Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 10 : Either-Or (The Sign of the Dollar) | Summary

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Summary

On the train to Utah, Dagny Taggart speaks with Jeff Allen, a tramp, who mentions he might be among those responsible for the phrase, "Who is John Galt?" Allen worked at the Twentieth Century Motor Company factory when the Starnes heirs implemented a system where every worker worked "according to his ability" and was "paid according to his need." Production fell, and the workers became "beggars." Workers began competing to do the worst, not the best; a "necessities allowance" created apathy. The factory went bankrupt in four years.

Introducing the plan 12 years earlier, Gerald Starnes told his workers, "Each of us belongs to all the others by the moral law which we all accept!" A young, quiet engineer stood and said, "I don't ... I will put an end to this once and for all ... I will stop the motor of the world." In the following years, the workers began to suspect he was responsible for the destruction of society; the man's name was John Galt.

The train stops; the crew has deserted. Dagny encounters Owen Kellogg, the young engineer who quit when she offered him a promotion. The two walk to telephone in a replacement crew.

Kellogg tells Dagny he is hurrying "west," where he will join friends for a month-long vacation that's "more important than anything on earth" to him. He takes out cigarettes with the dollar sign, explaining the symbol, originally derived from the country's initials, stands for "man's creative power" but has been appropriated as "a brand of infamy." He says "we, the dollar ... makers ... wear the sign of the dollar on our foreheads ... as our badge of nobility." Meaningfully, he offers her a cigarette, and she accepts. He will only sell them to her for five cents' gold; instead, he gives them to her, saying she's earned them as a reminder "of our true homeland, which has always been yours, too." Shaken, Dagny accepts the gift.

Dagny phones in a crew and, seeing an airstrip, decides to proceed by plane. After bribing the airfield attendant, Dagny takes the plane. As she leaves Kellogg, she meaningfully offers him a cigarette, and he accepts.

Dagny flies across the mountains. High in the air, she hears in her mind Richard Halley's Fourth Concerto, with its "cry of a tortured struggle ... like a distant vision to be reached." After she lands in Utah, the airfield attendant indicates a departing plane and says Quentin Daniels is on board with a stranger. Dagny pursues the plane, "a small black cross," into the sunrise. She is willing to die to kill the destroyer. Dagny is running out of fuel; any landing is impossible. The stranger's plane descends and disappears within the mountains; it looks to Dagny like suicide. The spot where the plane disappeared is a rocky valley where landing is impossible, but she sees no wreck. Thinking perhaps the destroyer "led her here to be destroyed," she descends toward the valley, refusing to be defeated. Shockingly, despite her descent, the valley floor, illuminated by an "oddly unnatural light," grows no closer. She is hit by a "flash of light ... [that] had no source"; her motor is dead. As she falls toward certain death, she feels sure of her survival, bathed in "that special sense of existence which had always been hers." In mocking defiance of fate, she cries, "Oh hell! Who is John Galt?"

Analysis

This chapter ties together the threads of many mysteries. Owen Kellogg's admission he is headed to a month-long vacation, and his possession of cigarettes with the dollar sign, ties him to the nameless cafeteria worker, who told Eddie Willers he had taken an annual vacation for 12 years. It also ties him to the destroyer, who left the cigarette butt with a dollar sign in Kenneth Danagger's office.

The repetition of "twelve years" gets an explanation: 12 years ago John Galt vowed to "stop the motor of the world." He alone had the courage to stand up to communism in the factory; he foresaw its disastrous consequences and refused to be a part of it. In contrast to Marx's conception of history's progression, at the factory communism isn't implemented by the workers overthrowing the owners; instead, the owners force communism on the workers.

Dagny Taggart is convinced the plane she follows carries the destroyer. The plane appears as a cross; this Christian symbolism suggests the destroyer is the savior: the one who undertakes to save the world from the destruction of socialism and communism.

As Dagny descends toward the valley, she has faith she will survive the landing, despite what her senses are telling her. Dagny, a woman of reason, disdains faith, but she has experienced it before; she believes the railroad is in the hands of a man beyond the horizon, whom she expects to meet one day. The reader may wonder if there is a meaningful connection between Dagny's two experiences of faith. Perhaps her faith-filled descent toward the dangerous valley will lead her to the man beyond the horizon. Perhaps John Galt is taking Quentin Daniels from Dagny to stop his progress on the motor, just as Galt vowed to "stop the motor of the world."

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