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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 6 : A Is A (The Concerto of Deliverance) | Summary

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Summary

On October 20 the Unification Board refuses the demands of Hank Rearden's workers for a raise. The press predicts an "outbreak of violence." New workers attack a foreman and destroy Rearden's property. For his mills, Rearden feels a "wistful tenderness ... for the memory of the loved and dead." Receiving notice his accounts and assets have been frozen for delinquent income taxes, he is reassured by Ragnar Danneskjöld's gold. A bureaucrat explains the freeze was a mistake but can't be lifted for a week.

Tinky Holloway of Washington convinces Rearden to attend a meeting on November 4. Rearden doesn't know Holloway is in league with Claude Slagenhop, president of Friends of Global Progress, and the two put Philip Rearden up to asking Hank for a job to prevent Hank's disappearance.

On November 4 Rearden's mother insists she must speak with him immediately. Lillian Rearden is at the house, where she's been living since the divorce. His family begs him to use his credit for their groceries; he refuses. His mother begs for forgiveness, acknowledging their mistreatment of him. Lillian insists she betrayed him out of love. He realizes they're afraid he'll vanish, leaving them destitute. When Philip says Hank can't vanish without money, he realizes the freeze on his accounts was "their idea of cutting off escape." When Lillian tries to block his exit, he understands she married him to destroy his power. She triumphantly announces she slept with James Taggart. Rearden's indifference destroys her; she feels her own nonexistence.

At the meeting, Holloway explains they want Rearden to advise them in exchange for favors. They explain the Steel Unification Plan, which will pool and redistribute gross earnings according to the number of furnaces at each factory. Hank Rearden says because of his higher productivity per furnace, he will produce more and get paid less than Orren Boyle, who has more less productive furnaces. They reply it is his duty to "work for the salvation of the country." He suggests they seize his mills; they object, claiming to be his friends.

Rearden, realizing they expect him to save them all, suddenly understands "all the pieces, the questions, and the unsolved wounds of his life." He realizes he is the "guiltiest man" there; they are "impotent mystics" who expect him, the "rationalist," to fulfill their wishes. One of them tries to block his exit, but he leaves.

He drives to his mills, realizing they no longer "serve his values" and are "only a pile of dead scrap ... to be left ... as an act of loyalty to their actual meaning." A mob is storming the gates. A body falls; Rearden nearly wrecks his car at the edge of a ravine, where he finds Wet Nurse, who explains they shot him after he tried to stop the staged riot of Washington goons. The riot is meant to justify the Steel Unification Plan by making Rearden seem unable to maintain order. On the verge of death, Wet Nurse says he's just discovered the meaning of life. Rearden kisses his forehead; the boy dies in his arms. Rearden is angry at those who taught Wet Nurse to ignore his own reason.

Rearden is attacked. When he regains consciousness, the riot is over; the new furnace foreman organized the defense and killed the thugs. Rearden longs for someone to come deliver him. Francisco d'Anconia enters, explaining he has been the furnace foreman and Rearden's bodyguard since September 2. Rearden, he says, is his "greatest conquest" and is now ready to hear his message.

Analysis

In an era where money is worthless and "pull" is the currency, Hank Rearden feels acutely the value of the gold Ragnar Danneskjöld gave him. Because of this gold, he can't be held hostage by his family, who arranged the assets freeze to force him to go down on the sinking ship along with them. He refuses to use credit he can't repay to buy their groceries. Their apologies are too late, for he stopped pitying them long ago. When Lillian Rearden realizes she has no power to harm Rearden, she ceases to exist, because this was the only thing she lived for. Spiritually and practically, his family is destitute: they have no gold of virtue within them and no real gold to purchase security, while Rearden has both. The bureaucrats he meets with are in the same exact position as Rearden's family. They beg for his help; they expect his reason to support them, with the same sense of entitlement his family had.

Tragically, Wet Nurse pays for his awakening with his life. He has undergone a radical transformation, from an unthinking bureaucratic pawn to Rearden's metaphorical son, signified by the kiss Rearden places on his forehead. The looters refuse to tolerate one of their own turning against them, and they destroy him. Unlike Cherryl Brooks, who dies in a frenzy of terror, Wet Nurse experiences a love of life even as he dies: in his final acts, he has discovered and followed the principles that make life worth living. Rearden is angered by the senseless death, and it pushes him over the edge; he can abandon his mills, because they are dead corpses, and listen to Francisco d'Anconia's message of deliverance.

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