recreate the innovative motor. Daniels accepts the assignment, but John Galt discovers his work and persuades him to quit before the motor is finished.

Ragnar Danneskjold

A member of the brilliant trio from the Patrick Henry University, who participates in Galt's fight by becoming a pirate and sabotaging the communist world's ocean trade.

Dr. Floyd Ferris

Stadler describes Ferris as "the valet of science" who once used to be a biologist, but has become a politician. Ferris supports the immoral communist rule, publishes a scientific book on the meaninglessness of reason, and gets a lot of money from the government to devise the secret project X—a deadly weapon similar to the atomic bomb. Ferris is the representative of corruption in science.

John Galt

The identity of this character is the element of mystery in the novel from the first line: "Who is John Galt?" As the existing world order collapses, Galt arrives as a mythological figure, the savior with a master plan: he is the leader of the movement that works to destroy corrupt communist rule in America. Long before Galt appears in the novel and his revolution announces itself, his name becomes a part of the slang, popularized among everyday people: it represents apathy, fear, and the futility of their life in the status quo.

A self-made man and a brilliant student of science and philosophy at the Patrick Henry University (along with Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjold), Galt realizes that his world can only be saved through the destruction of communism and reinvention of capitalism. After he persuades his aforementioned school friends to join his cause, Galt and his small but quickly growing army get to work to find and "convert" as many people as possible to their revolutionary ideology.

Media Adaptations

  • Ayn Rand had begun adapting Atlas Shrugged as a television miniseries in 1981, but the project was never completed. She died in 1982.

The rebels gather the competent and the creative members of the society into a sabotage operation: Galt's disciples simply leave their work and get petty jobs instead, thus making once productive resources, factories, and industries absolutely useless for the political parasites. Then, Galt forms a new world under the sacred sign of the dollar, a capitalist Atlantis where everything is earned by one's own work.

Galt is the man of the mind, superbly rational, intelligent, brave, perfectly self-confident, and serene. Rand intended her hero to be somewhat abstract and symbolic, almost god-like. She stated, "One does not approach a god too closely—one does not get too intimate with him—one maintains a respectful distance from his inner life." Galt is the embodiment of Rand's Objectivist philosophy (which he explains in a sixty-page speech near the novel's end), her "ideal man," and the perfect counterpart for the novel's heroine, Dagny Taggart.

Richard Halley

The composer of music that celebrates individual achievement; Dagny remains a fan of his concertos long after they are dismissed by the public as old-fashioned.


See Henry Readen


See James Taggart

Owen Kellogg

A competent young engineer who used to run the Taggart Terminal. Dagny offers him a better job with more responsibility on the railroad, but he quits to join Galt's revolution.

Paul Larkin

Hank Rearden's devotee who depends on his charity for living. When the government passes the law that prohibits one person to own more than one business, Hank has to sell his iron ore mines to his friend. Larkin, unable to do business well, lets the mines disintegrate; eventually, he openly joins the communal majority, which defends the weak and unable like himself, and turns against his benefactor.

Wesley Mouch

Rearden's lobbyist in Washington, although he sells out his services to the highest bidder. He works with Orren Boyle and Jim Taggart until he gains true political power with presiding assignments to various committees. One of his new positions is the Top Coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources, which "kills" Ellis Wyatt's oil business and seriously harms Hank Rearden's company. Mouch is also one of the people behind the creation of the deadly Project X.

Midas Mulligan

A banker who deserts the old world, which judges him as selfish; he is one of the originators of Galt's valley.

Henry Rearden

Henry Rearden (also known as Hank) is a self-made businessman, the embodiment of the rags-to-riches American dream who starts at the societal bottom and reaches the top with hard work and dedication. Hank begins to work in steel mills at the age of fourteen, and makes rapid progress thanks to his sense of leadership, responsibility, and skill. At the age of forty-five, he owns Rearden Steel and several related businesses; also, he spends ten years of his life in experiments for Rearden Metal, which promises to revolutionize modern metallurgy. Hank has the society working against him, however, including his parasitic family and his manipulative wife, Lillian, who lives to control him. He allows their abuse because they manage to persuade him that his ascetic devotion to business is inhuman; Hank is told all of his life that desire, be it professional or physical, is the lowest of all vices. Also, he believes that his enemies are harmless and that it does not bother him to carry a few social parasites on his back.

Hank falls in love with his business associate Dagny Taggart and befriends the libertine businessman Francisco d'Anconia, who slowly prepares him to stop supporting the society that abuses him. As the communist regime begins to feel the approaching economic collapse of the country, the so-called looters begin to rely more and more heavily on the work of the competent individuals, including Hank. Rearden Steel is decimated through various directives that take away Hank's accomplishments and production and distribute them to the "public" in the name of equality. Hank becomes increasingly devastated by the situation in the country and the world through his encounters with the sinister looters, who have all the power. Gradually, Hank realizes that the parasites can only have the power he is willing to give them with his work, and joins Galt's revolution.

Lilian Rearden

Lillian is Hank's cold and calculating wife, whose aim in life is to have as respectable a social standing as possible. She is an expert in manipulating people by offering them what they want; Hank marries her because she appears fascinated by the purpose of his life, his work, and his business. Coming from an old family with a distinguished social position and a modest financial standing, Lillian had access to the top layer of New York's society, where she met Hank, a newcomer industrialist. She is graceful, elegant, always in control; also, she enjoys using her high-class charm and eloquence ironically at parties and family gatherings to put down her husband's dedication to his work as something low-class and indecent. Although she lives off of Hank's money, she maintains strong relations with the movers and the shakers of the corrupt system and supports their ideology. Lillian's ultimate goal is to control her husband socially; she gets a chance to do so when she discovers that he has a lover, but her plan fails.

Dr. Robert Stadler

Founder of the State Science Institute, an establishment of scientific research which was supposed to be free of governmental influence; however, this changes in the corrupt society. Stadler, once famous for saying, "Free scientific inquiry? The first adjective is redundant," used to teach physics at the Patrick Henry University and had the same three brilliant students who later started the rebellion against the corrupt system. In fact, Stadler and Akston used to compete for the three students, but Akston won with his philosophy of logic and purpose. In turn, Stadler eventually gets caught in the compromise between his Institute work and the governmental corruption, which uses his research facility to create a deadly weapon, proportionate to the atomic bomb. He rationalizes his participation in it until the end.

Dagny Taggart

Dagny, in Rand's words, is both her epitome of an ideal woman, and "[her]self, with any possible flaws eliminated." She is resolute, intelligent, ambitious, adventurous and strong; in her thirties, she is the vice president in charge of operation who actually runs Taggart Transcontinental, the family business inherited by her weak and indecisive brother. In the existing social system, Dagny is a threat because she functions on the principle of capitalism: she works for her money, takes chances on new and possibly profitable inventions (such as Rearden Metal), and values her workers and business partners on the sole basis of their job performance. The railroad is Dagny's purpose, her life's work, and her pride, but although her competence and toughness earn her respect of her workers, the communist supporters (including her brother) condemn her as selfish, unfeeling, unfeminine, and materialistic. At the same time, however, they rely on her skill to provide the services they are not capable of carrying out.

Since her childhood, Dagny was aware that the family railroad was to be her life; she excelled in her engineering studies and worked her way up in the company, where nobody expected her to be so successful in running the place. An uncompromising capitalist with firm moral beliefs, Dagny can only love men who share her views: her childhood friend and first lover, Francisco d'Anconia; her business associate Hank Rearden; and finally the leader of the revolution and her ideological soul-mate, John Galt.

As the country begins to falter, Dagny fights courageously not only for her railroad, but for everything good and productive in human civilization. When she becomes aware that there is a "destroyer" who talks all the competent businesspeople into quitting, she goes after him and even crashes into his secret headquarters; she is the only person to succeed in finding John Galt. Dagny is the last person Galt manages to recruit from the decaying old world.

James Taggart

Dagny's older brother James Taggart (also known as Jim) is an example of a failed individual by Rand's standards. Jim is the president of the railroad who got the position on the basis of tradition instead of merit. He is a weak, indecisive, malevolent man who fears change and responsibility. Therefore, the ideology of the existing political order works for him, and he supports the directives that make him better off than his competitors. The corruption ultimately hurts his company along with the rest of the country's economy, but he does not mind as long as nobody blames him.

Jim hates and fears his sister and her friends and considers them cruel users of the people, but he is also aware of their powerful ability to make the industry work, which he cannot do. He joins the communist majority and takes pleasure in seeing Dagny suffer under the legislative regime he supports; the degradation of others is his only source of self-confidence. He even marries a poor salesgirl to have someone who would always look up to him.

Nathaniel Taggart

Dagny's famous ancestor, the founder of Taggart Transcontinental, whose life is a hard-core declaration of laissez-faire capitalism. Dagny often finds inspiration in his larger-than-life statue in the concourse of the Taggart Terminal.

The Wet Nurse

A nickname given to a boy fresh out of college who is government-appointed to oversee Rearden Steel and make sure that Hank's business runs according to the regulations. Although he espouses the current ideology, the boy begins to admire Hank and his work ethics. He is the example of the social corruption in education, which apparently can be reversed with hands-on experience of "honest work."

Eddie Willers

Dagny's assistant at the Taggart Transcontinental, he is an efficient and dedicated worker, extremely loyal to his childhood friend Dagny. Eddie unknowingly reveals all of her plans and business secrets to an anonymous railroad worker, who turns out to be John Galt.


Individual vs. Society

The very title of Atlas Shrugged illustrates the rebellion of one person against the system. It evokes the image of the mythological giant whose job in the universe is to hold the world on his shoulders—until he shrugs and lets it fall. Likewise, the revolutionary John Galt exemplifies the conflict of one against many when he starts a rebellion against the entire system of corruption that has taken over the world.

Several characters—who eventually end up on Galt's side—experience the feeling of fighting society alone. Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden often perceive their position as that of solitary crusaders, trying to prevent the collapse of the world by gathering as many capable industrialist leaders as possible for their struggle. Rand makes it quite clear that her celebration of individualism requires her heroes and heroines to become isolated: Dagny is the only effective executive at the Taggart Transcontinental, always fighting with her brother and the board of directors to let her keep the railroad running. Hank faces the same prospect as he tries to preserve his business from the industrial looters; when he is put on trial for selling more metal to one of his customers than regulations allow, he stands up to the judicial system alone.

Isolation is another requirement in the struggle, since the secret of the revolution must remain among the people already devoted to the cause. Thus, the new world must be carefully hidden from intruders in the depth of the mountains. With the individualist aspects of the revolution comes a necessary sacrifice of one's social ties. None of the rebels can share their knowledge with their friends and family members, unless those individuals are deemed ready for the conversion to Galt's cause.


Hank Rearden is the most guilt-ridden character in the novel. In the process of his conversion to Galt's revolution, Rand develops the Objectivist theory of guilt and explains how this emotion is used by the establishment as a means of social control. Guilt is isolated as a tool that keeps individuals tied to the parasitic elements of the community. According to the establishment, since "people" in general are not as skilled and capable as the novel's successful capitalists, it is the duty of those who can produce goods and services to take care of the needy—because they should feel guilty for being successful in the first place.

