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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Either-Or (Miracle Metal) | Summary

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Summary

In mid-April Wesley Mouch issues Directive Number 10-289 to stabilize the economic crisis. The directive freezes workers in their current jobs, prohibits the sale or closure of businesses, requires all holders of patents and copyrights to voluntarily give them to the government, prohibits the introduction of new products into the market, requires all businesses to maintain production at a certain arbitrary level, requires individuals to spend the same arbitrary amount of money each year, freezes wages and prices, and establishes a Unification Board to interpret and enforce the regulations.

Fred Kinnan anticipates "the anti-industrial revolution." Dr. Floyd Ferris claims "a planned economy achieves the maximum of productive efficiency and that centralization leads to super-industrialization." Ferris anticipates "patriotic duty" will move all except Hank Rearden to turn over their patents. James Taggart offers to force Rearden's hand. Directive Number 10-289 goes into effect May 1.

When she learns about the directive, Dagny Taggart resigns: "I won't work as a slave or as a slave-driver." She tells Eddie Willers she's going to her cabin in the mountains; he promises not to reveal her location. Dagny feels "weightlessly easy." An unprecedented number of industrialists vanish during the first days of May.

On May 15 Ferris comes to collect Rearden's signature on the gift certificates; Rearden Metal will be renamed Miracle Metal. Ferris's secret weapon, provided by Lillian Rearden, is photographic evidence of Rearden's affair with Dagny. Ferris points out that exposure would ruin Dagny's reputation, not Rearden's.

Rearden thinks Ferris wants to use his virtue, not his vice, to victimize him. Why, he wonders, does the world "sanction a code that pronounced them guilty" for existing? Shocked, he realizes his shame over his sexual relationship with Dagny is an example of this very sanction.

Now Rearden sees "the answer to all his questions." He had been guilty of shame "that [his] body responded to the values of [his] mind." Similarly, the looters "damn [his] ability to translate the work of [his] mind into Rearden Metal." He accepted their code—"the life of one's body must be lived in misery"—and regrets keeping the affair secret to preserve the "vicious fraud" of his marriage. Unwilling to further sacrifice "the noblest woman to the vilest," he signs over his Metal.

Analysis

Hank Rearden realizes he has no one to blame but himself. His own shame and pity leave him no choice but to give up the rights to his Metal. In court he claimed he would only submit at the point of a gun; now he realizes his reliance on emotion rather than reason in his dealings with people has created the situation he faces. But he is "a man who pays his own way," and he is unwilling to make Dagny Taggart pay for his mistakes with her reputation. This isn't altruism, but rational self-interest: he must maintain his principle of living as a trader.

With Directive Number 10-289, the country has become a socialist dictatorship. Born in the USSR, Ayn Rand experienced the Bolshevik Revolution and the USSR's establishment before she moved to the United States. But in Atlas Shrugged, there is no sudden revolution, no coup, no seizure of power by the dispossessed. Instead, capitalist society slides into socialism incrementally, as those in power seize more power for the sake of power itself, while maintaining a justification of "public welfare." The incremental nature of this transition keeps Rearden and Dagny fighting for so long, refusing to cast off an ever-greater burden.

Despite her belief in the destroyer, Dagny's decision to quit is her own. She gets a feeling of weightlessness: another Atlas has shrugged off the burden of the world.

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