Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 1, Chapter 9 : Non-Contradiction (The Sacred and the Profane) | Summary



After sex, Hank Rearden tells Dagny Taggart he feels contempt for both of them. They have degraded themselves like animals; he despises his need for her. Dagny proclaims sleeping with him is her "proudest attainment."

Cherryl Brooks, a 19-year-old salesgirl, recognizes James Taggart. Flattered by her admiration, Taggart takes her home. Cherryl grew up in poverty but left home for the city, fed up with the laziness of those around her. Taggart doesn't sleep with her; instead, he rants about Dagny's and Rearden's selfishness, claiming unhappiness is the mark of a superior individual.

Business booms for Dagny and Rearden after the John Galt Line's first run. Companies are flocking to establish themselves in Colorado. Dagny returns to Taggart Transcontinental. On September 2 Rearden is the National Council of Metal Industries' guest of honor. Dagny plans to rebuild the main line with Rearden Metal rails; Rearden plans to expand his operations. He convinces Dagny to take a vacation with him and meaningfully clasps the Rearden Metal bracelet onto her wrist.

On vacation, Dagny and Rearden drive through the hills. They are saddened by the struggling towns and abandoned factories. They visit the abandoned Twentieth Century Motor Company factory to see if there's any salvageable machinery. In the wreckage, Dagny finds an incomplete motor of a type she's never seen, as well as a partial description. She realizes the motor runs on "static electricity from the atmosphere." Excited by such a momentous discovery, Dagny resolves to find its inventor.


Hank Rearden feels shame: he has broken his marriage oath and, therefore, his word. He believes acting on passion rather than reason makes him an irrational animal. Dagny feels no inner conflict; she earned their sexual relationship through Hank's recognition of her personal value.

James Taggart has many cronies but no friends. He feels safe with Cherryl Brooks because he sees her as inferior to him in every way. He insists his unhappiness stems not from his immorality but his morality. He assumes Cherryl feels even more worthless than he does and will be an admiring audience for his complaints. Although Taggart thinks his irrationality is sacred (describing any great achievement), it is profane (vile or degrading). Rearden suffers from the opposite misconception: he thinks sex with Dagny is profane when it is sacred. Rearden's otherwise solid moral code is contradictory when it comes to sex.

Rearden now becomes the hero of those who wanted to destroy him; he is indifferent to their admiration but, like Dagny, hopes the way is now clear for them to proceed without the government's harassment.

Their country vacation proves to be less relaxing than anticipated; they are disturbed by the dominance of nature and the decay of human activity. The vacation becomes suddenly meaningful when Dagny finds an unfinished motor that—if finished—could provide humanity a free, unlimited source of energy.

This implies the motor could create a paradise-like era of unprecedented innovation on Earth by freeing people from the usual constraints. Metaphorically speaking, completing the motor could lead to Atlantis's emergence from under the sea. If John Galt found Atlantis, and if the motor could create Atlantis on Earth, the reader must question if John Galt is its inventor. Dagny vows to find the man who built the motor, just as she has vowed to find and fight John Galt. These seem to be two separate quests: one of admiration and progress, the other of enmity and destruction. The reader must wonder if these two quests are related: Is she seeking two separate men—or not?

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