At the beginning of the novel, Hank feels guilty because he does not have any interest in his family's pastimes and opinions. To redeem himself, he lets them live in his house and spend his money. When his mother asks him to give his incompetent brother a job at the mills, however, Hank refuses to be drawn into a family obligation that would jeopardize his business. Although he is not ashamed of his business, Hank still feels guilty for his apparent lack of compassion. His friendship with Francisco d'Anconia eventually takes away his sense of guilt, as Francisco teaches him to apply the same standards he has in business to the relationships in his life.

Hank also struggles with guilt about sexuality. After the first night he spends with Dagny Taggart, Hank reproaches both his lover and himself for the base desire of their bodies (which he has learned to despise in his marriage); his guilt almost makes him destroy the relationship with the only woman he loves. When Hank's wife finds out about his mistress, she denies him divorce. Instead, she plans to stay in his life to remind him how depraved and dishonorable he really is whenever he feels any pride for his business achievements. According to Galt, however, the perception of body and soul as separate is another myth produced by the establishment: "They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost—yet such is their image of man's nature."

During his trial for the illegal sale of Rearden Metal to Ken Danagger, Hank finally pinpoints the purpose of guilt in the judicial system, which needs his cooperation to victimize him. Once he refuses to cooperate, the society is powerless and cannot harm him.

Morals and Morality

According to Rand, the question of what is moral when the individual functions in a corrupt system is problematic. This is illustrated in the ideological conflict between Dagny Taggart and John Galt, who appear to be on the same side according to their beliefs and emerging love for each other, although they oppose each other throughout the novel. The battle between these two characters is parallel to the larger struggle of Galt's revolution against the parasitic world; however, the communist principles described in Atlas Shrugged are ideologically contrary to those espoused by Galt and Dagny. These two kinds of conflict illustrate Rand's understanding of morality, as determined by social and individual standards.

Atlas Shrugged praises capitalist work ethics as inherently moral, since (as Rand's protagonists often point out) the capitalist workers gain profit that is proportionate to their labor, skill, and merit. On the other hand, Rand criticizes communism as a corrupt system, which gives undeserved chances to the unworthy workers on the basis of human equality and compassion for those in need. In the communist system Rand depicts, the damage to the economy caused by the needy's lack of skill and responsibility must be ameliorated from another source: the productive, successful businesses that function according to capitalist standards. The society uses the capitalists' own guilt as a tool of control; at the same time, the legislature implements a number of laws and directives compelling them to participate in the system. Rand also argues that the legislative apparatus allows for many loopholes, used by incompetent businesspeople to eliminate competition and to profit from the work of economic "Atlases" who keep supporting the parasitic society. This is the center of hypocrisy in Atlas Shrugged: while pretending that the existing social order is concerned with the benefit of the entire population, the administrative ruling class lets the community sink into decay while the looters are getting rich.

Topics for Further Study

  • Rand was the originator of Objectivist philosophy, embodied in Atlas Shrugged. Did Objectivism ever gain acceptance in mainstream philosophy? Why or why not?
  • Compare and contrast the Objectivist principles, listed in John Galt's radio address, to those of prominent communist philosophers such as Karl Marx. What are the main differences between these two ideologies? How does each view the purpose of human life and work?
  • Research the political systems of the 1950s United States and the Soviet Union and compare the differences between the two countries in their government's regulations of businesses. How do these governmental approaches compare to the establishment's directives in Atlas Shrugged?
  • Research the life of a well-known and successful businessperson in today's America, for example Donald Trump, Bill Gates, or Madonna. Compare and contrast his or her path toward success, attitudes, and professional ethics to those of Rand's protagonists, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Do today's entrepreneurs function by the same standards as Rand's heroes? What are the differences? Do you think they are justified?
  • Compare the utopia of John Galt's valley to present-day capitalist America, citing specific examples. Would Rand approve of the United States economy of today? Why or why not?

Dagny and Galt oppose the described social establishment; they both believe in the morality of capitalism. Dagny remains in the existing system and struggles to prevent its collapse, out of concern for the people and businesses who would be hurt. Galt, however, abandons the country in decay and embarks upon its complete destruction so that the new world can be born. Although both Dagny and Galt operate according to capitalist principles, the effects are different: because Taggart Transcontinental is trapped in the corrupt civilization, all of Dagny's efforts ultimately only serve the social looters she is trying to fight. Galt's work, on the other hand, exists in his utopian world and is untouched by the problems of society. Although both characters are portrayed as moral according to their work ethics, they will consider each other's activities harmful until they agree on the necessary death of one world for the benefit of the other.


Point of View

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand efficiently uses a third-person narrative that most often comes from the limited omniscient perspective of one of her protagonists. Thus, the reader knows everything that is going on in the life and mind of one character, until the focus shifts to another. The two characters on whom Rand focuses most often are Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden: the story evolves around their memories, impressions, thoughts, and feelings, and the plot follows their actions. This approach helps lead the readers to understand and identify with the character whose life they perceive in such intimate detail. Moreover, through third—instead of first-person point of view—these major characters seem to be presented objectively. This device makes the author's claims about the novel's social systems seem more effective: readers who identify with Dagny and Hank are compelled to agree with their (and Rand's) opinions in the novel, and to experience their "conversion" to John Galt's revolution in their own beliefs.

For the sake of contrast, Rand occasionally shifts the point of view to let the reader in on the thoughts of less central characters (e.g., Eddie Willers, Jim Taggart, Dr. Robert Stadler) to represent different attitudes towards the political issues discussed in the novel. The portrayal of the "villains" in the novel is markedly condescending and negative; however, their perspective shows how seductive the ruling communist ideology can be and why it poses such a threat.


The symbols in Atlas Shrugged are abundant starting from the title: Atlas, the mythological giant who carries the world on his shoulders, symbolizes the class of capitalist workers whose work carries the weight of national and global economy, while the parasitic communist system reaps the fruits of their achievements. The prominent symbol of the capitalist order that recurs in the novel is the dollar sign: it is repeatedly cited by the corrupt communist characters in the novel as the emblem of evil. Capitalist industrialists are condemned by the society because they only believe in money and do not think that those capable of producing have an obligation to support those who are not.

The dollar sign is also the official symbol of John Galt's revolution: he makes the sign in the sky when his fight is over. Dagny even attempts to track him down by following his mysterious brand of cigarettes with the sign of the dollar stamped by the filter. The cigarette is another symbol in the novel: the author describes it as "fire, a dangerous force, tamed at [man's] fingertips" and compares it to "a spot of fire alive in [a thinker's] mind." Another spot of fire in the novel, Wyatt's torch, symbolizes the rebellious spirit of the individual reigning over the darkness of a society that opposes reason.

Critic Ronald E. Merrill notes Rand's use of Jewish symbolism throughout the novel. According to the Talmudic doctrine, thirty-six just men are the minimum needed to keep Sodom and Gomorrah from divine wrath. Interestingly, the great sin of Sodom was not sexual perversion but collectivism—just like the communist world in Atlas Shrugged. The exact number of "just men" withdrawn from the world and named in the description of Galt's valley is thirty-six. Similarly, Hank's gift of a precious ruby necklace to Dagny echoes the proverb "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies" (Proverbs 31:10).


Using the technique of allusion, or indirect reference, Rand evokes the concept of utopia—a notion created by Sir Thomas More in the sixteenth century to present an alternative society as a means of critiquing one's own society. The communist society in the novel represents a failed utopia: ideally a perfect system that grants happiness to all through to the equal distribution of goods, instead the communist society collapses in its own ineptitude and becomes hell instead of the promised paradise. John Galt's new world, however, suggests the possibility of another utopia, outside the boundaries of the existing corrupt order where competent individuals can create and produce freely, without being exploited by their peers.

Early descriptions of the new world allude to characters and places from myths and legends. One of the rumors about Galt's identity is a mythological allusion to the man who has discovered the lost island of Atlantis, but had to desert all his worldly possessions in order to live there in perfect happiness. Another fantastic rumor claims that Galt was a man who discovered the fountain of youth, but realized that he could not bring it to the people: they had to reach it themselves. The third calls Galt a Prometheus who changed his mind: after giving people the gift of fire and being punished for it, he withdrew the fire until they withdrew the punishment. Each of these references, rooted in the legendary, depicts Galt as a heroic, mythical character; they also symbolize parts of his philosophy and sacrifices needed in his quest. Like the lost island of Atlantis, Galt's new world cannot be reached until one leaves behind everything that is trapped in the decaying old world. Likewise, as the fountain of youth is immovable, the reborn capitalist establishment is only available to those who can reach it themselves. Finally, Promethean fire is symbolized by the offering of everything that an individual produces, but the offering ends up withdrawn from the vultures of corruption until the punishment for capitalist success stops.

Historical Context

The Red Scare

Atlas Shrugged, although clearly set in the imaginary communist equivalent of the United States, lacks orientation in time. As Ronald E. Merrill notes, "The American economy seems, structurally, to be in the late nineteenth century, with large industrial concerns being sole proprietorships run by their founders. The general tone is however that of the 1930s, a depression with the streets full of panhandlers. The technological level, and the social customs, are those of the 1950s. And the political environment, especially the level of regulation and the total corruption, seems to anticipate the 1970s. We are simultaneously in a future in which most of the world has gone Communist, and the past in which England had the world's greatest navy."

Nonetheless, the novel's clear warning against the economic and political immorality of communism reflects the America's fear of the growth of the Communist Party in the 1950s, which resulted in the Red Scare. After World War II, the Soviet Union went from being an American ally to being an undeclared enemy due to the threat of a nuclear war. The two countries, weighed against each other as the only remaining world superpowers, kept a tentative political balance in a period known as the Cold War. As a reaction to the growing fear of everything Russian, the Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy formed the House Un-American Activities Committee, a council whose purpose was to investigate anything and anybody suspected for any reason of communist beliefs or connections to the Soviet Union. The result was an ample number of interrogations, blackmails, arrests, and threats, and the extreme censorship of individual freedom. Although Rand stated her support for the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and openly spoke against communism, she later condemned the committee members as intellectually deficient headline chasers who had forgotten the ultimate importance of individual rights in their blind pursuit.

America's (A)moral Crisis

In her review of the 1950s in the United States, Stacey Olster describes the nation's intellectual mood as culturally anemic: although opposed to the communist ideology of the Soviet Union, the country's intellectuals accepted the American alternative merely as a "lesser evil." The country's thinkers, including Rand, feared that the complacent nation would incline toward conformism. As one of the responding voices to the 1952 "Our Country and Our Culture" symposium stated, the 1950s were the period of "waiting in darkness before what may be a new beginning and morning, or a catastrophic degradation of civilization," quotes Olster.

At the time Rand was working on Atlas Shrugged, her greatest fear was the aforementioned catastrophe: that the United States would succumb to dangerous collectivism and end up letting in socialist ideas through the back door of its weak, if not non-existent, cultural ideology. According to Rand, America of the 1950s did not have a social backbone. In Capitalism: An Unknown Ideal, she said the country's conservatism and liberalism were loosely defined concepts that "could be stretched to mean all things to all men." Rand's theoretical writings of the time describe capitalism in the United States as lacking a philosophical base, because the country did not have an original culture. In response to this lack, Rand declared she would invent these missing cultural foundations in her fiction. As a result, Atlas Shrugged became her ultimate expression of the Objectivist logic which she saw as the only salvation for America; in fact, Rand would reply to the critics who questioned her about Objectivism that all they wanted to know was in the novel.

