After the party, Rearden goes to see Dagny and asks her to forgive him for coming with Lillian. He tells her that what he said at Wyatt’s house was wrong. Dagny has always known this, and she tells him there is nothing to forgive. Meanwhile, Lillian discovers that Rearden has a mistress, but she does not know who it is.
Dr. Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute comes to see Rearden and tells him that if he will not fill the order for Project X, he will be arrested for his illegal deal with Ken Dannager. Rearden refuses, and both Rearden and Dannager are indicted.
Eddie Willers eats lunch with his worker friend. He worries about Dagny. She knows that Rearden is strong enough to stand trial, but she is afraid for Dannager. She thinks he is ready to break and will be taken by the destroyer. He tells the worker Dagny is going to see Dannager tomorrow afternoon. When Dagny reaches Dannager’s office, she is too late. He is with a visitor, and when he finally meets with her, he has already decided to retire. He assures her that even if she had reached him before his last visitor, she would not have been able to prevent his retirement. His only real regret is that he is leaving Rearden behind at such a dangerous time.
Francisco comes to see Rearden at his mill. He asks Rearden why he is willing to accept condemnation for his virtues and sanction the actions of his enemies. Francisco tells Rearden his only sin is to agree that his self-interest is wrong. Rearden should have reaped incredible benefits from his invention, but instead he is punished for it. His hard work has only empowered the looters. Francisco asks Rearden what would he say if he saw Atlas holding the weight of the world but losing strength. Rearden asks what Francisco would tell him to do. “To shrug,” Francisco answers. Rearden begins to think he understands Francisco. Francisco is about to ask Rearden what makes him continue his work, when suddenly an alarm rings and they must rush to fix a broken furnace. They work with skill and speed, each knowing exactly what to do. Afterwards, Rearden asks if Francisco wishes to continue his question. Francisco tells him that he knows now exactly why Rearden remains with his mills.
At Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Rearden begins to see them in a new light. He finally confronts his brother Philip, who has sponged off of him for years without respecting him, and tells him he no longer cares what happens to him. He realizes that he has allowed his family to inflict suffering on him by accepting their condemnation. He will no longer offer them his sanction by accepting their moral code over his own.
At his trial, Rearden refuses to participate. He offers no defense because he refuses to honor the proceedings or pretend the trial has merit. He declares that he does not recognize the court’s right to control the sale of his metal. He explains that he lives for the sake of creation and profit and that he refuses to apologize for his success. The crowd bursts into applause behind him. The judges are frightened and apologetic. They impose a $5,000 fine on him but suspend the sentence.
Rearden goes to see d’Anconia at his hotel in New York. When he asks how a man as intelligent as Francisco could waste time in promiscuity, Francisco begins a discussion of sex, saying that a man’s lover is the embodiment of his moral code. If he despises himself, he will pursue immoral women. If he truly knows his own worth, he will seek a goddess. Though he has purposely fueled the scandals surrounding his own love life, Francisco has loved only one woman in his life.
Rearden tells him that he has decided to sell his metal to whomever he wants and has ordered copper directly from d’Anconia. Francisco shouts he had warned Rearden not to deal with d’Anconia copper and runs to the phone, but stops himself. He turns to Rearden and swears by the woman he loves that he is his friend, though Rearden will soon damn him. Days later, Rearden learns that the ships bearing his copper were seized and sunk by the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold.
Rearden represents the mythical Atlas of whom Francisco speaks. He has been carrying the world and is now being punished for it. But he is no longer a willing participant in his own victimization. He has rejected the division of mind and body, and admitted to Dagny that his attitude toward sex has been misguided. He has confronted his family and put them on notice that they can no longer use his own sense of honor as a weapon against him. Most important, he has confronted the politicians who accuse him of breaking an irrational and unjust law. He triumphs at his trial because he withdraws his sanction. He refuses to help the politicians hide the brute force that is the true nature of their power. He tells the politicians, “If you believe that you have the right to force me—use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.” By exposing them for what they are, Rearden has upset the system in which the looters exploit their victims’ refusal to see reality. The looters need Rearden to work so they can feed off his productivity, so they are forced to set him free. In this, the essential paradox of collectivism is revealed. The strong are tyrannized by the weak and made to feel obligated to support them, but only their belief that they must allow it keeps them shackled. If they refuse to participate, if “Atlas shrugs,” the weak will have no recourse beyond brute strength. While people can use physical violence to coerce action, they cannot force others to think or create for them.
Rearden’s transformation continues to be fueled by Francisco’s wise counseling. In their conversation at the mills, Rearden is closer than ever to understanding the message Francisco offers him. Francisco is on the verge of revealing more to Rearden and finally explaining why he must destroy his own fortune, when the fire interrupts them. Afterward, Francisco cannot continue. He knows that Rearden’s love for his work will continue to hold him. When Rearden’s copper supply is hijacked by Ragnar Danneskjold, he knows Francisco is behind the attack. The betrayal means the loss of Francisco’s friendship as well.
After Dannager retires, Dagny knows that the disappearance of the industrialists is not a random coincidence. The timing of the disappearances is deliberate as well. Stockton disappeared just as the need for his furnaces intensified. Now Dannager is gone at the very moment his coal becomes essential. She is convinced a destroyer is loose on the world, deliberately snatching great men just as they are needed most. But many questions remain. Dagny must find out who the destroyer is and how he knows which men to take. Furthermore, if the vanished men are alive, where have they gone?