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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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Atlas Shrugged!