Anxiety and Affluence

With Europe still rebuilding from World War II and using the funds from the Marshall Plan, America was the number one manufacturing power in the 1950s. The country's financial stability, as well as its pride over the defeat of the Nazi powers, created a national attitude characterized by a mix of contentment with material comforts and altruism. Inflation was low, the suburbs were expanding, and the Interstate Highway Act (1956) made touring in the car far more pleasurable—Howard Johnson's made eating on the road better too. When Atlas Shrugged was published, several reviewers criticized Rand's vision of a decaying America as absurd at a time of national prosperity; others also condemned her scorn of charity as non-Christian and inhuman.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1950s: Mao Zedong starts the Great Leap Forward in the People's Republic of China, placing more than half a billion peasants into "people communes." They are guaranteed food, clothing, shelter, and child care, but deprived of all private property.

    Today: China is one of the few nations in the world whose government is still modeled on Marxist ideology. China has reformed its economy and applied for inclusion in the World Trade Organization.
  • 1950s: The Treaty of Rome removes mutual tariff barriers, uniting Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands into the European Economic Community. The EEC is planned to promote the European economy and make it more competitive with Britain and the United States.

    Today: The EEC has become the European Union (EU), with seven additional members: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The Euro is the shared monetary unit this market.
  • 1950s: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the world's first human-made Earth satellite. A month later, Sputnik II is launched with a live dog on board. The New York Times correspondent in Moscow hears a Russian say, "Better to learn to feed your people at home before starting to explore the moon."

    Today: The United States is exploring the possibility of water on the moon in order to support colonization. A probe has been launched to observe an asteroid in order to gain knowledge about how to deflect one should it head towards Earth.
  • 1950s: First seen in an Easter march at Alder-maston, England, the symbol for total nuclear disarmament introduced by English philosopher Bertrand Russell will become a universal peace symbol. However, Washington does not accept the plan for a denuclearized zone in central Europe, and Britain follows suit in May.

    Today: Despite the growing number of generals and scientists who are calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons, the United States shows no sign of considering this idea or even ratifying a non-proliferation treaty.

Critical Overview

The publication of Atlas Shrugged was eagerly awaited by Rand's fans, who adopted Objectivism with her previous work, The Fountainhead, but it seems that her critics expected her next novel with equal anticipation. Atlas Shrugged produced more written commentary than any of Rand's other publications; like the rest of Rand's work promoting Objectivism, the novel inspired rather heated responses. When Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, it was immediately established as a highly controversial literary work: while some critics labeled it downright fascist, others praised its scope and philosophical depth. Rand was accused of writing in caricatures and oversimplifications, and trying to pass her political views poorly masked in an unrealistic story; her work was called hateful, destructive, and un-Christian. Patricia Donegan wrote for Commonweal that "whatever power Miss Rand has as a writer is expressed in an immense hostility, a real malevolence that takes joy in the sight of destruction." Another critic, Granville Hicks for the New York Times Book Review, suggested that the massive size of Rand's novel served "as a battering ram" to crush the "enemies of [her] truth."

Perhaps Rand's most fervent critic, Whittaker Chambers reviewed Atlas Shrugged in his essay "Big Sister Is Watching You," calling the novel "re-markably silly," "primitive story-telling," "a soapbox for delivering her Message" (which, he notes, Rand got from Aristotle and Nietzsche), and a work that yells to its readers to head for the gas chamber. Chambers deconstructed each facet of the novel, calling it simplistic, naive, incongruous, and condescending in the tone it uses to lecture its readers.

A more moderate attack came from John Chamberlain in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, who praises the novel as "vibrant and powerful" but admonishes Rand for her opposition to altruism. Chamberlain's appreciation for the book's main political parable and its intense, purified characters is clouded by Rand's lack of Christian compassion.

Some critics disapproved of Rand's disturbing view of the United States. "[O]ne tries in vain to project the world of Atlas Shrugged from the familiar world of contemporary America. There is no connecting link. On what grounds, for example, does Miss Rand postulate a failing economy?—the American economy today is booming. She does not say," objected Ruth Chapin Blackman in an article for the Christian Science Monitor. Blackman also criticized the novel's melodramatic and unconvincing plot.

On the other hand, Atlas Shrugged also received an abundance of positive criticism. In her essay for College English, Mimi R. Gladstein called the book "philosophically feminist" and praised the character of Dagny Taggart: "She is the head of a railroad. She has sexual relationships with three men and retains their love and respect. She is not demeaned or punished for her emancipation, sexual or professional…. She is a rarity in American fiction—a heroine who not only survives, but prevails." Gladstein explored the relationships in the novel and the logic Rand infused into the description of each romance, especially the author's refusal to accept sacrifice as a positive aspect of love. The novel's protagonists are also lovers that defy the division between body and mind/soul, another aspect of Rand's philosophy that Gladstein commended.

In his book on Rand's ideas, Ronald E. Merrill praised Atlas Shrugged for its manifold literary construction and compelling character portrayal: "A complete, radically new philosophy is expounded, and with astonishing clarity. The practical implications of philosophical ideas are illustrated on every level, from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics to politics to economics to esthetics. The novel's plot is a miracle of organization. And with all this, the book is a thrilling page-turner." Merrill also noted that, in 1957, it was a truly radical notion to make a business entrepreneur a fictional hero; Rand lived in an environment that regarded businesspeople with some contempt. As for the book's richness of issues, Merrill suggested that Atlas Shrugged should be regarded "as a sort of magical box full of tightly folded intellectual origami, each of which should be carefully opened, contemplated, and cherished." He also analyzed the construction and plot placement of each major character, pointing out the intricate web of connections between ideas and consequences throughout the novel.

Finally, Stacey Olster questioned Rand's feminism but emphasized her sensitivity to the issues of the times, especially the fear of communism and the national sense of dispirited complacency. Having noted a few historical slip-ups in Atlas Shrugged (e.g. the dollar sign, far from being originally American, was taken from the Spanish milled dollar), Olster's essay concludes with a quote from one of Rand's former disciples on the controversial issue of Objectivist influence: "Look how much she had to offer! Look at how much I was learning! If she got a little berserk now and again, so what?"


Jeremy W. Hubbell

Hubbell is a graduate student in History at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. In the following essay, he explores how Rand's technique of dialogue and character development support the philosophy of Objectivism.

Ayn Rand was extremely proud of Atlas Shrugged: she often said that her last novel was a perfect fictional presentation of her philosophy of Objectivism, and even directed inquisitive critics to read the novel if they had any questions about her theories. Indeed, the protagonists of Rand's "Bible of Objectivism" embody and thoroughly explain the principles the author considered sacred: individualism, morality, reason, judgment, self-sufficiency, and freedom from guilt. The most complete explanation of Rand's philosophy in Atlas Shrugged is undoubtedly John Galt's 60-page speech, but the ideas that support and expand the scope of the Objectivist outlook onto other aspects of life are presented gradually by her other characters. Francisco d'Anconia, Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, and many minor characters contribute to the construction of the Objectivist outline in the novel; they teach, learn, discover, and struggle with Rand's principles, growing through interactions with each other as well as through conflicts with their enemies in the society. While Hank and Dagny are the most prominent "learners" among the novel's characters, Francisco and Galt serve primarily as teachers. The process of the characters' budding awareness of the social, psychological, and philosophical factors in their lives is illustrated in Rand's effective use of dialogue.

Often called one of Rand's most appealing fictional personalities, Hank Rearden is a man without much introspection at the beginning of Atlas Shrugged: he heads the group of characters who have to go through much learning before they embrace the novel's Objectivism. Hank has a good basis for his further Objectivist development: he is a self-made and self-educated industrialist, with enviable abilities, an inventor's spirit (he creates the miraculous Rearden Metal himself), and a perfectionist attitude towards his work. From the start, Hank is an example of Rand's heroic business entrepreneur, a proponent of the capitalist system and the justly earned triumph such a system enables. He enjoys his possessions, because they are the results of many years of hard work, but his pride in personal achievements is marred by his self-imposed guilt, upheld by his parasitic family and a manipulative wife. Because the closest people in his life keep telling him that his attention to business rather than to people is evil and selfish, Hank develops a deeply rooted sense of deficiency as a human being, convinced that he lacks compassion.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Every utopian text draws, if only a little, from Sir Thomas More's classic original. Utopia, published in the sixteenth century at the bloom of English Humanism, criticizes the existing social, political, and religious order in Europe from the viewpoint of an imaginary perfect society based on reason.
  • Anthem, Ayn Rand's 1938 novella, served as a basis for her further publications. A parable of Objectivist philosophy, it presents the ideology and the basic plot of Atlas Shrugged in a nutshell.
  • In her first critically acclaimed novel, The Fountainhead, Rand's hero Howard Roark explores and celebrates the morality of individualism and egoism in the world of architecture. The novel, published in 1943, ensured Rand's principle of Objectivism a cult following.
  • We the Living was Rand's semi-autobiographical first novel, published in 1936. Begun only four years after her arrival in the United States, it is Rand's fulfillment of a promise given to the friends she left behind that she would tell the world about Russia's slow death. Kira, the young woman in the story and Rand's alter ego, struggles for love and survival under the communist regime.
  • The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand's 1964 non-fictional publication consisting of several of her theoretical essays, spells out her philosophical principles from selfishness and ethics to purpose and morality, as described in her novels.
  • Another writer who dared to make a business entrepreneur his fictional hero in the 1950s was Cameron Hawley. His 1952 novel, Executive Suite, tells the story of a man's struggle to maintain a major company after the CEO's sudden death.

As Galt will eventually point out, however, Hank's real guilt lies in the fact that he does not question the rational impulse of injustice that he feels whenever a member of his family calls him egotistic and unfeeling. In the Objectivist doctrine, reasoning and judgment are imperative in one's self-awareness. Instead, Hank accepts the guilt they impose on his lack of interest and respect for their lives, and does not question whether he is right in dismissing their concerns as unimportant. The novel eventually reveals that each of his family members is a useless ingrate, feeding off of Hank's own sense of obligation to the bond of blood rather than the Objectivist bond between people of same values. According to Rand, a person is what a person does: one's values are inextricable from one's work ethics, which is why Hank can only feel love for the businesspeople he can trust.

The theme of guilt imposed by one's family appears in Dagny's biography as well, although she does not accept it. Mrs. Taggart tries to make her daughter "normal" by motherly advice on femininity, and the rest of her relations mourn the girl's unnatural aspirations and development, but Dagny never falters in her single determination: to run the family railroad. The only relative she respects is Nathaniel Taggart, her ancestor who built the railroad business with extraordinary determination. Dagny's dedication to the railroad is not inspired by its family tradition; rather, she loves the business because of its nature of human inventiveness, production, and motion. If family were important to Dagny, she would be concerned about Jim Taggart's opinions; luckily, Rand's heroine never pays attention to her inept brother's reactions to her threatening adequacy.

In fact, both Dagny and Hank become aware of greater social evils through their arguments with family members. Hank shocks his mother when he refuses to hire his incompetent brother only because he is a human being who needs a job, but the national legislature eventually legalizes the hiring on the basis of need. As Dagny realizes in one of her confrontations with Jim, he supports the censuring directives that eliminate the competitive market because he is weak himself and does not like to compete, especially with his sister. Nonetheless, the government passes a law that cuts down the production of successful businesses so that the smaller ones will not be destroyed by the competition, even though there is a greater demand for goods and services than the legislature allows. In both cases, Rand bases the faults of the communist system on personal failings: individual immorality, exemplified in Hank's mother's claim of brotherly obligation and in Jim's need to restrict his environment to his own level, is at the root of the political evil that eventually destroys the country.

