Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The dollar sign is the symbol of the strikers. Their cigarettes are stamped with it, and their town square displays a giant dollar sign. For them, the symbol is not merely shorthand for money, but a symbol of a way of life. The dollar sign represents the things it is exchanged for, namely, the productive abilities of man and the goods and services created by the mind at work. The very existence of money suggests that there are goods produced and people able to produce them, which is what makes money meaningful and valued. In his “money speech,” Francisco says, “To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will.” The strikers value the dollar so much that they have their own mint in the valley and use only gold as the standard for exchange.
The bracelet Rearden creates from the first batch of Rearden Metal symbolizes everything he has worked toward for ten years, and in a larger sense, the purest product of the unfettered, creative mind. It represents his pride in and love for his work, and he wants desperately to share these values with someone. Lillian, who hates and wants to destroy Rearden, misses the point entirely and wears the bracelet only to mock him. She wrongly interprets its meaning as a reference to her bondage, though it is clearly Rearden who is chained to her. Dagny, on the other hand, understands all that the bracelet stands for and shares the values it represents, as demonstrated by her insistence on trading her diamonds for it. In their reactions to the bracelet, we see a sharp contrast between the two women, and it becomes clear that Dagny is the one for Rearden.
Before Ellis Wyatt disappears to join the strike, he destroys his own oil fields by setting fire to them, and the fires continue to burn night and day. Wyatt’s Torch, as the huge flame comes to be known, symbolizes his unwillingness to sanction and participate in the looters’ system or to offer them any useful resources to drain. The flame is a powerful symbol of individualism and the refusal to surrender the mind. Wyatt’s Torch is the very last thing the passengers see before dying in the Taggart Tunnel disaster and the only part of the outside world visible to the residents of the valley.
Atlas, the hero of Greek mythology who carried the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, symbolizes the exploited industrialists, particularly Rearden, whose hard work and great strength support the parasites who live off their productive capabilities. When Francisco tells Rearden that he would advise Atlas to shrug and let go of his burden, he is referring to the strike and calling upon Rearden to lay down his burden and stop believing it is his duty to bear so much weight for the undeserving. Rearden’s only reward for his efforts is the persecution of a corrupt government and the exhaustion of carrying others. Francisco knows it is unjust for Rearden, or anyone, to be cast in this role. By recruiting him for the strike, he tries to show Rearden a way out.
More main ideas from Atlas Shrugged