Main Themes of Atlas Shrugged – Introduction
This novel takes place during an unspecified time in the later half of the twentieth century. Given that it was published in the mid-twentieth century, the not-so-distant future as a setting is meant to convey that trouble of this kind could happen at any time.
This rings particularly true for the author, Ayn Rand, because she grew up in communist Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. She witnessed firsthand the terror that government can wreak on people when it begin to take over industries. After immigrating to the United States, Rand had an easier time envisioning what it would look like there than most because of her experience in Russia. This makes the events she portrays all the more frightening because for her, the terror wasn’t imagined—it was real. Rand is able to convey this to readers in a fictionalized way that is still strongly based in reality, making the dystopian setting all the more powerful.
Atlas Shrugged Themes
Here’s a list of major themes in Atlas Shrugged
- The Power of the Human Mind.
- The Evils of Socialism.
- Mind of Body.
The Profound Power of the Mind
The power of the human mind is emphasized repeatedly throughout this novel—when the mind is allowed to exercise creativity and innovation, it tends to lead to great things for individuals. However, when the mind’s tendency to solve problems creatively and forge unique solutions to problems is actively suppressed by government maneuvers, individuals suffer and industry collapses.
John Galt’s leadership of the “strike of the mind” helps to bring this fully into view. When the top thinkers of the country are run out of business and disappearing, their absence is sorely noticed. This systematic removal of creative minds causes society to spiral into an economic disaster.
The stance that Rand takes with this theme is that the creative power of the mind doesn’t necessarily work well with the idea that labor and prosperity are linked. The mind itself enables prosperity, not just labor for the sake of labor. Without the creative potential and immeasurable power of the mind, labor basically becomes pointless.
The Evils of Socialist Action
The key point of Rand writing this novel was to show the evils of nationalized government taking communist and/or socialist action, because this kind of action destroys industry and destroys people’s ability to create and prosper.
Her argument is that when people are forced to ignore their individualism and to fulfill the needs of their community before they can fulfill the needs of themselves, corruption will flourish, and economic collapse will follow.
She shows how when people are no longer working for their own personal well-being, they will turn to chaos and revolt. This type of way of living, according to the novel, will cause communities to self-combust due to mistrust, greed, and lack of purpose.
The Incorporated Power of the Mind and Body
When studying Ayn Rand, you will see that her philosophy rejects the idea that the emotions, ideas, and achievements of the mind are somehow more powerful than the desires of the body. She actively challenges the thought that products of the mind are pure whereas bodily desires are immoral.
This is why her main character, Dagny, is someone who celebrates her sexuality and enters freely into romances with characters who intrigue her. To Dagny, her body’s desires are an extension of what her mind needs to flourish.
Whereas other characters tend to struggle with this reconciliation of the mind and body, Dagny never wavers in her marriage of practical living and creative thought. She is a key representation of how people could live as integrated wholes who do not reject any part of themselves because of perceive immorality. This, in turn, fuels inventions that work to serve people and lift people out of negative spaces/situations. For example, the motor is a kind of symbol of what can happen with the practicality of physical living is combined with innovative and inspired thinking.
Motifs in Atlas Shrugged
Motifs are present in this novel that reinforce the novel’s overall thematic elements. There are three major motifs in Atlas Shrugged that help to enhance the story’s three major themes. The first motif is rhetorical questions. The most obvious example of this is the phrase “Who is John Galt?” which serves as more of a reference to the hopelessness and futility of driven labor than it does an actual question. Another rhetorical question that invites the listener to reflect on futility is, “What can you do when you have to deal with people?” This rhetorical question is asked by Stadler in times of disillusionment.
Another motif is bridges. In this context, bridges represent the power of using the mind. Accomplishments like major bridges show what human minds are capable of. This is constantly threatened by government control. For example, Rearden is a character known for truly loving his work. When he helps Dagny create the John Galt Line using Rearden metal, he has accomplished a human first by using his uniquely invented metal alloy to construct something so powerful as a bridge. The Taggart Bridge is also a great representation of the old Taggard Railways, as the bridge resulted thanks to Dagny’s grandfather’s ingenuity and tireless ambition to create a major American railway. When this bridge is destroyed thanks to government interference, this symbolizes that creative endeavors of the human mind are not appreciated in society anymore.
The final motif is motors. Motor-created power is a strong symbol of mind power. When Dagny and Rearden discover John Galt’s motor, they are highly intrigued by it and go to great lengths to seek out the inventor so that they can learn more. This becomes a symbol of the power of human thought and creativity to them. The motor can be likened to thinking processes. When the motor is running, great things can be achieved and power reconciled. However, when the motor ceases to work, great achievements grind to a halt.