As the pressure increases and industrial entrepreneurs begin to see the organization of their elusive social enemy, Dagny and Hank are offered alternatives. Francisco, Galt's revolutionary who operates against the system under the guise of a reckless playboy, steps on the stage and confronts the social parasites with the contradictions of their own beliefs. When Jim attacks him for the disaster at the San Sebastian copper mines in Mexico, which cost his investors a fortune, Francisco replies that the catastrophe was actually a blessing: workers were employed and paid for months without much work to do; the contractor, although unqualified, really needed the job; and the wealth of the investors was distributed to the needy poor. Plus, Francisco adds, they should be thanking him from liberating them from the root of all evil—money. He continues by questioning this assertion, however, and concludes that there is nothing evil about money, because it is only a symbol used for exchange. The evil is the shame people feel when they are making money, shame caused by unjust social condemnation. Thus, Francisco's logic teaches those who actually listen to him about the faults in the so-called altruistic approach, which dismisses the value of work and glorifies the virtue of need. Rand thus explains the Objectivist principle of self-sufficiency and honest labor as inherently moral.

Nevertheless, neither Dagny nor Hank (although they both feel a bond with Francisco) is ready to accept completely the philosophy behind the secret revolution. Hank, already preconditioned to feel guilt, is bound by his love for Dagny; when his wife uses the information about their affair to blackmail Hank, he succumbs. However, between the beginning of the affair and the blackmail incident, Hank's feelings about Dagny gradually change: he starts the relationship almost against his own wishes, tortured by guilt for what he perceives as depravity in himself, and thinking that his physical desire is base and vilifying. Dagny, on the other hand, has never considered mind and body as separate; she enjoys the pleasures of their relationship fully and does not see sex as detached from the rest of her personality. The change in Hank's attitude and his full acceptance of his sexuality happens in another conversation, another lecture with Francisco, who explains Rand's Objectivist application to sex. According to Francisco, people only want the lovers who exemplify what they are striving for in life. Thus, Hank's desire for everything that Dagny is transcends the mere limitations of bodily lust.

According to Rand and Objectivism, a person's pursuit of happiness is the top priority in life. Dagny realizes early on that the joy she was expected to feel at parties in her youth does not come from the lavish interiors, beautiful music, and expensive food; instead, the only true joy is that of the creative human spirit, and the only people who enjoy parties are those who have some accomplishment to celebrate. Of course, the happiness must be of the right kind. Jim's happiness at finding a poor girl to marry so that he'll always have someone to look down upon is abusive and destructive. However, Rand makes another differentiation: when Hank feels exhilarated after Wyatt burns down his refinery so that it does not fall into the parasites' hands, he is also aware of the danger of feeling joy at the sight of destruction. But the destruction of an achievement which, in the corrupt system, can only be used against its creators, is actually a constructive act, Rand suggests. This lesson is the hardest one to learn: Dagny is the last to join the revolution, because she is too devoted to the railroad and cannot bear to see it destroyed. But her final awareness comes when the old world literally collapses in panic, and the world leaders use brute force to try to persuade Galt to salvage their economy.

Some of the most striking moments of philosophical awakening in the novel occur in conversations between the protagonists and their social enemies. As Hank notices early on, the very process of dialogue is one of the weapons of the corrupt system: the faults of the establishment and its criminal activities are never named, because the power of the uttered word could shake up the illogical foundations of communist ideology. Also, words are actions in the lives of executives, and in the decaying world of Atlas Shrugged, only the competent are capable of making decisions.

Another way in which language is used by social parasites is to make the issues as elusive as possible. Repeatedly Hank and Dagny confront contractors who offer excuses and collectivist slogans rather than completed work; the state institutes condemn, in vague terms, new inventions that could shake up the economy by advancing specific companies; the government agents who threaten business operations avoid clearly presented ultimatums; and even blackmailers do not name the threat they want to impose. Hank challenges the system that requires the victim's verbal participation in his own execution: in his trial for the sale of illegal quantities of steel to a customer, Hank refuses to admit guilt as such on the basis that the definition of guilt is wrong. The disabled system, which needs his capable business to leech on, sets him free. Through sometimes tiring repetition of clear versus ambiguous language, Rand depicts the all-pervading nature of immorality by Objectivist standards; her heroes, however, convey the clarity and simplicity of her philosophy in the end.

Atlas Shrugged describes with painstaking detail the deterioration of a political system whose faults are rooted in personal shortcomings. Through her protagonists, Rand makes a binding connection between the individuals in society who wish to preserve their creative and productive freedoms, and the members of the same society whose immorality (whether they are aware of it or not) causes destruction.

Source: Jeremy W. Hubbell, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.

Ronald E. Merrill

In the following excerpt, Merrill praises Atlas Shrugged for its complex literary style and compelling characterizations.

With the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957 Rand reached the destination of her intellectual journey—the Taggart Terminal. She had purged the last vestiges of Nietzsche's errors from her thinking, and completely integrated her ideas into her own philosophical system, Objectivism. The great question of her life, the dilemma of the rational person in an irrational society, at last was solved to her satisfaction. The concept of the "sanction of the victim" provided her answer—and provided also the key plot device, the strike of the men of the mind, for her greatest novel.

Atlas Shrugged, from a purely stylistic or literary point of view, is inferior to The Fountain-head. But as an intellectual achievement, it is far superior. A complete, radically new philosophy is expounded, and with astonishing clarity. The practical implications of philosophical ideas are illustrated on every level, from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics to politics to economics to esthetics. The novel's plot is a miracle of organization. And with all this, the book is a thrilling page-turner….

Rand described her fiction style as 'Romantic Realism'. She regarded herself as a Romantic in that her fiction dealt with ideal people and their pursuit of important values; and a Realist in that the settings of her stories and the issues they dealt with were those of real life rather than fantasy. This description is quite appropriate to most of her work. However, Atlas Shrugged marks somewhat of a departure. Stylistically, it represents a considerable change from We the Living and The Fountainhead, Building on the techniques with which she had experimented in Anthem, Rand made Atlas Shrugged a more abstract, conceptual, and symbolic work than her earlier novels; it might best be described as a work of Romantic Surrealism. The cover painting by George Salter accurately conveys the mood and style of the novel.

Atlas Shrugged takes place in the United States, and cities such as New York and Philadelphia are recognizable. But Rand goes to considerable pains to create an ambiance that is far from realistic. The United States of the novel has no President, but a "Head of State"; no Congress, but a "National Legislature". Most of the world is Communist, but this word does not appear in the book at all; instead, Communist countries are referred to as "People's States". The story takes place in no particular time, and in 'realistic' terms is a tissue of anachronisms. The American economy seems, structurally, to be in the late nineteenth century, with large industrial concerns being sole proprietorships run by their founders. The general tone is however that of the 1930s, a depression with the streets full of panhandlers. The technological level, and the social customs, are those of the 1950s. And the political environment, especially the level of regulation and the total corruption, seems to anticipate the 1970s. We are simultaneously in a future in which most of the world has gone Communist, and the past in which England had the world's greatest navy.

With a subtle choice in literary technique Rand adds to the effective mystery of the story. In The Fountainhead Rand adopts the universal viewpoint; we see inside the head of almost every significant character and many very minor ones. (The only important exception is Henry Cameron.) In Atlas Shrugged Rand uses what might be called a 'half-universal' viewpoint. We are told the thoughts of nearly every significant character, hero or villain—except the strikers.

In further contrast to Rand's other works, Atlas Shrugged is permeated with symbols—from Atlantis to Wyatt's Torch, from Galt's motor, which draws on the power of the lightning, to Nat Taggart's statue. The symbolic theme of the stopping motor provides a powerful motif throughout the book. And of course there is the famous dollar sign….

One of the paradoxes in Rand's style is her combination of extremely serious philosophical themes and a sense of humor that occasionally verges on the literary equivalent of the practical joke. In Atlas Shrugged one of her puckish tricks involves the sly use of Jewish symbolism and myth. For instance, considerable emphasis is laid on Rearden's gift to Dagny of a ruby necklace. It is hard to escape the allusion to the famous biblical quotation:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. [Proverbs 31:10]

But more interesting is her use of a Talmudic doctrine to provide the basic device of the book: The doctrine of the 36 Just Men. The idea of the 36 Just Men derives from the story, in Genesis, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, who resided in the former city, was warned by God to leave, as the place was condemned to destruction because of the evil of its inhabitants. Lot attempted to avert the catastrophe, promising to find other good men in the place; when he failed, he and his family left and the cities were destroyed.

It is interesting to note that—contrary to the popular misconception—the great sin of the Sodomites was not sexual perversion but collectivism. According to the Talmudic account, Sodom's egalitarian government institutionalized envy, even forbidding private charity because some recipients might get more than others. The judicial system was perverted into an instrument for expropriating the wealthy and successful. The ultimate crime for which the Sodomites were destroyed was placing envy and equality above benevolence and justice.

From the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jewish scholars evolved the idea that God would destroy the earth if ever it lacked some minimum number of good people. The exact number needed to avert His wrath was hotly debated, and finally settled, for numerological reasons, as 36.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand (who was Jewish by background, though not religious) takes as her theme the destruction of civilization when its 'just men' are withdrawn. The analogy with the 36 Just Men is striking, particularly when one notes that exactly 36 strikers are specifically identified in Galt's Gulch. An incident near the end of the story convinces me that the symbolism is intentional.

As Dagny, Galt, and the other strikers are returning to the valley after rescuing Galt, they pass over New York City. (This in itself is suggestive of some special significance, since New York is nowhere near the great circle route between New Hampshire and Colorado.) As they fly over, the lights of New York go out. Dagny gasps, and Galt orders, "Don't look down!"


Can this be the same John Galt who said, "Nobody stays in this valley by faking reality in any manner whatsoever."? The incident is totally out of character. And that's Rand's little joke; Galt is saving Dagny from being turned into a pillar of salt….

The plot of Atlas Shrugged is marvelously constructed, an intricate machine that meshes smoothly with the novel's philosophical themes.

There are, it must be conceded, some notable flaws. For instance, during his affair with Dagny, why does Francisco not tell her about his college friends—Galt and Danneskjold? Obviously this would make hash of the mystery element of the plot, so Rand simply makes Francisco behave out of character. Later she is forced to make Hugh Ak-ston lie to Dagny for the same reason.

A more serious problem is Galt's refusal to let Rearden learn that Dagny is alive, after her crash in the valley. As Nathaniel Branden has pointed out, this gratuitous cruelty does not reflect well on Galt—nor on Dagny. Apparently Rand regarded this incident as essential to the plot; Rearden's loyalty to values, as demonstrated by his continued search for Dagny, is a major factor in her motive for leaving the valley. But surely the dilemma could have been dealt with otherwise.

