Atlas Shrugged | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 4 : A Is A (Anti-Life) | Summary

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Summary

On August 5 James Taggart gives a party celebrating the Interneighborly Amity and Development Corporation's (IADC's) exclusive 20-year lease to all industrial properties in the Southern Hemisphere. On September 2 the People's State of Chile will nationalize d'Anconia Copper, and Taggart plans to sell his d'Anconia stock and invest in the IADC.

He goes home to his wife, Cherryl, who no longer admires him. When he insists the IADC is about public welfare, she reminds him he doesn't care about that. Cherryl expresses admiration for Dagny Taggart's speech. James brags he arranged for Bertram Scudder to be scapegoated for the broadcast; when Cherryl is horrified, James becomes violently angry.

September 2 is their first anniversary. For the past year Cherryl has devoted herself to fulfilling the role of Mrs. Taggart. James seems resentful of her acceptance in his world. She can't believe she once revered this world, as she is disgusted by its morality. She sought the truth about the brains behind Taggart Transcontinental from Eddie Willers. When she confronted James for taking credit for Dagny's achievements, he said, "Shut up, you rotten little bitch." Now she pities James, feeling "a stranger to herself" with "nothing to want or seek."

She asks James what he wants; "Love," he replies. She did love him, for his "courage ... ambition ... ability. But it wasn't real, any of it." James replies he wants to be loved for himself, not for what he might "do or have or say or think." He calls her a "gold-digger," incapable of love. She is shocked he expects a "causeless" and "unearned" love.

Cherryl refuses to toast Francisco d'Anconia. James smashes his glass and runs out. Cherryl goes to see Dagny.

Since her return, Dagny has "rac[ed] from emergency to emergency," trying to prevent the railroad's collapse. Cherryl tells Dagny she has realized James is "some sort of vicious moocher." Dagny wants to help Cherryl because they share the same values. Dagny says her secret is trusting nothing above "the verdict of [her] own mind."

In Cherryl's absence, Lillian Rearden visits James. She wants him to have Wesley Mouch refuse her upcoming divorce in return for Hank Rearden signing the Metal over. James explains the days of favors are over. They start to get drunk. James says he wants "to hear [Rearden] scream with pain." Lillian says her only power is destroying men like Rearden. They have sex; she is passive, and for him it is "an act in celebration of the triumph of impotence."

Cherryl returns home; James becomes enraged when she confronts him about the woman in his bedroom. He refuses divorce; he married her because she was "a cheap, helpless, preposterous little guttersnipe, who'd never have a chance at anything to equal me." Cherryl, astonished to learn he loved her for her worthlessness, tells him he is a "killer ... for the sake of killing." He hits her face, and she runs out and through the streets. Tortured by knowing whatever she accomplishes James will steal, she thinks of Dagny fighting a similar "losing battle, to be destroyed." She jumps into the river.

Analysis

The tragedy of Cherryl Brooks illustrates what happens when people of reason fail to see the chains holding them in victimhood are chains of their own making.

Cherryl, a woman of reason, recognizes the perversity of James Taggart's morality and the perversity of what binds them together. She sees through his "public welfare" doublespeak and refuses to toast the theft of d'Anconia Copper mines. Having lost her admiration, James resorts to insulting her worth and capacity for love. He insists she love him for "himself," but his definition of "himself" does not include anything he is or does. He defines himself as his need and nothing more. In a classic looter attitude, James thinks because he is needy, he has a claim on her love. Because she cannot love him for his need, she is a "gold-digger of the spirit"—one who marries not for material wealth but for traits James both lacks and disdains. Cherryl finds this horrifying.

When Cherryl names what he really is, a killer who kills for killing's sake, James hits her. Because she will not accept his untruths willingly, he retaliates with force. The character of James Taggart is a microcosm of the looter society that has destroyed the country. The chapter ends with Cherryl's death: James has indeed killed her, first in spirit as she attempted to love him as he demanded (the effort made her feel "a stranger to herself") and finally, in body when she found herself unable to give a causeless love.

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