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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 7 : Either-Or (The Moratorium on Brains) | Summary



The chapter's title is Francisco d'Anconia's phrase to describe Directive Number 10-289. The moratorium is a legal order forbidding thought and choice.

In talking with the nameless worker, Eddie Willers inadvertently reveals Dagny Taggart's location. The worker mentions he's taken a month's vacation for 12 summers.

Seeking a divorce, Hank Rearden moves out of his house. He will now "rebuild his life, starting out with an empty spirit." He vows not to let Dagny know why he signed over his Metal and to finally confess his love.

On a nighttime walk, a man appears and hands Rearden a bar of gold. The man says he is Ragnar Danneskjöld; Rearden drops the gold and accuses Danneskjöld of living by force. Danneskjöld says he uses force "openly" and "honestly" in fair battle. He asks whether he or Wesley Mouch is more moral; Rearden doesn't answer. Danneskjöld feels he is merely complying with the established system, which is based on the use of force.

When Danneskjöld smiles, Rearden sees in his face the "startling beauty of physical perfection." Danneskjöld says he intends to destroy Robin Hood. He seizes "every government relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship" he can. Robin Hood is remembered "not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need"; the legend legitimizes the current state of affairs.

Danneskjöld says the Mulligan Bank holds a refund for Rearden's previous 12 years of income taxes. He is investing in his own future by ensuring capital will be "in the hands of our best, most productive men" when it is time to rebuild society. "The day of deliverance" is near, he says, and all attempts to manufacture Rearden Metal will meet with destruction. Rearden doesn't want a criminal's help; he intends to alert the police.

Two policemen arrive. One asks whether Rearden has seen a tall blond stranger around, on foot or in a car with "a million-dollar motor." Rearden denies seeing anyone. When the other policeman asks Rearden about the man he is with, Rearden says it is his "new bodyguard." Satisfied, they leave. Danneskjöld thanks Rearden and vanishes. Rearden takes the gold.

On May 28 Kip Chalmers, a candidate for the California legislature, is aboard the Taggart Comet en route to a campaign rally. The train breaks down near the tunnel at Winston, Colorado; Chalmers grows hysterical about missing his rally.

Dave Mitchum, the new superintendent, is alerted; he knows nothing about railroads. There are no replacement diesel engines available for many hours. His subordinates, experienced railroad men, warn him it's dangerous to run a coal-burning engine through the eight-mile tunnel. Bill Brent, the chief dispatcher, tells him the only thing to do is to wait.

Kip Chalmers sends a threatening telegram to James Taggart. Taggart tells Clifton Locey, Dagny's replacement, that his job is to ensure the Comet is not delayed. Locey sends Mitchum orders to "give an engine to Mr. Chalmers at once. Send the Comet through safely and without unnecessary delay." Mitchum sends orders for "the best engine available." A coal-burning locomotive is sent. Mitchum tells Bill Brent he's going to look for a diesel; if he doesn't return in 30 minutes, Brent is to sign the order to use the coal-burning engine. Brent refuses and quits; Mitchum punches Brent and passes the order to the young night dispatcher. The terrified boy sends the order, reassuring himself of his superiors' competence. As the train begins to move, Kip Chalmers brags, "See? Fear is the only practical means to deal with people."

The train approaches the tunnel's "black hole." The narrator notes all the passengers on board hold the looters' moral code and adds, "It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there are those who would have said" the passengers aren't responsible for what happens. Wyatt's Torch is "the last thing they saw on Earth." Later, the Comet is struck by an army munitions train, and the tunnel is destroyed.


It is worth noting the nameless worker says he has taken 12 years of summer vacations; Francisco d'Anconia earlier revealed "it's been twelve years" since something significant happened. Also significant is Ragnar Danneskjöld's intention to refund 12 years of income taxes from an account at the Mulligan Bank. Midas Mulligan was a wealthy banker who disappeared and closed his Chicago bank some years earlier. There seems to be a link between Francisco d'Anconia, the nameless worker, Danneskjöld, and the vanished banker Midas Mulligan. The policeman claims Danneskjöld may be in a car with a million-dollar motor, leading the reader to wonder if this motor is related to the one Dagny Taggart found in the Twentieth Century Motor Company factory.

The Comet disaster illustrates that failure to act rationally is an issue of life and death. The higher-level actors decide it is worth risking hundreds of lives to avoid upsetting a powerful Washington man by making him late. However, they push responsibility for this decision onto a person of the lowest seniority; he will be scapegoated, not they. Meaningfully, Wyatt's Torch is the last thing the passengers see before entering the tunnel to become victims sacrificed to the looter's irrationality; the fire, set by Ellis Wyatt, is a funeral pyre for the oil fields he chose to sacrifice rather than sacrifice himself to the looters.

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