These are minor problems. Overall, the plot of Atlas Shrugged is one of the greatest accomplishments of world literature. Not only is it a masterpiece of logic in itself, but it integrates perfectly the needs of the story with Rand's exposition of a series of philosophical principles. And, with an absolutely insolent arrogance, as if to show off, Rand neatly organizes this extraordinarily complex book into three tidy, cleanly structured sections of ten chapters each.

To analyze the plot of Atlas Shrugged thoroughly would require far too much space. But we may consider the main strands.

The primary sequence is the story of how Dagny and Rearden discover the secret of the strike and are led to join it. On the political level, this is integrated with the account of the final destruction of statist society. On the personal level, it is integrated with Dagny's romantic involvement with Francisco, Rearden, and finally Galt. These three strands are braided into the primary plot-line of the novel.

Half-a-dozen subplots are woven into the structure. One is Francisco D'Anconia's Monte-Cristo-like crusade of destruction. Two follow the fates of minor heroes, Eddie Willers and Cherryl Brooks. Three more describe the degradation and destruction of the villains James Taggart, Lillian Rearden, and Robert Stadler. Is this pleasing symmetry intentional? Quite possibly….

The unifying principle of Atlas Shrugged is the connection between philosophical ideas and their consequences. It is worth examining one passage in detail to study Rand's technique. The primary incident in the chapter, 'The Moratorium on Brains', is the catastrophe at the Taggart Tunnel in which an entire passenger train is annihilated. At least one critic has cited this passage as evidence that Rand took a malicious, sadistic pleasure in killing (fictional) people. What is really involved here?

Rand makes the tunnel accident play an important role in the novel's plot mechanics. It brings Dagny back from her self-imposed exile so that she can receive Quentin Daniels' letter. It interrupts Francisco's explanation of the strike at a crucial point, and sets up the confrontation between Francisco and Hank Rearden in Dagny's apartment. The disaster also necessitates the journey that will put her on a frozen train and propel her into her meeting with John Galt.

The sequence also plays an important part in a more subtle aspect of the plot, by beginning the process of final preparation for Dagny to be confronted with the secret of the strike. The first step is Directive 10-289. Dagny's instinctive rejection of this irrational horror results in her resignation from Taggart Transcontinental. But this, to Rand, could not be a satisfactory resolution; Dagny must reach this stage of emotional revulsion, but she could not be Rand's heroine if she made her decision on the basis of emotion. What has been accomplished however is that Dagny (and the reader) have been presented with the solution to the novel's dilemma—the strike.

Dagny's resignation is followed by a month of meditation in the woods, in which for the first time her basic dilemma is made explicit. Then the pressure is turned up. Francisco appears to present her with the key concept of the sanction of the victim. It is at this point that the tunnel catastrophe intervenes. Francisco fails to recruit Dagny—because Dagny, having quit due to emotional revulsion, returns due to emotional revulsion.

It is important to understand that Dagny's emotional reaction to the disaster plays a critical role. She is not merely annoyed by a sublime piece of incompetence. She is not just outraged by the destruction of an important item of her railroad's property. She is horrified by the human destruction, the loss of life. Rand is building up here to a major, dual climax in the novel's plot: Dagny's discovery of the secret of the strike, and her meeting with John Galt. The tunnel catastrophe plays a key role in building the tension that will be (partially and temporarily) resolved in Galt's Gulch.

During this chapter Dagny is put under increasing emotional stress, until she nears the breaking point. Directive 10-289 drives her from her job in disgust—and separates her from Rearden (on whom it also puts pressure). Her month in the woods wrestling with an insoluble problem fo-cusses her emotional state. Then there is the astounding revelation that Francisco is in fact faithful to her—a scene interrupted by the report of the tunnel catastrophe. The sequence continues with the confrontation between Rearden and Francisco, which raises the tension of Dagny's sexual relationship with Rearden to a maximum. We can begin to see how masterfully Rand pulls these two strands of the plot together in preparation for Dagny's encounter with Galt.

But the Taggart Tunnel catastrophe is not merely an incident in the plot; it also functions as a demonstration of an important principle: the relationship between political oppression and the breakdown of social responsibility—and the consequent destruction of social function. Rand in this chapter provides us with a vivid picture of the way even everyday activities disintegrate when the men of ability and rationality are driven underground. This is the function of the scene on the book's philosophical or intellectual level.

Rand begins preparation for this scene early and carefully ties it into the other events of the plot. Early in the story we learn of the bad condition of the Taggart track near Winston, Colorado. Accidents happen on this stretch of the road. The need to repair it is casually mentioned. But it is merely a nuisance, a potential problem.

With Dagny's resignation, Rand begins her demonstration. First, the repairs at Winston are cancelled; the rail instead is used on the Florida line, which is more frequently travelled by politicians. This decision is allowed to stand—because Dagny is gone. Then the spare diesel at the Taggart Tunnel is withdrawn, again to please a politician. Eddie Willers attempts to stop it, but with Dagny gone he is helpless.

The process by which the accident happens is, to anyone acquainted with industrial safety principles, entirely realistic. It is exactly the sort of sequence which creates real-life disasters such as the Bhopal and Chernobyl accidents.

The petty politician Kip Chalmers, inconvenienced by a derailment near Winston, insists on immediate continuation of his journey—through the tunnel—though no diesel engines are available. The men of intelligence and integrity, who could prevent the ensuing catastrophe, are gone because of Directive 10-289, just as Dagny is. The best of those who remain are, like Eddie, of insufficient rank to intervene successfully. One by one, the safeguards set by rational men are violated by political appointees, driven by their fear of political reprisals.

It would take only one man to prevent the tragedy—but that one man is not present any more. The Superintendent of the Division has been replaced by an incompetent. Higher management, with Dagny gone, evades all responsibility. The one man who fights the disaster, Bill Brent, lacks authority. The physical order is signed by a boy who lacks knowledge.

So the inexorable march to disaster continues. The dispatcher knows he is sending men to their deaths. But he no longer cares; his beloved brother committed suicide, his career ruined by Directive 10-289. It appears that disaster may be averted when the chosen engineer walks out rather than take a coal-burner into the Tunnel—but a replacement is found, an alcoholic who kept his job by political pull and union corruption. The conductor, who might have warned the passengers, has become embittered and cynical; he limits his action to saving himself. Even the switchman might have averted the wreck at the last minute. But in the new environment of the railroad, he fears for his family if he disobeys orders, even to save lives.

So the Comet proceeds into the tunnel. And with magnificent irony Kip Chalmers, having succeeded in scaring the Taggart employees into sending him to his death, proudly proclaims, "See? Fear is the only effective way to deal with people!"…

By her own account, in Atlas Shrugged Rand finally succeeded in portraying her ideal man, John Galt. And indeed, she has met the challenge of showing completely moral persons in a way that she did not achieve in The Fountainhead, Dominique and Wynand are, as we have seen, contaminated by Nietzschean morality and the corresponding despair. Roark is morally perfect, but he is not a full ideal because he is naive. He is good without knowing fully why he is good. John Galt, however, has moral stature and philosophical knowledge.

Atlas Shrugged has a complex plot involving a number of major and minor heroic characters. Rand takes as her primary heroes the giants of intellect and productivity, particularly business entrepreneurs. The basic fabric of these characters derives from the hero of one of her favorite books, Merwin and Webster's Calumet K, Charlie Ban-non, an engineer and construction supervisor, a natural leader and compulsive worker who solves problems with effortless ingenuity, is described as skeletally thin. Appropriately, Rand fleshes out this skeleton with full personalities to create her business heroes.

The modern reader may not realize how radical it was, in 1957, to make a businessman a hero. It should be kept in mind that Rand wrote this book in an environment in which 'entrepreneur' was almost a dirty word. It is interesting to note, however, that there was one other significant writer of the period who defended businessmen, and who may have influenced Rand: Cameron Hawley.

In Hawley's second novel, Cash McCall (1955), the theme is ethical conflicts in business, and the author comes down squarely for the position that commerce is an honorable activity. Mc-Call is what would now be called a 'corporate raider', and Hawley skillfully depicts his economic value and productiveness.

Even more interesting for our discussion is the theme of Hawley's first novel, Executive Suite (1952). This is the story of a struggle for control of a major company after its CEO, Avery Bullard, suddenly dies. Here is the scene in which the hero, looking out over the company town, decides it is his responsibility to take over the leaderless corporation:

They were his … all of them … the uncounted thousands, born and unborn. If he failed them there would be hunger under those roofs … there had been hunger before when the man at the top of the Tower had failed them. Then there would be no food … and the belongings of the dispossessed would stand in the streets … and a man in a black coat would come to take the children to the orphans' home….

… Did the people under those roofs know what Av-ery Bullard had done for them? Did they realize that if it had not been for Avery Bullard there would be no Tredway Corporation … that the Pike Street plant would never have been built … that the Water Street factory would have rotted and rusted away like the steel mill and the tannery and the wagon works … that there would be no Tredway jobs, no Tredway paychecks?

No, they did not know … or, if they did, they would not acknowledge their belief … or, if they believed, they were not willing to pay the price of gratitude. Had any man ever thanked Avery Bullard for what he had done? No. He had died in the loneliness of the unthanked.

Don Walling accepted his fate. He would expect no thanks … he would live in loneliness … but the Tredway Corporation would go on. There would be jobs and pay checks. There would be no hunger. The belongings of the dispossessed would not stand in the streets. No children would be sent to the orphans' home.

Though the motives of Hawley's character are hardly those of an Objectivist, the theme of the entrepreneurial businessman as an unappreciated hero who gives society far more than can ever be repaid clearly prefigures Rand's use of the same theme. There is no external evidence to support it, but she may well have been influenced by Hawley's heroes. (She would certainly, however, have been disgusted by The Lincoln Lords [1960], which idealizes a man who bears no small resemblance to Peter Keating.)

Into the gray-suited bodies of her business executive heroes Rand poured the souls of her childhood idols from the melodramas she devoured as a girl. There resulted those extraordinary characters who have inspired so many of her young readers—especially the central heroes of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart and the three men who become her lovers: Francisco D'Anconia, Hank Rearden, and John Galt….

In Dagny Taggart Rand creates her ideal woman. Her earlier female protagonists are mostly Nietzschean and, as such, tragic figures. Dominique Francon, it is true, renounces her allegiance to Nietzsche, but this decision does not come until nearly the end of The Fountainhead, so that we can only project what her life and personality will be like as an Objectivist. Gaia, the teenaged heroine of Anthem, is not a well-developed character. It is only with the appearance of Dagny that we can see how Rand visualizes the 'ideal' woman.

Dagny, like the other heroes of Atlas Shrugged, is an incarnation of the virtue of competence. In her mid-thirties she is the de facto CEO of the country's largest railroad. Intelligent, decisive, self-confident, she embodies the prime characteristic of the natural leader: she is the person who knows what to do.

As one might expect from Rand's literary technique, Dagny's characterization is rooted in a seeming paradox. On the one hand, she appears neuter, if not masculine, in her aggressiveness and career dedication. Lillian Rearden describes her as "an adding machine in tailored suits". When Cherryl Taggart claims her place as the woman of the Taggart family, Dagny responds, "That's quite all right. I'm the man."

On the other hand, Dagny is an intensely feminine woman. (She is, in fact, the kind of woman who wears a dress and stockings to explore an abandoned factory!) She is attracted to strong, dominant men, and desires to play an explicitly submissive role in her sexual relationships.

