Galt is the most important character in the novel and the driving force behind its action. The strike that he conceives, organizes, and carries out is the book’s central, defining event. But his identity remains a mystery until two-thirds of the way through the novel, lending him a mythical stature. In Galt, Rand has set out to present man in his most ideal form. She describes him as physically beautiful, profoundly brilliant, and enormously accomplished. Not only has he been able to develop a revolutionary motor, he has also created a philosophy of reason and become a statesman capable of leading the world’s most talented men. Most importantly, Galt is unwaveringly rational and deals directly with the objective facts he encounters. In him, rationality and emotion are fully integrated. Though ruled by reason, he is able to express and experience his emotions as well. Just as Rand uses Dagny to shatter the mind-body dichotomy that separates physical pleasure from higher thought, she employs Galt to reject the split between reason and emotion.
Galt represents the main theme of the novel and of Rand’s philosophy: the idea that the mind is the only means by which man can achieve prosperity. The mind is the motive power that drives civilization, just as the motor Galt develops can drive industry. Galt embodies the mind, and the question “Who is John Galt?” is not only a literal question about the mysterious man who has disappeared, but a figurative question as well. The question asks what is the mind? and what happens when the mind disappears? Galt knows that without his mind and the minds of the world’s great thinkers, the motive power of the world will be lost and the motor of the world will stop.
Dagny is remarkable in every way: beautiful, talented, determined, and highly intelligent. Her independent spirit leads her to trust her own judgment over public opinion. Though calmly rational, she is also tremendously passionate about her work and love. She is enormously successful as a woman in a man’s world. Rand presents her this way to demonstrate that rationality and great accomplishments are not gender-specific. Dagny’s defining characteristic is a supreme self-confidence. She is keenly aware of her own abilities and always knows the right thing to do. But her confidence is also her flaw. She leaves the strikers and rejoins the real world because she feels she can single-handedly save her railroad and by extension her world. No one person can do this, and her realization comes nearly too late, as she is the last to join the strike. She is also flawed in her optimism about people. Until the end, when she learns the looters will torture Galt to make him help them, she continues to believe they can be made to understand their errors.
Jim is the antithesis of the striking heroes in every aspect. Where they are brilliant, strong, and independent, he is weak and dependent on public opinion for every decision he makes. His only real skill is in influence peddling, and he uses it to improve Taggart’s position in the industry and to destroy the great minds he envies and hates. Jim embodies Rand’s concept of evil. His ambition in life is simply to destroy the good, making him a classic example of a nihilist. Because Jim’s true nature is so terrible, he cannot bear to know it and spends a great deal of energy repressing it and convincing himself he is motivated by profit, public service, or love. He marries Cherryl Brooks in order to destroy her goodness but convinces himself he has done it for love. She is an easy target for him and a substitute for the great men like Rearden, whom he cannot manage to ruin. Eventually, Jim can no longer hide his nature from himself. Cherryl’s suicide contributes to his awful realization. Finally, watching Galt’s torture and screaming for him to die brings him face to face with his depravity. The realization causes him to go mad.
Rearden is the embodiment of productivity, just as Galt represents the mind. His legendary capacity for hard work and his integrity and skill have made him the most successful industrialist in the country. At first, Rearden struggles with important misconceptions about himself that undermine his ability to see his own greatness. He undergoes a profound transformation in the course of the novel. Despite operating his business based on a rational moral code that demands value for value, he allows his family to sponge off of him and make him feel guilty for his success. This makes him willing to sacrifice himself for their flawed morality and saps his vitality. He also mistakenly believes in a separation of the mind and body, which makes him see physical desire as base and low, and the things of the mind as unrelated to the physical world. Dagny and Francisco help him to reject this idea, which enables him to embrace his own value.
The wealthy and accomplished Francisco is a profoundly intelligent and highly successful man whose whole life is a paradox. He was the first man to join Galt’s strike and serves as its recruiter, living in two worlds as he tries to bring others over to the strikers’ side. Although he is a brilliant businessman, he deliberately destroys d’Anconia Copper and brings down the fortunes of many others with it. And although he has only ever loved Dagny, he plays the part of a promiscuous playboy as a cover for his real activities. He is enthusiastic and benevolent, although much of his strike-related activities cause others, especially Dagny and Rearden, to feel he is mocking and untrustworthy. Francisco has a profound effect on Rearden, whom he genuinely loves, even while knowing Rearden is Dagny’s lover. He serves as Rearden’s protector, arming him with the moral certainty he needs to battle the looters. He seems to appear at Rearden’s side when he is needed most, and saves his life in the mill riots.
Francisco’s commitment to the strike is absolute, but he suffers a great deal for it. First, he must give up Dagny and allow her to view him as depraved and worthless. Later, he must endure Rearden’s hatred as well, when he is forced to betray him in a copper deal. And he must continually work to destroy the company his family built for generations. But the suffering is worth the price for him, because he is sure that he is right. Eventually, Dagny and Rearden come to understand and admire him, and the strike he devotes his life to works as planned.