Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The literary device of rhetorical questioning frequently draws attention to key thematic elements. The most obvious example is the unanswerable “Who is John Galt?” The question takes on many layers of meaning: as a slang reference to hopelessness and futility, as a source for speculation about the mythical figure who may have found Atlantis, and finally as a public response to Galt’s radio broadcast. Stadler’s “What can you do when you have to deal with people?” is another recurring rhetorical question that takes on different meaning based on context. For example, Stadler’s disillusioned question is turned against him when Floyd Ferris uses it to coerce him into speaking at the demonstration of Project X.
Motors are everywhere in the novel. The revolutionary motor built by John Galt embodies the power to harness energy and move things with it. Metaphorically, the motive power of the world is in the rational mind, and when the mind is withdrawn, the “motor of the world” begins to stop. In a real sense, motive power is essential to Dagny, who continually searches for decent locomotives to pull her trains.
Bridges serve to represent the great things that can be accomplished by the application of the mind. Rearden’s design for the bridge on the John Galt Line, the first to be made from Rearden Metal, shows a creative solution to a problem that he takes joy in solving. Similarly, the great Taggart Bridge, which links the East and West in a single transcontinental line, represents the product of Dagny’s grandfather Nathaniel’s tireless effort and ingenuity. The destruction of the bridge in the Project X disaster demonstrates that the products of the creative mind are no longer appreciated or understood, and the end is near.
More main ideas from Atlas Shrugged