The key to the seeming contradiction is that Dagny has repressed her sexuality in the hostile society in which she exists. Dagny's air of coldness and unemotional, pseudomasculine behavior are a consequence of her immersion in a society which contains nobody to whom she can respond naturally. This is hinted at in Rand's depiction of the Rearden anniversary party, at which Dagny is described as presenting a challenge which nobody can perceive. There is a vivid contrast between Dagny's unexpressed personality in the statist world and her temperament in Galt's Gulch, where she happily becomes—a housewife! That this was Rand's conscious intention is shown by her notes for Atlas Shrugged:

Dagny, who is considered so hard, cold, heartless, and domineering, is actually the most emotional, passionate, tender, and gay-hearted person of all—but only Galt can bring it out. Her other aspect is what the world forces on her or deserves from her.

Rand herself was profoundly ambivalent on the issue of feminism. She was a strong advocate of careers for women, of course, and said (in her Playboy interview), "There is no particular work which is specifically feminine." She endorsed (with some political reservations) Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. She was contemptuous of 'housewives' in general. On the abortion issue, Rand took a vigorously 'pro-choice' position.

Yet Rand could scarcely be classified as a feminist. Though most of her heroines lack interest in marriage and family life, there are exceptions. Gaia, in Anthem, shows no ambition beyond following her man, and is pregnant at the end of the novel. Rand sympathetically portrays the anonymous young woman who chooses motherhood as a 'profession' in Galt's Gulch, as well as Mrs. William Hastings, who appears to be a 'mere' housewife. Rand's notorious statement that a woman ought not to aspire to be President of the United States hardly sounds like feminism. And, in response to a question about her position (at her 1981 Ford Hall Forum appearance) she said, "I'm a male chauvinist."

Rand could hardly have meant by this—in a literal dictionary sense—that she exhibited "unreasoning devotion" to the male sex and contempt for the female sex. She did not say that men in general are superior to women. What, then, did she mean? Consider this:

Hero-worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack.

Later in the same essay, Rand says, "[the feminine woman's] worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as such". It appears that Rand would attach a special, exceptional value to 'masculinity' as 'the fact of being a man', and that she was a 'male chauvinist' in this sense. Rand is explicit that the feminine woman's desire to look up to man "does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority".

When we examine Rand's fictional heroines, we find that they certainly exhibit this intense admiration for the masculinity of their lovers. But, despite Rand's stated opinions, her fiction suggests that she regarded men as being inherently superior to women. Gaia, for instance, is far from being an intellectual equal of her mate. For that matter, Dominique does not seem to be quite a match for Howard Roark in ability, nor Dagny for John Galt.

All Rand's heroines are explicitly submissive in a sexual sense. Indeed, it is hard to avoid the suggestion of a certain degree of masochism in the physically vigorous couplings of Dagny and Rearden, in Faulkner's burning Karen Andre with hot platinum, and of course in Dominique's first sexual encounter with Roark.

Rand herself married a man who was far from being a John Galt in intellectual stature. Frank O'Connor, protective, nurturing, and pliable, gave her the emotional support of a husband without the inconvenient demands. She could pursue her career as she wished, and he accommodated her. Like Dagny, she was the man in her family.

But she really didn't want to be a man. Her struggle over the decades compelled her to become mannish in many ways; a 'womanly' woman could never have waged the war Rand fought. Yet through it all she battled to remain a woman. The desire to reclaim and assert her femininity, contends Barbara Branden, impelled her into the affair with Nathaniel Branden.

One can find a psychological explanation for Rand's portrayal of the sexes in her personal conflict. As a woman she longed for a mate who could match or even surpass her ability, a hero who would fill her need for romance and passion, a man who would dominate her sexually. Yet hero-worship has its obligations as well as its privileges; a marriage with a real-life John Galt, even if she could have found one, would have imposed demands she could never have accepted. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with her intellectual growth or achievements. Devastating as this paradox was to her personal happiness, its tension contributed to her art, in which she portrayed a series of fascinating man-woman relationships.

From a more abstract point of view, Rand's vision of men and women reflects her uncritical acceptance of the twentieth-century cliché that human behavior has no genetic component. Accepting that humans are born "tabula rasa"—blank slates—she could not develop a theory of sexuality that accounted for the inherent differences between the sexes in a coherent manner. As we will see, this contradiction also had its effect on the Objectivist ethics.

Rand may not have understood what made the male sex an ideal for her, but she knew what she liked, and the heroes of Atlas Shrugged demonstrate her vision of man at his best….

Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian D'Anconia is the favorite character of many readers of Atlas Shrugged. Like Dagny, he embodies a paradox: He is at once a man of extraordinary joie de vivre, gay, lighthearted, sophisticated; and a man of tragedy, frozen, unemotional, implacable.

The light side of Francisco embodies the sense of life that Rand aspired to, the unobstructed, effortless achievement of joy in a totally benevolent universe. As the young boy who can do anything, and do it superbly, who fears nothing and hates nobody, he presents an extraordinarily attractive figure.

The other side of the coin is the tortured but self-controlled man who allows no feeling or suffering to affect him, much less deflect him. His relentless pursuit of his terrible purpose invokes our awe and admiration.

We love Francisco precisely because of the union of these aspects of his personality. It was a stroke of artistic genius to create a character paradoxically embodying these disparate traits; and it is a tribute to Rand's literary skill that she could integrate them into a convincing personality….

Hank Rearden is older than the other major heroes of Atlas Shrugged. (He is 45 as the novel opens.) He also presents a different sort of inner conflict. Unlike Dagny, he feels a fundamental sense of guilt, which has been carefully nurtured over the years by his wife, the despicable Lillian. He has responded by emotional withdrawal.

It is critical to emphasize that Rand does not present Rearden's obsessive fixation with his business as an ideal. On the contrary, his struggle with emotional repression is a key thread of the plot.

We see Rearden, when he is first introduced, as a man who is interested in nothing but steel. He literally falls asleep when forced to deal with any other topic. The only hint that he is anything beyond a stereotypical workaholic is a jade vase in his office.

But this is not the real Rearden. As his affair with Dagny flowers, he expands as a person. Without losing his passionate commitment to his career, he begins to develop the full personality that he had so long repressed. He takes an interest in ideas, begins to express his love of beauty, becomes more relaxed and gay. As this process unfolds, his emotions open up. He finds himself able to love Dagny. He also responds more effectively to his cowork-ers; his relationship with his secretary, Gwen Ives, visibly expands and becomes more personal as his affair with Dagny progresses. And he is able to de-repress his resentment of, and contempt for, his worthless family.

Much of the novel is devoted to showing Rear-den's gradual emotional blossoming, as he responds to Dagny and to Francisco D'Anconia. This is a vital factor in the plot; before he can join the strikers, he must not only deal with his unearned guilt, but he must establish new, interpersonal values so that his mills are not the be-all of his life—otherwise he could not abandon them….

To depict an ideal man in a work of literature is a difficult assignment for any author. Few have attempted it; none have attempted such an ambitious ideal as does Rand.

John Galt, by the nature of the novel's plot, carries a heavy burden to start with. As the leader of the strikers, and the core of the novel's mystery element, he does not even appear on stage (except in disguise) until the last third of the book. We see him for two chapters; then he again disappears until the book's climax. Galt receives so little exposure to the reader that only Rand's superb technique can make him real at all.

Unfortunately, it is not quite sufficient to fully expand his character. John Galt, like Howard Roark, is too perfect to sustain a convincing internal conflict. Indeed, Galt was explicitly intended to represent man-become-god, and Rand deliberately avoided any details of characterization that might have made him seem more 'human' in the usual, self-deprecatory sense of the word. John Galt is Rand's ultimate answer to Nietzsche; he is an assertion that we need not evolve any 'superman', that man can become godlike himself if he so chooses.

But of course, the Randian paradox appears as always. John Galt, the ideal man, the pinnacle of the human species, is condemned to work underground, as a greasy laborer in the Taggart tunnels. This idea, that in a corrupt society the best men will be found at the bottom, plays a part in all of Rand's novels. Kira encounters Leo in a redlight district. In The Fountainhead Dominique discovers Howard Roark working, like a slave or a convict, in a quarry. The hero of Anthem is assigned as a street-sweeper and does his illicit scientific work in an abandoned subway tunnel—underground.

(An interesting inversion takes place in the strikers' valley. Galt, the lowly trackworker, becomes the revered leader of society. And Dagny, the wealthy executive, finds herself penniless and must find work as a maid.)

Galt was not merely Rand's ideal man; he was the projection of Rand herself. He verges on pure intellect; he is a philosopher and teacher; he is the leader of an intellectual movement; and he is, through most of his life, frustrated by the inability to find a partner worthy of him.

If John Galt sometimes seems more a symbol than a person, it reflects Rand's difficulty in visualizing her ideal man. When she tried, she ran up against the contradiction implicit in her tabula rasa model of humanity: to be an ideal man, John Galt would have to be inherently different from a woman. He would have to be distinctively male, not just a pure intellect happening to inhabit a male body. Just as Rand could not make herself fully female, so she could not make her ideal hero fully male. Her concept of humanity, for all its novel and perceptive insights, was incomplete….

Rand also creates an incredible rogues' gallery of villains, and provides them with some beautifully appropriate names: Wesley Mouch, Tinky Holloway, and Cuffy Meigs are classics. Floyd Ferris has just the right ring for the handsome, slick, and vicious scientist-bureaucrat. Robert Stadler's name gives a hint of the statist views which make him a villain. Perhaps best suited of all is that undistinguished politician Mr. Thompson, an old-fashioned gangster very similar in style to the weapon suggested by his name.

Though Rand has been criticized for creating two-dimensional villains, the fact is that she devotes considerable effort to digging into the psychology of evil. Three villains are analyzed in considerable depth: James Taggart, Lillian Rearden, and Robert Stadler.

Jim Taggart is visualized by most readers as short, fat, and ugly; some critics have even attacked Rand for making all her villains physically unprepossessing. This is a tribute to her skill; the actual description of Jim Taggart in the book is as tall, slim, and aristocratic in appearance. It is the reader who unconsciously visualizes him as ugly, giving him a physical appearance to fit his character.

For ugly he is—psychologically. A man of mediocre talent, he inherits control of Taggart Transcontinental. At the opening of the story, he is 39 and a neurotic whose response to the problems of the railroad he nominally heads is, "Don't bother me, don't bother me, don't bother me." Gradually we watch his psychological disintegration, until he ends up as a catatonic. He is unable to face the fact that he is "a killer—for the sake of killing", and psychosis is ultimately his only escape.

Lillian Rearden is a marvelous portrayal. She is a fitting foil for Dagny: intelligent, capable of shrewd psychological insight, and completely dedicated to relentless pursuit of a single goal. Her campaign to destroy Hank Rearden is masterfully conceived and flawlessly executed. It is only his extraordinary inner strength, and some timely help from Dagny and Francisco, that saves him.

In the story of Dr. Robert Stadler, Rand achieves a Trollopian depiction of temptation and the consequences of surrender to it. When we first see Stadler, he is a great mind, a brilliant scientist, who has compromised with statism to get the money to continue his research. This initial sin inexorably presents him with a series of moral dilemmas, and each failure to turn back leads him deeper into the morass.

