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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 3 : Either-Or (White Blackmail) | Summary



D'Anconia Copper's stock crashes. Lillian Rearden confronts Hank about his affair; unwilling to divorce him, she insists he live with her and thus face his immorality every day. Instead of shame, Hank Rearden feels animosity toward her.

Dr. Floyd Ferris tells Rearden the State Science Institute plans to blackmail him into selling them Rearden Metal; they know about the secret deal with Kenneth Danagger. Ferris says, "Did you really think we want those laws to be observed? ... We want them broken." He explains the "game" of creating criminals and then manipulating them.

Eddie Willers speaks in despair to the nameless worker. Rearden and Danagger have been indicted; Dagny Taggart believes Danagger will disappear next, and "a system ... an intention, a man" underlie the disappearances. Dagny wants to kill this man.

Dagny visits Danagger; she waits while he meets with an "unscheduled caller." Afterward, Danagger looks as if he's just been saved but won't identify the visitor. He says he will retire and says Dagny will soon join him. The cigarette butt in his ashtray bears a dollar sign.

Francisco d'Anconia tells Rearden the mills are proof of his morality, built "by choice in answer to the question: Right or wrong?" He points out Rearden doesn't use the same moral code for men as he does for his business; Rearden Metal benefits those who "demand that [Rearden's] strength be the ... slave of their impotence." Francisco asks Rearden what advice he would offer Atlas, the world-bearer, suffering under the burden of the world. Rearden is at a loss; Francisco says he would advise Atlas "to shrug."

A liquid metal leak interrupts their conversation. As Rearden and d'Anconia work together to stop the accident, they feel the joy of "the instantaneous refusal to submit to disaster, the irresistible drive to fight it." Francisco nearly falls into the furnace, and Rearden pulls him back, saving his life.


Ayn Rand explores the idea of basing personal relationships on the principle of trading value for value. When sacrifice and suffering enter the picture, as Lillian Rearden demands of her husband, the relationship is harmful. Francisco d'Anconia points out a contradiction between Hank Rearden's trader's ethics and the fact he allows looters to prey on him. In the book's titular metaphor, he compares Hank to Atlas. Hank doesn't know what Atlas should do, just as he never conceives of the idea of throwing off his own burden. Francisco says Atlas should shrug off the burden; rational self-interest requires he not bear an undue burden. The world must be sacrificed to save the self. Francisco is not the destroyer, but he seems to be working for the destroyer.

Rearden is willing to face the consequences of his deal with Kenneth Danagger because he knows it is morally correct, despite conflicting with the law. He wants no part of the government's game, where laws are meant to be broken. Rearden refuses to submit to this "white blackmail"—a blackmail the government sanctions as moral.

However, Rearden does allow his wife to control him because he took an oath of marriage. Unwilling to believe she is evil, Rearden tells himself this is her ugly way of dealing with pain. He allows his wife, but not Dr. Floyd Ferris, to manipulate him, despite Ferris's ostensibly greater power to wreck Rearden's life. But Lillian is unable to make Rearden feel self-contempt, because he doesn't value her judgments. Instead, he feels contempt for her.

Dagny Taggart correctly believes the indictment will result in Danagger's disappearance; it is clear she has come to his office at the very moment he meets with the destroyer. The cigarette the destroyer leaves is the same kind Hugh Akston gave her at the diner, with a dollar sign on it—the one the newsstand owner confirmed was not made anywhere on Earth.

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