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Atlas Shrugged | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Either-Or (By Our Love) | Summary

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Summary

At the cabin, Dagny Taggart finds purpose in improving the property. She thinks life is linear, progressing toward a goal "like a journey down the track of a railroad." She struggles with grief but maintains hope.

Francisco d'Anconia arrives and asks Dagny whether she could have borne her present anguish 12 years ago. Her answer, he says, will "redeem twelve years of my life." Dagny says she has lost all she lived for, and her belief in the destroyer. Francisco began "destroying d'Anconia copper ... deliberately" 12 years ago so it wouldn't "feed the looters," and he also began working to destroy Taggart Transcontinental, Rearden Steel, and Wyatt Oil. Dagny realizes Francisco was one of the first industrialists to quit.

Dagny says staying and leaving are both surrender. "Contradictions don't exist," Francisco says. Taggart Transcontinental was "almost like a living person" but no longer. The industrialists are the "soul," and the mines, mills, and railroads are "the body"; without the industrialists, "they are corpses." Francisco says Dagny must abandon the "carcass of that railroad" to the looters, but he pleads, "Don't leave them your mind!"

The radio announces the Winston tunnel accident; Dagny screams. When the train broke down halfway through the eight-mile tunnel, all aboard died of suffocation; the tunnel's ventilation system couldn't process the engine's coal smoke. A freight train bearing explosives collided with the Comet, and the explosion collapsed the tunnel.

Amid calls for the railroads' nationalization, James Taggart considers resigning; he is scared and struggles not to think. When Dagny arrives, James blames her for the accident: it happened "because you left!"

Dagny plans to reroute the tunnel traffic over the mountains. Eddie Willers tells her Hank Rearden signed the gift certificates and describes the new phenomenon of "frozen trains," abandoned by their crew without warning. Dagny tells the government men she intends to start "breaking your laws right now." She doesn't blame Hank Rearden for signing over his Metal. They agree to fight until it destroys them.

Analysis

This chapter highlights a central theme in the book: having a purpose gives life meaning. For Dagny Taggart, the railroad is both a purpose and a metaphor for that purpose. Action without clear purpose leads to self-hatred and unhappiness; this is embodied in the miserable and fearful James Taggart, who has no idea where he's going or why.

Dagny loves the railroad as if it is a child. She grieves its loss viscerally, referring to it as her "drowning child." Francisco d'Anconia corrects her error: the railroad isn't drowning; it's already dead, because she has withdrawn her mind from it. She must not cling to a decaying corpse feeding the looters, but she can start again, creating a new "body" from the vision of her mind—a body the looters cannot destroy without her consent. Dagny almost accepts this, but news of the tunnel disaster prompts her to return to her railroad. She is not ready to abandon her destructive, ailing child.

Francisco reveals the reason for engaging in deliberate destruction: it is better to destroy what one loves than let looters feed on it. The body must be sacrificed to save the soul within. Again, a time frame of 12 years is mentioned: the same amount of time the nameless worker Eddie Willers dines with has been vacationing and the number of years of income tax Ragnar Danneskjöld intends to refund to Hank Rearden. Clearly, an important shift occurred 12 years ago for all three men.

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