Atlas Shrugged – Part One, Chapters V–VI

Summary—Chapter V: The Climax of the d’Anconias
The Mexican government has discovered, upon nationalizing
Francisco d’Anconia’s San Sebastian mines, that the mines are completely
worthless. Dagny is furious. On her way to confront Francisco, she
remembers the way he used to be. His summer visits were the highlight
of her childhood, as they played together and dreamed of taking
over their families’ businesses. Later, they had become lovers.
But the affair ended ten years ago when Francisco left her. Leaving
was torture for him, but he said he had no choice and warned her
not to ask any questions. He said that he would do things that soon
would make her denounce him, and she has. Over the next few years,
Francisco became the most notorious playboy in the world, squandering
his fortune on foolishness.
Dagny confronts Francisco. She asks him why he deliberately invested
in worthless mines and ruined the fortunes of his stockholders,
among them James Taggart. She tells him that he should be fighting
hardest against the looters of the world. He responds that in fact
he is fighting against her and her railroad. She is horrified. She asks
him what he is trying to do, and why, but he tells her that she
is not ready to hear it. She does not have enough courage yet.
Summary—Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Lillian Rearden throws a party to celebrate her wedding
anniversary. Hank Rearden agrees to attend out of a sense of duty,
though he dreads it. He would rather be working to find a replacement
for the recently resigned superintendent of one of his mills. Dagny
also attends. Although she feels there is much to celebrate in the
progress of the Colorado track, Rearden is unexpectedly cold toward
her.
The party guests are writers, intellectuals, and other
important figures in society. Their conversations suggest the futility
of the times. Dr. Pritchett argues that man is nothing but a collection
of chemicals, with only instinct as his guide. Balph Eubank contends that
true literature is about suffering and defeat, because it is impossible
to be happy. The only thing one can live for is “brother-love.” The
intellectuals agree that need is the only valid consideration, that whatever
is good for society is right.
Francisco d’Anconia enters the party. Rearden asks Lillian
to keep Francisco away from him. Jim Taggart pulls d’Anconia aside to
confront him about the San Sebastian mines. Francisco responds that
he only did what the entire world is now preaching. He hired men
not because they were competent, but because they needed the work.
He did not work for profit, but took a loss. Everyone criticizes
industrialists for their domineering nature, so he simply let his underlings
control the venture. Jim is helpless and furious.
After some time, Francisco approaches Rearden and tells
him that he came to the party simply because he wanted to meet him.
He approaches him with such sincerity that Rearden finds himself
listening. Francisco’s message is mysterious, but Rearden is drawn
to it. He asks why Rearden carries so many people, why he is willing
to work and let others feed off his energy. Rearden responds that
it is because they are weak and that he does not mind the burden.
Francisco corrects him and tells him the others are not weak; they
have his own guilt as a weapon against him. A woman at the party
professes to know the identity of John Galt. She says Galt was a
millionaire who discovered Atlantis. Dagny does not believe the
story, but Francisco steps in and announces that he does.
Dagny admires Lillian’s bracelet made of Rearden Metal.
When Lillian mockingly complains that she would gladly exchange
it for diamonds, Dagny offers her own diamond bracelet, which Lillian
is forced to accept. Rearden watches, visibly shaken, but stands
by his wife, coldly telling Dagny that her action was not necessary.
Analysis: Part One, Chapters V–VI
The mystery of Francisco deepens as readers learn what
he has done. By deliberately investing in worthless mines, he has
destroyed his own fortune. What could possibly have motivated him?
Dagny’s memory of their affair reveals him to be even more complicated. Clearly,
he loved her very much, yet he chose to leave her and pursue a worthless
existence, seemingly against his own desires. The question of why
he left her and why he is working to destroy her railroad along
with his mines is at the heart of the novel. But neither Dagny nor
the reader is ready to know the answers just yet.
Lillian’s party guests demonstrate the cynical and hopeless
state of the culture. Intellectuals speak aimlessly of the futility
of thought, the death of reason, and the supremacy of need. When
Francisco tells Jim his mismanagement of the mines was merely putting
society’s vague words into action, he begins to demonstrate the
absurdity involved in the practical application of socialist ideas.
But Jim does not hear him or understand the absurdity. He is too
focused on his own losses. Francisco has put the conventional morality
into action, with disastrous effect. His comments foreshadow the
absurdity to come, as lawmakers create policies that are contradictory and
illogical, then wonder at their failure.
The party also serves to bring Francisco and Rearden together. The
dignity Francisco shows in approaching Rearden disarms him and makes
him open to the strange message Francisco bears. Francisco’s respectful
tone is even more surprising and unexpected, given his playboy reputation.
This conversation marks the beginning of Rearden’s transformation
as he struggles to overcome his dual nature. As Francisco points
out, Rearden is an uncompromising egoist who happily follows his
own rational self-interest in his work. But in his personal life,
he allows others to dictate his morality and accepts condemnation
from a family that leeches off of him, offering him no value in
exchange. When Francisco points out this duality, Rearden begins
to close the gap between his two selves. But he still does not understand
why Francisco has told him all this.
Rand uses the bracelet incident to create important contrasts between
Dagny and Lillian. Dagny’s love for the bracelet demonstrates that
she understands what is important to Rearden and that the same things
are important to her. Lillian, on the other hand, hates the bracelet
and wears it only to mock Rearden. She does not understand or care
for him at all. Although he despises Lillian, Rearden is trapped
in an imposed morality and feels compelled to stand by his wife.
He assumes that his inability to understand her must be a failure
within himself. Although Rearden understands how much he and Dagny
have in common and is attracted to her, he treats her coldly in
an attempt to resist the attraction and remain loyal to his mocking
wife.
The mystery of John Galt continues to grow as the guests
discuss the rumor that he discovered the legendary Atlantis, a paradise
on Earth. Francisco’s insistence that the story is true creates
a possible link between his own mysterious secrets and the answer
to the question “Who is John Galt?”