Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 5 : Either-Or (Account Overdrawn) | Summary

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Summary

Dagny Taggart can't replace rails due to Hank Rearden not having copper. The trains stop running for lack of coal; consumer goods are scarce. The press is silent, but rumors about Ragnar Danneskjöld abound: why does he sink the cargo and let the crew escape? Taggart Transcontinental is operating at a deficit. The Board of Directors decides to close the John Galt Line and use its rail to fix the main line.

Francisco d'Anconia asks Dagny, "Have they finally murdered John Galt?" Francisco says Rearden is the one man he'd give his life to, aside from the man he has already given his life to. "Who is John Galt?" is carved into the table; all the legends are true, Francisco says, and Galt is also "Prometheus who changed his mind ... he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures."

Dagny and Rearden are aboard the John Galt Line's final run on March 31. The passengers are confused and hysterical; they know what the line's closure means for their lives. Dagny notes the locomotive "did not have its usual joyous sound of energy ... it had the sound of a panting breath."

Washington has ordered James Taggart to "keep Rearden in line," in exchange for dropping their demand for a shipping rate cut. Taggart meets with Lillian Rearden, who confesses she is unable to control her husband's behavior. She promises to try and to let Taggart take credit for having "disarmed" Rearden. When Lillian goes to meet Rearden's train at the station, she realizes Dagny is his mistress.

Rearden admits his affair with Dagny to Lillian. She forbids him ever seeing Dagny again, saying his life is her "property." Rearden gives her a choice: divorce or the status quo. He thinks of Dagny's radiant face, while Lillian has "a lifeless face with evasive eyes, with ... the look of sharing some smutty guilt." It was obscene, he realizes, that he once saw "impotence ... as virtue and ... the power of living as a sin." Lillian refuses divorce; she dares him to see if he can get away with his immorality. Rearden feels free and unburdened.

Analysis

The contrast between Dagny Taggart's face and Lillian Rearden's face sets Hank Rearden free from the shame and guilt he once felt at his sexual pleasure and need for Dagny; he no longer has to be ashamed of his sexual desires because they follow his values. Rearden previously valued impotence in sex but not in life; now his values are coherent and aligned with his actions. Rearden feels a burden lifted; this recalls the Atlas legend Francisco d'Anconia spoke of. Hank has resolved the conundrum: he now sees freedom comes when needless burdens are cast off.

Francisco believes John Galt is a modern-day Prometheus. In ancient Greek legend, Prometheus steals fire from Mount Olympus, home of the gods, and gives it to humankind for their benefit. Angry at Prometheus's challenge to his authority, Zeus, the king of the gods, punishes him by chaining him to a rock, where he endures the constant attack of vultures who tear away at his body. Ayn Rand's industrialist heroes are like Prometheus; their products are like fire, necessary for society to function. The government has metaphorically chained them, rendering them unable to act and subjecting them to great distress. Galt is the first one who broke free of his chains. While Prometheus was bound by unbreakable chains, the chains holding Rand's heroes are chains of their own consent.

Ragnar Danneskjöld letting cargo sink to the sea floor recalls the legend of Atlantis, the paradise sunk under the sea. If Galt is the man who found Atlantis, perhaps Danneskjöld is in league with Galt. A connection between Francisco and Danneskjöld was previously revealed through Francisco's foreknowledge of Danneskjöld's actions. There is some connection between the three men, but the nature of this connection is hidden.

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