Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 1, Chapter 2 : Non-Contradiction (The Chain) | Summary

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Summary

Hank Rearden, a self-made industrialist and inventor, spent 10 years developing Rearden Metal. Now he fills the first order for Taggart Transcontinental's rail. He also makes a chain-link Rearden Metal bracelet for his wife, Lillian.

Rearden's family criticizes him for his dedication to his work and is uninterested in his revolutionary Metal. Reluctantly, Rearden promises Lillian he will attend their anniversary party on December 10. Lillian ridicules the bracelet; his mother calls Rearden selfish for giving a gift meaningful only to him. Rearden wonders why his family "professe[s] to love him," while ignoring the "things for which he could wish to be loved." He resents their helplessness but thinks he must "learn to understand them ... since they could never share his sense of joyous, boundless power."

Paul Larkin, their friend, advises Rearden to hire a press agent. Rearden refuses; his only goals are "to make steel and to make money." Out of distasteful necessity, Rearden has employed a Washington lobbyist to "protect him from the legislature." This man, Wesley Mouch, is part of a "crummy lot," and Rearden wonders aloud why it must be so. Larkin responds, "Why ask useless questions? ... Who is John Galt?"

Rearden's brother, Philip, a volunteer with Friends of Global Progress, complains he's having trouble raising $10,000 for the organization. Rearden offers Philip the money to make him happy. When Philip criticizes Rearden's motives, Rearden agrees he doesn't care about "helping the underprivileged." Lillian claims Rearden only takes care of his family because it satisfies his ego to have them as dependents. She calls the bracelet "the chain by which he holds us all in bondage."

Analysis

With Rearden Metal, Hank Rearden is poised to revolutionize metals manufacturing; he seeks to share his pride in this achievement with his family. Lillian Rearden, ignoring the bracelet's symbolic value, mocks it because it is not beautiful in the way diamonds are. His family members don't recognize Rearden's worth as a man of vision, action, and power; they don't value these qualities anyway. Instead of expressing gratitude for Rearden's financial support, they choose to criticize his character—the very character that compels him to work and support them. By insulting Rearden, devaluing his achievements, and painting him as selfish and uncaring, they avoid facing their own purposelessness and self-contempt. Rearden's relationship with his family echoes that between James and Dagny Taggart; Dagny's genius supports the railroad, but insecure James seeks to undermine her in every way he can.

Rearden tolerates his family's ingratitude because he feels successful according to his own standards: his work is profitable and makes him happy. He is as uninterested in his family's negative opinions of him as he is in manipulating public opinion. His offer of money is a gesture of generosity to his brother, who accepts it with reluctance after lobbing another accusation of selfishness at Rearden. His family's conviction that Rearden is selfish and therefore immoral cannot be shaken, even when Rearden gives them exactly what they ask for. They resent their dependence on him, even as they insist they are entitled to it. Their stance is full of contradictions, but they either do not realize this or do not care.

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