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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Atlas Shrugged!