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Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 1 : A Is A (Atlantis) | Summary



The title of Part 3 refers to Aristotle's law of identity, which says a thing is itself. In other words, things are what they are. Black is black, not white; up is up, not down. In Part 3 the protagonists realize their own and others' true nature, as well as the truth about the situations they face. The contradictions and mysteries that troubled them earlier are finally and fully resolved. This resolution heralds the return of freedom and justice.

Opening her eyes, Dagny Taggart sees a man's face—a face with "no ... pain or fear or guilt." The man says he is John Galt. Dagny's ankle is broken, so he carries her. In his arms Dagny can "forget everything and just permit [herself] to feel." She can barely recall her goal or her enemy. She has experienced this feeling "of certainty, of the final, the reached, the not-to-be-questioned" before but cannot remember when.

Galt says the inhospitable valley she descended toward is a mirage to deter outsiders. He carries her into a town; passing Richard Halley's house, the Fifth Concerto can be heard. They pass a three-foot solid-gold dollar sign. Hugh Akston tells Dagny she is in the arms of the motor's inventor, the mysterious third pupil.

Galt says Dagny must discover the John Galt Line's true destroyer. By doing "nothing," he stopped the motor of the world. He's been watching her and thinking of her for years. He had foreknowledge of her trip to Utah and deliberately took Quentin Daniels to undo her.

The community, called Galt's Gulch, is owned by Midas Mulligan and powered by Galt's motor. Here, the vanished industrialists live and run their own small economy. Galt offers Dagny a cigarette bearing the dollar sign. Midas Mulligan's mint produces small gold coins; Dagny's paper money is worthless. Galt takes her to see all the great men he took from her. The brakeman who whistled the Fifth Concerto on the train is in fact "Halley's best pupil." Ellis Wyatt says innovation all over the valley keeps prices low; they are "manufacturing time" and working for their "use, not the looters' profit."

They expect Hank Rearden to arrive soon; Dagny realizes the valley represents Rearden's "youth ... his start." Suddenly, she comprehends the circularity of time and thinks "to hold an unchanging youth is to reach, at the end, the vision with which one started." She recalls the legend of Galt finding the fountain of youth.

They drive to the powerhouse containing Galt's motor. Dagny stops before it in reverence, sensing there is "no need to move forward." The moment "unit[es] her beginning to her goal." The building bears an oath: a promise the oath-taker "will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask" another to live for his sake. Everyone who lives in the valley takes the oath, Galt explains, and the locked door can be opened only by one who can "reach the thought which it requires." He speaks the oath; the door opens. He closes it; he and Dagny know she won't use the words until she gives them the meaning Galt intended.

Dagny is invited to live in the valley, if she chooses rationally to do so. Hugh Akston alludes to the valley as a heaven on earth; Richard Halley explains the Fifth Concerto is known among them as "the Concerto of Deliverance."

They are on strike, Galt explains. Throughout history, every other class of man has gone on strike, except the "men of the mind." Now they "strike against martyrdom." The strikers are destroying the world's moral code "by obeying it," by withdrawing their minds, ability, and profit motive. Compelled by the meeting at the Twentieth Century Motor Company to see "the root of the world's tragedy, the key to it and the solution," Galt abandoned his motor and started the strike. In the same way, Dagny must abandon Taggart Transcontinental. The valley community grew slowly and now is nearly self-supporting. As the world perishes, they will survive here. After the day of total collapse, they will "rebuild the world." Dagny realizes this room is the point "where the two straight lines of rail met and vanished, drawing her forward." It is what she has always wanted, but to choose it is to abandon her railroad.

When Galt carries Dagny back to his house, they share a feeling of profound, unspoken closeness. He explains Dagny's two choices; one will force her to kill him, as she once intended. The guest room is called "the torture chamber" as all new residents struggle there with their memories the first night. Leaving, he says he never "intended [Dagny] to occupy" the guest room.


Following the faith that drove her to crash her plane, Dagny Taggart has attained the deliverance she has always sought and the answers to most of her questions. John Galt is the man she loves and who loves her. He is the one who held the railroad in his hands beyond the horizon; she has now met him. Galt is the motor's inventor, and his motor is complete, powering the town. Galt is Dr. Robert Stadler and Hugh Akston's mysterious third pupil. He is the nameless railroad worker, and Eddie Willers told him about her trip to Utah. As a labor organizer and enemy of the looters, he is the one Dagny called the destroyer; in truth he is the savior who refuses to be martyred. The legends are all true: Galt's Gulch is Atlantis, a place on Earth, sunk and hidden within the mountains, inhabited by the vanished heroes. Galt also found the fountain of youth, the way to actualize the original vision of one's rational self. Galt is also Prometheus: he withdrew his motor, which could have benefited humankind as much as fire did. He is the first Atlas to shrug, and the others in the valley followed his example. Dagny now understands the mystery of Richard Halley's Fifth Concerto: Halley wrote it here, in the valley, as the "Concerto of Deliverance."

Dagny has attained her goal: she is at the place where the two lines of rail meet. Dagny can go no further than this. But instead of feeling immobile, as she did in the regular world when she was unable to move forward, she feels a great peace and sense of presence.

Dagny now faces the most difficult choice of her life. She is still plagued by contradiction: she must either sacrifice Galt and his paradise, or she must sacrifice the railroad. As Dagny is often reminded, contradictions do not exist. One of her premises is wrong: the two choices feel like sacrifices, but one is not. It is up to her to decide for herself which is the true sacrifice.

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