In his first crisis, the State Science Institute issues an attack on Rearden Metal. Though Stadler knows it is false, he dares not contradict it, for fear that the Institute's funding might be reduced. Later Floyd Ferris attacks science and reason explicitly, and even uses Stadler's name in doing so. This time Stadler protests—but not publicly. Ferris goes on to create Project X, using Stadler's discoveries to forge a weapon of terror. And now, under Directive 10-289, the consequences of rebellion are more serious; Stadler faces not mere embarrassment but the threat of starvation. Under compulsion, he publicly praises his tormentors and commends them for their perversion of the knowledge he had created. By the novel's end Stadler has surrendered utterly to corruption, and his last act in life is an undignified scuffle with a drunken criminal for possession of the murderous weapon he had once scorned.

Most of Rand's villains fill bit parts. The mystic Ivy Starnes, the whining Lee Hunsaker, the pretentious Gilbert Keith-Worthing, and many others are portrayed with a few deft strokes and used as needed. Each, however, is used to make a unique point.

Rand is careful, despite her 'black and white' moral code, to avoid any hint of moral determinism. One villain, the "Wet Nurse", demonstrates that it is possible to turn away from evil. Another, the labor racketeer Fred Kinnan, shows a certain blunt honesty that makes him more sympathetic than his colleagues….

Perhaps the most neglected characters in discussion of Atlas Shrugged are what one might call the 'lesser heroes'—people who are morally good, but lack the immense ability of Dagny and the other strikers. Rand treats sympathetically such tiny roles as the police chief of Durrance (who helps Dagny locate the Starnes heirs) and Mrs. William Hastings. Another such character, the hobo Jeff Allen, supplies a key piece of information in the main mystery of the plot. Three of these characters, however, receive considerable attention: Tony (the "Wet Nurse"), Cherryl Brooks, and Eddie Willers.

Tony, the young, amoral bureaucrat who is sent to supervise Rearden's production under the "Fair Share Law", represents the human potential for moral redemption. At his first appearance, he is a total cynic. The very concept of morality has been educated out of him, so that he finds Rear-den's integrity disturbing and incomprehensible. Gradually, in the productive environment of the Rearden mills, he develops a desire for an ideal to believe in. Tony begins to feel admiration and sympathy for Rearden. He offers assistance in bribing the bureaucracy to obtain higher quotas, which Rearden of course rejects. Later, when Rearden defies the State Science Institute's order for Rearden Metal, Tony is concerned for Rearden's safety and chides him for taking such a risk. His commitment to Rearden becomes progressively stronger: he

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cheers Rearden's triumph at his trial; he fails to report Rearden's violations of regulations, and later volunteers to actively conceal them; he asks Rear-den to let him quit the bureaucracy and work for the mill, even if only in a menial job. In the end he has accepted Rearden's ideals and fights to defend them; Tony's murder is the final straw before Rear-den joins the strike.

Cherryl Brooks is the most tragic character of Atlas Shrugged. She is a slum girl determined to rise. (Had the book been written ten years later, Rand might well have made Cherryl a Black.) She is not brilliant, not an intellectual, has no career ambitions. But she is fiercely honest, idealistic, and courageous. Finding herself married far "above her station" to James Taggart, she applies her limited ability to the task she considers appropriate to her: becoming a high-society "lady." Zealously she studies etiquette, culture, and style to become the kind of wife Taggart, in her vision of him, deserves. And she succeeds; the slum girl from the five-and-dime transforms herself into a sophisticated member of the aristocracy of wealth. Again we see a classic Randian cliché-reversal. Taking off from Shaw's Pygmalion, Rand invents an Eliza Doolittle who transforms herself into a lady on her own initiative and by her own efforts—against the opposition of her 'benefactor', who wants her to remain a slum girl. But Cherryl's effort to become a worthy consort for her husband goes for nothing; Taggart is not a hero but a rotter; he has married her, not to ennoble her, but to destroy her.

The most important of the lesser heroes is Dagny's assistant, Eddie Willers, the very first character to whom we are introduced as the novel opens. It is easy to underestimate Eddie Willers. Standing beside Dagny Taggart or Hank Rearden he seems ordinary, not very competent, almost a bit wimpish. This, however, is due merely to the contrast with Rand's extraordinary heroes, as the moon seems dim in sunlight. Hank Rearden, who ought to know, says that Eddie has the makings of a good businessman. In fact, he is a highly able executive. Toward the end of the book, he bribes his way onto an Army plane and flies into a city torn apart by civil war. In the space of a few days, single-handed, he negotiates immunity with three separate warring factions, reorganizes the Taggart terminal, revitalizes its personnel, and gets the trains running again. Some wimp!

All three of these lesser heroes come to bad ends. Tony is murdered when he defies his masters and attempts to warn Rearden of the plot against his mills. Cherryl commits suicide when she discovers the horrifying truth about her husband. Eddie strands himself in the desert, sobbing at the foot of a dead locomotive. Why is there no happy ending for these characters?

Mimi Gladstein suggests that Eddie's fate is punishment for his refusal to accompany Dagny to Galt's Gulch. Certainly it is a consequence of that decision, but it is wrong to see it as punishment for a moral failing.

In her treatment of the lesser heroes Rand expresses an important truth. The essence of statism is the destruction of all that is good in the human spirit. The ablest heroes frequently escape, to make new lives for themselves elsewhere. Such people as Rachmaninoff and Sikorsky and Rand escaped from the Bolsheviks. Such people as Einstein and Fermi and von Mises escaped from the Nazis. It was mostly the people of more ordinary intellect that perished at Vorkuta or Auschwitz. These were the people who attempted to fight, but lacked the ability to do so effectively—like Tony. Or they were the people who died of sheer despair, facing a horror beyond their conception—like Cherryl. Or, they were those who might have escaped, but could not bring themselves to give up their old life and start over again with no capital but their own minds—like Eddie. Rand had known such people; her own father died under the Soviet regime, unwilling to leave Russia and give up the hope that he might somehow get his business back. She pities them, does not condemn them.

It should be evident to the reader that a great deal more could be said about Atlas Shrugged. This book is one of the most complex novels ever written, and its analysis poses hundreds of fascinating problems which will occupy scholars for decades.

I lack the space to properly cover the many concepts that Rand developed in this novel: 'sanction of the victim' and the impotence of evil; envy and the hatred of the good for being good; the 'individual surplus' of the great innovators; the intimate connection of philosophical premises and personal and social character; and many others.

Atlas Shrugged is not merely a novel to be read for entertainment, enjoyable though it is. Nor is it a treatise to be read for enlightenment, instructive though it is. The reader will benefit most who regards the book as a sort of magical box full of tightly folded intellectual origami, each of which should be carefully opened, contemplated, and cherished.

Source: Ronald E. Merrill, The Ideas of Ayn Rand, Open Court, 1991, pp. 59-74, 74-78, 85.

Whittaker Chambers

An American memoirist, journalist, and critic, Chambers is best known for his involvement in the 1948 trial that led to State Department official Alger Hiss's conviction for passing government documents to Soviet Agents. Once a member of the Communist Party, Chambers later became an editor and coumnist for the staunchly conservative journal National Review, an evolution he chronicled in his autobiography Witness (1952). In the following essay, which was originally published in 1957, Chambers finds it difficult to take seriously the plot and philosophy of Atlas Shrugged, and maintains that the work is more a tract than it is a novel.

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Source: Whittaker Chambers, "Big Sister is Watching You," in Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Journalism of Whit-taker Chambers, 1931–1959, Edited by Terry Teachout, Regnery Gateway, 1989, pp. 313-18

Nathaniel Branden

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Source: Nathaniel Branden, Who Is Ayn Rand?: An Analysis of the Novels of Ayn Rand, Random House, 1962, pp. 118-21, 126-27, 129, 140-44.

Judith Wilt

In the following essay, Wilt discusses Atlas Shrugged as a feminist work.

I could wish that the cancer-causing cigarette were not the ultimate symbol of glowing mind controlling matter in the book, I could wish that the rails which reflect the self-assertion of the heroine were not envisioned running to the hands of a man invisible beyond the horizon—most of all I wish the author had resisted the temptation to have her hero trace the Sign of the Dollar over the devastated earth before his Second Coming. But yes, I agree with Mimi Gladstein, there is a feminist element in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and it's on my ideal Women's Studies reading list too.

It made a deep impression on me at nineteen and now I can see at least two feminist reasons why. First, the book's opening sections on Dagny Taggart's childhood and adolescence depict with great power the most shattering discovery the awakening womanmind makes—this world is not the one the vigorous confident girlchild expected to find and to help run when she "grows up." And second, the book's middle and final sections depict with still greater power, nay satisfaction, the destruction of that false usurpers' world.

Rand's extended invocation of catastrophe feels astonishingly like the 1970's: "On the morning of September 2 a copper wire broke in California, between two telephone poles…. On the evening of September 7, a copper wire broke in Montana, stopping the motor of a loading crane…. On the afternoon of September 11, a copper wire broke in Minnesota, stopping the belts of a grain elevator…. On the night of October 15, a copper wire broke in New York City, extinguishing the lights …" In fact, Atlas Shrugged partakes of the general post-nuclear apocalypticism of the 1950's. But there is also a special quality of feminine rage discernible not only in the analysis of the Originating Sin behind the usurping world—"altruism," selflessness, the worship of "the other" and his need before one's own—but in the nature of the destruction.

According to her vision of the great age of progress (the nineteenth century, that is—not, I admit, perfectly recognizable to the historian in Rand's form), humanity civilized, indeed organicized, material nature by infusing it with its own purposeful creativity—metal plus mind equals the living copper wire, the bridges and motors and lights which are, so to speak, the mystical body of the human mind, the "material shapes of desire" as Rand phrases it. When mind goes astray or is withdrawn, the enterprise collapses upon itself, and the plot of Atlas Shrugged is predicated upon the desire of the best minds in the world to "go on strike," to destroy the old shapes of desire because they have been appropriated, usurped. Thus in the novel destruction of what is outside the self becomes the measure of greatness, purposefulness, authenticity, even more than construction or preservation of what is inside the self. The heroine's adolescent lover, Francisco D'Anconia, devotes his life to "destroying D'Anconia Copper in plain sight of the world." The hero, John Galt, who organizes the strike and convinces the suppliers of oil, then coal, then steel to withdraw just as the national economy, swinging wildly about in its search for a savior, needs them most, is the hated "Destroyer" to Dagny before she actually meets him. Even after she meets him and knows him, complicatedly, as the full shape of her desire, that desire remains destructive to the measure of its authenticity. Before entering his Atlantis she understands that she would have destroyed the Destroyer if she could—but not until she had made love to him; after she leaves it to go back and try to halt the world's self-destruction, she goes to see him in his hideout in New York despite the risk that she will lead his enemies to him. He describes, to her horror, the trap she has probably enclosed them both in, and urges

"It's our time and our life, not theirs. Don't struggle not to be happy. You are."

"At the risk of destroying you?" she whispered.

"You won't. But—yes, even that…. Was it indifference that broke you and brought you here?"

"I—." And then the violence of the truth made her pull his mouth down to hers, then throw the words at his face: "I didn't care whether either one of us lived afterwards, just to see you this once!"

