Atlas Shrugged

by: Ayn Rand

Part One, Chapters VII–VIII

Summary Part One, Chapters VII–VIII

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary—Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line

Rearden sells his ore mines to Paul Larkin and his coal mines to Ken Dannager, a self-made businessman from Pennsylvania. With the money from these sales, Rearden offers Taggart a moratorium on its debt to Rearden Steel. He knows that Taggart is having financial problems, and he wants the company to survive long enough to be his long-term customers. Rearden still cannot reach Wesley Mouch. He reads in the papers that Mouch has been appointed assistant coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources.

As the date of the line’s opening approaches, public criticism grows steadily louder. But when Dagny asks for volunteers to run the first train, every engineer at the company offers. Dagny holds a press conference in her office in which she proudly states that she expects to make a huge profit, and many are amazed at her admitted self-interest. Dagny and Rearden ride together in the engine of the first locomotive to ride the John Galt Line. The first run is a resounding success, spreading a mood of optimism and possibility among those who witness it. People line up all along the route, thrilled to finally have something to celebrate. Despite dire predictions, the bridge made of Rearden Metal holds up well. That night, at Ellis Wyatt’s house, Dagny and Rearden make love for the first time.

Analysis: Part One, Chapters VII–VIII

Rand’s heroes are bold and decisive, just as their enemies are soft and wavering. Acting with clarity and self-assurance, Dagny and Rearden expertly handle the rebuilding of the Rio Norte Line, even in the face of dramatic setbacks. They rely on facts alone to make decisions. Dagny agrees to build a bridge made of Rearden Metal because she knows the the metal’s value will speak for itself. In contrast, Jim is paralyzed by public opinion. He has no rational judgment of his own but assumes that if “everyone” thinks something, they must be right. When Dagny boldly decides to build her own line as the only way to get it done, she demonstrates the creative power of the individual against the destructive power of the state. She knows she is right, and this is all the validation she requires. The second John Galt story shows him to be bold and heroic as well. Here he is credited with finding the fountain of youth. But what makes a person young and vital or old and wasted? In Rand’s work, the physical descriptions of characters offer some clues. The industrialists, who use their minds as motive power and find joy in producing, are described as young, attractive, and vital, while the looters and moochers are dour, sullen, and formless. The fountain of youth in this context refers to the vitality of producing.

Rand demonstrates her belief that socialism destroys innovation by having the State Science Institute denounce Rearden Metal. When the state controls scientific development, it will be hesitant to allow private discoveries to come to light if they are seen as competition. State control of research and development not only slows the pace of innovation, but throws open the possibility of corruption and misuse of resources to further the political power of the state. Dr. Stadler embodies the disillusionment that results when the scientific mind is given over to the state. As a scientist, he should be devoted to the truth, but his priority has become political expediency. Although he knows that the State Science Institute’s smear campaign against Rearden Metal is fabricated, he will do nothing about it for fear of risking his clout and the government funding on which he depends. In one of the classic paradoxes of socialism, a great scientific mind becomes employed in hindering the progress of science.

In Rand’s view, when the government controls the economy, corruption and mediocrity are inevitable. Since the state has the power to grant economic favors, it naturally attracts those who seek to profit from them. People who cannot succeed in open competition find ways to rise once competitive barriers are artificially removed. Wesley Mouch is a significant character only in the sense that he is insignificant, a nobody able to rise through favors and manipulation instead of skill and hard work. In contrast, the success of the new John Galt Line is the triumph of hard work over mediocrity and of individual ambition over government barriers. Dagny and Rearden’s first sexual encounter is also a manifestation of triumph. Their shared values and commitment to quality and truth have made the John Galt Line possible. Their joy is made physical in a natural, inevitable way.