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Atlas Shrugged | Part 3, Chapter 9 : A Is A (The Generator) | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Robert Stadler drives to Project X, intending to "seize control ... and rule a part of the country as his feudal domain." A group called Friends of the People, led by Cuffy Meigs, beats him to it. Meigs is drunk and armed, and when Stadler warns him not to touch the control panel, Meigs proves his authority by pulling a random lever. Everything is vaporized for hundreds of miles; the Taggart Bridge is destroyed.

Dagny Taggart learns that Thompson and his men plan to torture Galt to force him to speak. She arranges to meet Francisco d'Anconia. While she is in her office for the last time, an engineer tells her Project X destroyed the Taggart Bridge. With great effort, she tells the man she doesn't know what to do. Panic gathers in the city as she writes, in lipstick, a dollar sign on Nathaniel Taggart's statue. When Francisco arrives, she takes John Galt's oath.

In the underground cellar of Project F near the State Science Institute, Galt is naked, strapped to a mattress, and covered in electrodes. Dr. Floyd Ferris tells him they will release him when he divulges "the exact measures [he will] take to save our system." As Galt remains silent, they administer shocks. The torturers grow terrified as Galt's heartbeat struggles. James Taggart, enjoying the torture, encourages a stronger shock. Occasionally, Galt looks at them with "clear and conscious" eyes. When the generator dies and nobody knows how to fix it, Galt tells them how. Taggart struggles to fix the machine; he wants "to hear [Galt] scream." But it is Taggart who screams, as he realizes he wants Galt to die, "knowing fully that his own death would follow." Realizing his life has been guided by "the lust to destroy whatever was living, for the sake of whatever was not" breaks Taggart for good; the other men lead him away, leaving Galt alone.

Analysis

For the first time, Dagny Taggart tells a Taggart Transcontinental employee she doesn't know how to solve the problem at hand. The demolition of the Taggart Bridge is the biggest problem the railroad—or the country—could ever face, and Dagny must resist her instinct to solve the problem. To release herself from the corpse of the railroad, she must not act. Her love for John Galt is greater than her love of the railroad; while the railroad lies blasted and broken, Galt lies strapped to a torture machine controlled by evil men. To choose the railroad now would be to choose Galt's death.

John Galt's torture extends the savior metaphor Ayn Rand uses throughout the novel. Like Christ on the cross, he bears his suffering clearly and consciously; unlike Christ, he does not have a moment where he feels forsaken and abandoned. Galt brings about James Taggart's undoing by offering instructions on how to fix the broken generator and resume the torture; he is the only one present evil enough to take direction from a victim on how best to torture him. All three torturers experience an internal crisis: Wesley Mouch says Galt's death is their own; Dr. Floyd Ferris grows shaky and uncertain; James Taggart is undone completely. By submitting to their torture, Galt takes the power from his torturers. The law of identity requires him to do so: he is hero and savior, and while he must bear torture for who he is, he is incapable of being destroyed by it.

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