This subterranean commitment to a cleansing violence, an ethic of destruction, is evident in Rand's vision of both work and sex, is indeed what makes the two functions of the same desire. What attracts Rand, and Dagny, to the industrial barons of the nineteenth century, is unmistakably the sense of their successful smashing of opposition. What brings Dagny back to her job after one early frustration is the disastrous train wreck which destroyed the Taggart tunnel through the Rockies—she cannot accept that destruction and wants to mitigate it. The test of her ethical adulthood at the end of the novel is her willing desertion of the railroad she runs just as the Taggart bridge across the Mississippi, the last link to the West, is destroyed. Leaving, she sanctions this and all following destruction. Dagny first comes to John Galt by crashing her plane into his private mountain retreat; when they return to the city he follows her, running, into the dark tunnel of the terminal, and they share a love scene not easily distinguishable from mutual rape: "she felt her teeth sinking into the flesh of his arm, she felt the sweep of his elbow knocking her head aside and his mouth seizing her lips with a pressure more viciously painful than hers."

At the root of all this eager violence is an equivocal passion for the display of will in a world where will seems to Rand's heroine to have either utterly rotted away or else become so devious in its operations as to be unrecognizable, a world "feminized" in the worst sense of the word. "Oh, don't ask me—do it!" she prays at seventeen when Francisco, too, "seizes" her, and she receives his violence thankfully as an anodyne for the disappointment of the formal debut party months before, where "there wasn't a man there I couldn't squash ten of." What she doesn't realize then, what Francisco and Galt are about to learn, is that the power to create or to squash that comes from will is not in fact equal to the power to expropriate or squash that comes from will-lessness, not only because there is more of the latter than the former in the world, but more because the people of will have accepted the chains of certain moral systems which short circuit or diffuse their desires.

Dagny suffers from the quantity of will-lessness opposed to her will. Gaining the position she requires, Operating Vice President of the Taggart railroad, was "like advancing through a succession of empty rooms," deathly exhausting but productive of no violence, cleansing or otherwise. Her disgust and near despair are in this respect interestingly like that of an ambitious man. Indeed, at the wedding of her wealthy brother and the energetic little shop girl he marries, the bride challenges the sister-in-law she has heard of as a cold and unfeminine executive: "I'm the woman in this family now," and Dagny replies, "That's quite all right, I'm the man." At the same party Francisco, the self-proclaimed womanizer who is actually one of the Destroyers, answers Hank Rearden's contemptuous "Found any conquests?" with "Yes—what I think is going to be my best and greatest." Rearden is himself the conquest Francisco is after; Dagny's first lover wants her second lover not for explicitly sexual purposes, of course, but for the Cause. And yet, in several senses Rearden is the female to Francisco and Dagny in the novel:

"I'm saying that I didn't know what it meant, to like a man, I didn't know how much I'd missed it—un-til I met him."

"Good God, Hank, you've fallen for him!"

"Yes, I think I have."

This is more than the love of one man for another, though it is certainly that too, and eloquently described by Rand, and welcome. It is the love of one being whose desire has been short-circuited, "hooked to torment instead of reward" as Rand describes it, for another whose desire is direct and confident of its ends. And it is this kind of frustration, desire short-circuited, will "contravened," as Lawrence would say, that makes Rearden a kind of female icon. It is the archetypal female plight that Rand explores in his story, displacing it cleverly from her heroine, whom she values too much to subject to it, to her middle-rank hero, whom she loves and pities.

Rearden's existence at book's opening is a schizophrenic shuttling between an unendurable dead family and marriage, and a profoundly satisfying work life whose very satisfaction is a guilty torment because all his love is concentrated there among the machines, mill schedules, and metals which are, inexplicably and "shamefully" to the usurpers of altruism, alive and lovable to him. He makes the classic "female" adjustment: he accepts the world's definition of his work-life, love, and productivity as guilt and his withdrawal of pure love from his family as shame. He hates and tries to eliminate the sexual desire which is at the heart of the corrupt world of marriage and family and relies on sheer strength, doubled and redoubled, to support both sides of his existence and the conflicts between them. "Well, then, go on with your hands tied, he thought, go on in chains. Go on. It must not stop you." When he finds himself desiring Dagny Taggart, the mind and spirit his working soul most admires, it is a catastrophe to his split self—"the lowest of my desires—as my answer to the highest I've met … it's depravity, and I accept it as such." Dagny does not challenge his definition, knowing that their living experience as lovers will teach him the truth, but it is Francisco who actually tells him the truth. In this novel it is still true that women, even the heroine, mainly exist and demonstrate, while men develop and articulate. "Only the man who extols the purity of a love devoid of desire, is capable of the depravity of a desire without love," Francisco argues; only "the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises." Led by Francisco and Dagny, Rearden emerges from the schizophrenia, reconnects the circuits of his sexual and productive desire to his sense of self-worth, and achieves in the end, like Dagny, that act of abandonment-destruction which, again, is Rand's rite of passage from the usurpers' world to the "real" one. Only it is not just the mills which, like Dagny's railroad, must be destroyed: it is also Rearden's family—mate, mother, brother—which, deprived of his coerced strength, must be let slide into poverty and degradation and madness before the new beginning is possible.

Finally, interestingly, Rearden's reward for making his passage does not include a mate, as Dagny's does. Discovering that Francisco, whom he loves, was Dagny's first lover, Rearden "seized" the woman (again) and consummated an act of love that included, through the woman's body, "the act of victory over his rival and of his surrender to him," just as Dagny too "felt Francisco's presence through Rearden's mind." When Dagny chooses John Galt, the purest shape of her desire and the full expression of her sense of self-worth, Rearden is left, as Francisco was before him, with only his maturity, his recaptured sense of being. Solitary, but not alone, for all three men and the woman are "in love—with the same thing, no matter what its forms." And in Rand's world, which is above all Aristotle's and Euclid's world, "A is A," as the title of her last section proclaims, all movement arises from the unmoved mover of legitimate self-love, and four people who are equal to the same first principle are equal to each other, as long as they live.

Essentially, Rand's novel portrays the victory of Aristotelian and Euclidean thought over Platonic and Planckian relativism. For them, as for John Galt, "reality" stays put and yields its truths to human observation. Only the villains celebrate, only the psychotic accept, the message of much twentieth-century physics and psychology, that matter is not solid nor perfectly predictable and that the mind is at some level simply "a collection of switches without shape." In this respect, in addition to being, as Mimi Gladstein argues, both a science fiction romance and a feminist model, Atlas Shrugged is genuinely a "novel of ideas," and it belongs, all 1,100 pages of it, on that reading list too.

Source: Judith Wilt, "On 'Atlas Shrugged,'" in College English, Vol. 40, No. 3, November, 1978, pp. 333-37.

Ruth Chapin Blackman

In the following excerpt, Blackman briefly looks at the America that Rand portrays in Atlas Shrugged.

In a statement published as a postscript to Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has defined her philosophy, "in essence," as "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

Atlas Shrugged is [a] … polemic inadequately disguised as a novel and designed to dramatize these views. The result is an astonishing mixture of anti-Communist manifesto, superman, and the lush lady novelist Ethel M. Dell—a novel that does its own purpose a disservice through caricature and oversimplification.

Miss Rand postulates an America in a time of waning strength and production. The government is being delivered into the hands of the "looters," despicable men whose plundering is rationalized by mouthing the concept that the fruits of the strong belong to the weak: from every man according to his ability, to every man according to his need….

As the looters perpetrate increasingly repressive and senseless measures on the economy, chaos grows and the able men, frustrated at every turn, take to deserting their jobs and disappearing. Their establishment of a Shangri-la in the Colorado mountains is a neat but unconvincing aspect of a story that already has too little contact with reality.

For one tries in vain to project the world of Atlas Shrugged from the familiar world of contemporary America. There is no connecting link. On what grounds, for example, does Miss Rand postulate a failing economy?—the American economy today is booming. She does not say.

To be sure, her two types are familiar minorities at either end of the political scale, neither one of them as important as the great middle ground between. American political history is the history of struggle between individualism and the collective good, yet Miss Rand would, at the stroke of her wand, eliminate the whole area of working compromise, make an absolute of either extreme, and pit them against each other. It takes the heart out of her story.

Miss Rand properly condemns the whining mentality which demands handouts as its natural right. But she minimizes the philanthropy that is not a gesture of moral weakness but of strength; and she completely ignores the fact that brilliant intelligence and achievement may not always be accompanied by conscience, that the figures of the past whom she most admires have been called by others—and with reason—robber barons….

Had Rearden and the other men of integrity in the book exercised their political responsibilities with the devotion which they gave to their jobs, whether industry, philosophy, or science, the looters would not have taken over. This is the drama that Miss Rand's melodramatic fabrications lack.

Source: Ruth Chapin Blackman, "Controversial Books by Ayn Rand and Caitlin Thomas: 'Atlas Shrugged,'" in Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 1957, p. 13.


Branden, Barbara, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1986.

Branden, Nathaniel, Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand, Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

――――――, Who Is Ayn Rand? An Analysis of the Novels of Ayn Rand, Random House, 1962.

Chamber,Whittaker, "Big Sister Is Watching You," in National Review, December 28, 1957, pp. 594-96.

Chamberlain, John, "Ayn Rand's Political Parable and Thundering Melodrama," in New York Herald Book Review, October 6, 1957, pp. 1, 9.

Chapin Blackman, Ruth, "Controversial Books by Ayn Rand and Caitlin Thomas: Atlas Shrugged," in The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 1957, p. 13.

Donegan, Patricia, "A Point of View," in Commonweal, November 8, 1957, pp. 155-56.

Gladstein, Mimi R., "Ayn Rand and Feminism: An Unlikely Alliance," in College English Vol. 39, No. 6, February 1978, pp. 25-30.

――――――, The Ayn Rand Companion, Greenwood Press, 1984.

Hicks, Granville, "A Parable of Buried Talents," in New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1957, pp. 4-5.

Merrill, Ronald E., The Ideas of Ayn Rand, Open Court, 1991.

Olster, Stacey, "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something (Red, White, and) Blue: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Objectivist Ideology," in The Other Fifties, ed. Joel Forman, Villard, 1997, pp. 288-306.

For Further Study

Branden, Barbara, and Nathaniel Branden, Who Is Ayn Rand? Random House, 1962.

Rand's disciples and close associates get a glimpse at the author's private life. The book was later repudiated as too limited by only the information Rand authorized for publication.

Davis, L. J., "Ayn Rand's Last Shrug," in Washington Post, December 12, 1982, p.7.

The article reviews Rand's non-fiction work, Philosophy: Who Needs It? and its resonance in her final novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Ellis, Albert, Is Objectivism A Religion? Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1968.

Ellis finds faults in Rand's philosophy and challenges her views, at the same time critiquing Objectivism's cult-like following.

Machan, Tibor, "Ayn Rand: A Contemporary Heretic?" in The Occasional Review, Vol. 4, Winter, 1976, pp. 133-50.

Machan outlines Rand's heretical opinions in five philosophical areas: metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, politics, and aesthetics.

O'Neill, William F., With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand's Philosophy, Philosophical Library, 1971.

One of the very few even-handed reviews of Rand's work. The book explores the rationality of Objectivist principles and empirically tests their validity.

Wilt, Judith, "On Atlas Shrugged," in College English, Vol. 40, No. 3, November, 1978, pp. 333-37.

In this essay, Wilt discusses Atlas Shrugged as a feminist work of self-awareness and rebirth and praises its passion.