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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 5 : A Is A (Their Brothers' Keepers) | Summary

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Summary

By September food is scarce, and the trains barely run. Powerful men are selling a commodity known as "pull," which allows its holder to obtain goods and services. James Taggart insists Dagny Taggart tell him what should be done; she says, "Give up—all of you." He refuses, saying he is her brother and her responsibility. The nationalization of d'Anconia Copper is prevented by an explosion at every d'Anconia property worldwide, and Francisco d'Anconia has vanished.

Dagny tells Hank Rearden that Francisco and Ragnar Danneskjöld were two of "their agents." For lack of copper, Rearden cannot fulfill her rail order, and the country will starve. Suddenly, the calendar in the skyline displays the words "Brother, you asked for it!" Francisco's name is signed.

Crucial copper wires begin to break and cannot be repaired. Philip Rearden tells Hank he is "entitled to" a job at the mills; Hank Rearden sends him away. His divorce is finalized; he feels alienated from society. Wet Nurse tells Rearden that Washington is "getting ready to spring something on" Rearden; the government is filling all his job openings with its stooges.

When a copper wire breaks in Minnesota, the wheat harvest can't get to market. The government seizes all copper mines; some Taggart lines are shut down. Meanwhile, Washington is subsiding opera and soybeans, and the State Science Institute is developing a "super-cyclotron for the study of cosmic rays." The mystics preach that "this age of misery" is God's punishment for man's reliance on reason.

Since Francisco's message, the sky calendar has remained blank. Dagny is unable to secure freight cars for the wheat harvest; they've been diverted for the government's soybean crop. Panic follows; farmers seize whatever vehicles they can to carry their wheat; many destroy their farms. Fighting breaks out as the grain rots; the soybean harvest, taken prematurely, also rots.

Dagny meets with James and some bureaucrats, who want to close the Minnesota Line. Knowing this would kill the industrial east, she suggests closing their western lines instead. She sees their goal is to reverse progress to make the public easily controlled. She questions what she is "gaining from [her] struggle."

On October 15 the signals at Taggart Terminal go out when a copper wire breaks, and trains clog the perimeter, unable to enter. Dagny has the unskilled laborers direct the trains with lanterns. Glimpsing John Galt among the crowd, she walks into "the darkness of the abandoned tunnels," and they make love. She tells him she loves him. Galt says he does suffer but knows "pain is to be fought and thrown aside, not to be accepted as part of one's soul." Dagny realizes he's been "a track laborer ... for twelve years." He loves her more than his own life, he says, but she is his enemy, the only one "who can lead them to find me." He says when she "chalk[s] a dollar sign on the pedestal of Nat Taggart's statue" he will come for her.

Analysis

Ayn Rand shows that when things are on the verge of collapse, a tiny problem can have huge repercussions. A broken wire leads to starvation and rioting. The looters in power have literally reversed the last decades' progress: Dagny Taggart's men move the trains with lanterns, as in the days of Nathaniel Taggart. History's progress has stopped; this is symbolized by the sky calendar no longer marking the days as it always did before. Contrary to what those in power intend, the people do not submit with docility: they fight for their survival with brutal tribalism. Rand inserts a criticism of religion: the mystics insist the circumstances are God's punishment for man's lack of faith. The reader knows the circumstances are caused by the government and its aversion to reason; there is nothing supernatural happening.

Like Ellis Wyatt before him, Francisco d'Anconia doesn't simply abandon his mines to the looters but destroys them with fire. They burn like the funeral pyre for another victim of the government's policies.

John Galt explains he knows suffering but doesn't hold onto it. It passes through him, leaving no mark on his face or soul. In this way, he is like Christ, who also suffered on the cross. The proper way to deal with suffering is to fight it, which means facing its roots; this is precisely what James Taggart, who suffers so much, strives to avoid doing by not thinking.

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