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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 1, Chapter 3 : Non-Contradiction (The Top and the Bottom) | Summary



The National Council of Metal Industries is studying whether Rearden Metal is dangerous. Orren Boyle of Associated Steel thinks scarce iron ore should be fairly divided among all manufacturers. James Taggart tells Boyle he will use his influence to seek steel-industry regulation. Taggart complains of his own competitors, and Boyle offers to use his influence to restrain competition in the railroad industry. Taggart and Boyle have invested in the San Sebastian copper mines in the People's State of Mexico; Boyle denies rumors of the impending mine nationalization. Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist, is at their meeting.

Dagny Taggart has dreamed of running the railroad since she was young. Starting work at age 16, she quickly acquired authority because of her willingness to make decisions and take responsibility. She has always been frustrated by ineptitude and longs for "a friend or an enemy with a mind better than her own."

Francisco d'Anconia owns the San Sebastian Mines. An aristocrat of immense intelligence and wealth, he inherited d'Anconia Copper, a powerful mining operation established by his ancestor Sebastian d'Anconia. Dagny opposed the San Sebastian Line; she thought it was wiser to secure business in Colorado by repairing the Rio Norte Line. James berates Dagny for the subpar operation on the San Sebastian Line. Dagny says it is intentional, as socialist Mexico will soon nationalize the line.

Leaving work, Dagny passes the statue of the railroad's founder, her ancestor Nathaniel Taggart. Looking at the statue is her "only form of prayer." Dagny buys cigarettes from a newsstand; the owner says people today are "not going anywhere, they're escaping." When he asks, "Who is John Galt?" Dagny says she doesn't like what people "seem to mean when they say" that.

Eddie Willers regularly dines in the employee cafeteria with a certain railroad worker whose name and position are unknown, both to Willers and the reader. The worker shows enormous interest in Taggart Transcontinental, and Willers speaks freely about his concerns and hopes for the railroad. In these conversations, only Willers's speech is narrated.


This chapter shows that power in the country operates through a collusion of businessmen and bureaucrats who trade favors. James Taggart and Orren Boyle expect the government's help to make them successful by strangling the competition. Innovation threatens them: Boyle fears Rearden Metal will put him out of business. The investigation into Rearden Metal's safety is a propaganda piece designed to create public fear. Boyle and Taggart blame those who succeed for their own inability to succeed; they seek success by manipulating the game in their own favor.

These men justify their cronyism and corruption by throwing around phrases such as "public welfare" and "common good." This doublespeak allows them to claim a moral high ground, while undermining free enterprise. Ayn Rand's criticism of this corruption and hypocrisy, and of large government, is symbolized by the name Wesley Mouch, which calls to mind the pejorative terms weasel and mooch.

Dagny dislikes the question, "Who is John Galt?" because she feels it is a way for people to justify their own weakness and lack of knowledge. Dagny is a woman of action rather than excuses.

In contrast with the power-hungry men who meet on top of a skyscraper, Eddie Willers eats in the underground employee cafeteria with a low-level worker. Willers confides in the nameless worker because the man shows great interest in and respect for Taggart Transcontinental.

Three mysteries have been presented so far: Why has Owen Kellogg quit without explanation? Who is the nameless worker Eddie Willers speaks with? Who is John Galt? The reader may wonder if the answers are somehow related.

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