Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The “strike of the mind” led by John Galt demonstrates this central theme of the novel. When the best creative minds are systematically removed from the world, their importance is laid bare. Without the great thinkers, society spirals quickly downward. The economy collapses, and irrational looters seize power. Rand’s belief in the central importance of the mind opposes the prevailing wisdom that labor is responsible for prosperity. As the events of the novel show, the mind enables creation and innovation and powers the engine of the world. Labor alone cannot achieve productivity and prosperity without the guidance of the mind.
Rand sets out to demonstrate through the novel’s action what happens when governments follow socialist ideas. She argues that when men are compelled, through collectivism’s forced moral code, to place the needs of their neighbors above their own rational self-interest, the result is chaos and evil. Incentive is destroyed, and corruption becomes inevitable. The story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company illustrates this brilliantly. After the plant adopted a method in which workers were paid according to perceived needs and ordered to work based on perceived ability, the workers became depraved and immoral, each seeking to show himself or herself as most needy and least skilled. The plant failed, and the community was destroyed by mistrust and greed. For Rand, any economic or political plan based on sacrifice of the individual for the group leads to chaos and destruction.
Rand rejects the mind-body dichotomy that is central to many philosophies and religions. She opposes the idea that the thoughts and achievements of the mind are pure and noble, but the desires of the body are base and immoral, and she presents Dagny as a character who also rejects the idea. Dagny is proud of her sexuality and sees her physical desires flowing logically from the evaluations and rationality of her mind. At first, Rearden accepts the mind-body split. His transformation occurs when he comes to integrate the two facets of himself into a rational whole.
Dr. Stadler represents another aspect of this mind-body dichotomy. He sees the pure science of the mind as removed from practical affairs and wonders why the mind that made the motor would bother with practical applications. For him, the mind is cut off not just from the body but from practical life. Again, Dagny represents the integrated whole when she concludes that the motor’s inventor worked within the reality of practical life because he liked living on earth.