Atlas Shrugged Summary – Introduction
Atlas Shrugged is a novel communicating author Ayn Rand’s philosophical views on government and society and her final work of fiction. The novel follows Dagny Taggart as she works to save her railway business during a complete government takeover of major industries.
As the country nationalizes and takes away her authority and control over her business, she fights back to save her livelihood. Along the way, she meets a couple of rebellious men for whom she develops romantic feelings, making this novel both a mystery and political commentary as well as a romance.
Atlas Shrugged Literary Elements
Author: Ayn Rand
Type of Work: Novel
Genres: Mystery; romance; political commentary
Published Date: 1957
Setting: The United States during the tail end of the 20th century
Main Characters: Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Jim Taggart
Protagonist: Dagny Taggart
Antagonist: James (Jim) Taggart; the government
Major Thematic Elements: The profound power of the mind; the downsides of collective action; the incorporated power between mind and body
Motifs: Rhetorical questions; bridges; motors
Exposition: Dagny Taggart is navigating deteriorating environmental conditions as the vice president of operations for Taggart Transportation. The nationalization of railway lines and the retirement of several talented entrepreneurs is enhancing the railway crisis.
Conflict: Dagny has to work to keep her railroad business from collapse.
Plot: Told chronologically in past tense by a third person omniscient narrator
Major Symbols: Dollar signs, the bracelet, Wyatt’s Torch, Atlas
Climax: Dagny discovers the vanished men and has to decide whether or not to join their strike.
Literary Significance of Atlas Shrugged
This novel’s author, Ayn Rand, has more reason than most to promote a pro-capitalism message through her writing. Having grown up witnessing the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and emigrating to Crimea (an unstable region, then part of Ukraine), Rand idealized Western culture and society. She settled in the United States because the economic freedoms resonated with her. Rand lived and worked in Hollywood for several years, experiencing firsthand Hollywood success as a writer. Her messages were always anti-Communist, and this won her a fair amount of kickback, but was generally well-received in a very strongly anti-Communist point of history for the United States. However, her overt political and economic messages in her writing did not make it easy for her works to find publishers.
When Atlas Shrugged was published and started gaining traction, Ayn Rand was celebrated as a champion for individualism. After this novel, Rand moved to writing exclusively in the nonfiction format, finding it better suited for communicating her philosophies. She gained a massive philosophical following, and her ideas are still widely studied today, over thirty years since her death, making her a highly influential American writer and positioning Atlas Shrugged as essential reading for proponents of capitalism.
Atlas Shrugged Book Summary
The novel opens as Dagny Taggart, vice president of operations to Taggart Transcontinental, works to repair a broken rail line servicing Colorado. The efforts are met with disagreements from her brother, Jim. To make matters worse, many of the nation’s top entrepreneurs are retiring and disappearing, so Dagny doesn’t have many options when it comes to purchasing supplies, keeping good employees on, or gaining traction to improve the reputation of her railway. When the Mexican government nationalizes the San Sebastian Line of the Taggart railway, the crisis intensifies. This is a major setback as the line had originally been commissioned to service Francisco d’Anconia’s copper mills. When the mills turned out to be unproductive and useless to the prosperity of the railway, Jim uses his political influence to destroy the Taggard Railway’s biggest competitor.
As Dagny works to repair the broken Rio Norte Line in an effort to improve her company, she agrees to use a new material called Rearden metal, although she initially wanted to use Rearden Steel. Rearden metal is a new controversial alloy created by Hank Rearden. Meanwhile, Francisco admits to Dagny that he deliberately let the copper mills fail. When the State Science Institute officially denounces Rearden metal, Taggart’s stock crashes since they wound up using the material on their railroads.
Dagny decides that she will start her own railway company separate from her brother. Her company becomes highly successful and she strikes up a romance with Hank Rearden. However, Dagny’s success doesn’t last long. The government continues passing legislation that harms businesses. When they pass a new round of legislation that slams industry in Colorado, Dagny has to cut train lines that she had previously seen success with. When a famous oil industrialist suddenly disappears, it is hinted that his disappearance is linked with his intentionally setting fire to his oil rigs when the government continues to nationalize industry. More industrialists continue to disappear, and Dagny suspects a destroyer is at work to take down major industries. This destroyer, she believes, strategically takes away industrialists when they are needed the most.
Francisco pays a visit to Rearden and questions him on why he continues to operate his mills under such oppressive conditions. He realizes during the course of their conversation that Rearden truly loves his work more than he loves profits. Eventually, Rearden goes on trial for breaking one of the new laws intended to harm industrialists. However, Rearden refuses to participate out of principle.
Wesley Mouch, the country’s economic dictator, wants Rearden to cooperate and lend his company to aid socialist efforts. Jim also needs favors that will help keep his railway company afloat. He is willing to do what is needed to maintain his company. Jim approaches Rearden’s wife, Lillian, who hates her husband. She reveals to Jim that Rearden and Dagny are having an affair. He trades this information in such a way that helps create a new law that requires all patents to be signed over to government ownership. Rearden winds up blackmailed into signing over his metal patent. He does this to protect Dagny’s reputation.
Dagny takes some time away from work after this whole ordeal but when a massive railway accident occurs, she leaves her retreat in the mountains to return to work. She feels suspicious that a scientist who had helped her in the past might be in danger and she attempts to follow him by airplane. She crashes in the mountains, and when she awakens, she is in a village housing the retired industrialists. They tell her that they are on a strike of the mind. She meets the infamous John Galt, of the saying “where is John Galt” there and learns that he is the destroyer she suspected was operating against her railway. She begins to fall in love with John Galt, but ultimately, she cannot bear to leave her job at the railway. She returns to work only to find that the government took her absence as an opportunity to fully nationalize her railway. Government leaders request that she make a public statement in support of the nationalization and she attempts to refuse until Lillian Rearden blackmails her into complying.
When Dagny goes on the air to make her statement, she reveals her affair with Rearden and indicates that both herself and Rearden were blackmailed into complying with the government’s wishes. She takes the opportunity to warn people of the oppressive methodologies the government has been engaging in. The economy is officially on the verge of collapse at this point.
Francisco destroys the rest of his copper holdings and disappears. Politicians act out of self-interest and no longer make efforts to hide that they are not working for the good of the public. Whatever industry is left begins to crumble as things are not able to function appropriately anymore since politicians simply use resources to fulfill favors and act in accordance with their own will. In an attempt to gain the final upper hand over Rearden Steel, the government organizes a strike. However, Francisco leads an organized counterstrike. Francisco has been working undercover at the mill the whole time and saves Rearden’s life in the scuffle.
The government attempts to take control but John Galt commandeers the airwaves and addresses the population, urging them to join him in a strike against the government. In a last-ditch effort, the government appeals to Galt to be their economic dictator. Galt is tortured, but he refuses to help the government. Dagny and the strikers are able to rescue Galt and the country devolves into total collapse.