Atlas Shrugged – Part Two, Chapters I–II

Summary—Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged
on Earth
Dagny must cut trains from her schedules as Colorado’s
economy collapses. No one is able to draw oil from Wyatt’s fields,
and companies that depended on his oil go out of business. With
severe oil shortages and government rationing, much of the country
turns to coal. But Andrew Stockton, a maker of coal furnaces who
stands to make a fortune, has mysteriously vanished. Lawrence Hammond
is gone as well. He had been the last car manufacturer. Ken Dannager, of
Dannager Coal, is one of the few industrialists left. The only Taggart
train running on oil is the Taggart Comet, its transcontinental flagship,
but all others are running on coal. Taggart is pulling less and
less every day, but Jim has acquired a stream of subsidies from Washington
that keep Taggart profits at an all-time high.
Dagny has intensified her quest to rebuild
the motor. She calls Robert Stadler, hoping he can help her find
an engineer. When she shows him what she has, he is amazed at the
mind that created it. He wonders why such a pure mind would be concerned
with such mundane things as motors. He recommends a physicist named Quentin
Daniels, a brilliant man who had refused to work at the State Science
The Fair Share Law dictates that Rearden must supply metal
to all who ask, but there is no way to meet all the orders. Men
with influence manage to acquire much more than their “fair share,” while
legitimate orders go unfilled. The government sends a young man
to the mills to work as Deputy Director of Distribution and determine
the amounts of orders. The steelworkers call him “the Wet Nurse.”
Rearden chooses to ignore an order from the State Science Institute
for something called Project X. A week later, a man from the Institute
comes to see Rearden. He tries to convince Rearden to acquiesce,
but Rearden refuses. Rearden tells the representative to bring in
trucks and steal as much metal as the Institute needs, but he will
not help Washington pretend that he is a willing seller. The man
seems frightened. He issues some vague threats and leaves. Afterwards,
Rearden begins to realize the looters need his sanction, which he
must never give.
Summary—Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Dagny begins to believe that a destroyer is
at work, removing the smartest and most talented industrialists.
Nearly every businessman in Colorado is gone. Dagny feels that she
must fight this force, whatever it is. She hires Quentin Daniels,
the man Stadler recommended, to work at reconstructing the motor.
In a furtive meeting, Rearden arranges to sell Ken Dannager a larger
order of Rearden Metal than the law allows.
Jim marries Cherryl Brooks at a gala wedding party. Although
he does not want to go, Rearden agrees to accompany his wife. Lillian tells
Jim her gift is bringing Rearden, because now others will think Rearden
is scared of Jim, which will help Jim’s reputation. At the wedding,
Lillian notices Dagny wearing the Rearden Metal bracelet and asks
for it back, but Dagny refuses. Lillian vaguely suggests that Dagny
may be inviting conjecture by wearing it. When Dagny asks her directly
if she means to imply that she and Rearden are having an affair,
Lillian denies it. Rearden, standing nearby, demands that she apologize
to Dagny. Both women are shocked. After some hesitation, Lillian
offers an apology. Rearden once stood by his wife, but now he stands
by Dagny.
Francisco d’Anconia is also at the party. Upon hearing
a remark that money is the root of all evil, and d’Anconia is its
typical product, Francisco replies with an astounding dissertation
on the true role of money. Money, he says, is the antithesis of
evil and in fact represents the greatest good. Francisco tells Rearden
that there is no evil except the refusal to think and that this
is precisely the mistake Rearden is making by living as he does.
He wants to show Rearden the alternative. Tomorrow morning, he says,
the holders of d’Anconia stock will discover that nearly every mine
has been destroyed as a result of poor management. D’Anconia stock
will collapse. Francisco’s comments create a panic in the room,
as many guests, especially Jim, will lose huge investments.
Analysis: Part Two, Chapters I–II
Dr. Stadler sees science as the abstract realm
of pure thought, but for Dagny, science serves the practical needs
of life. Humans are fundamentally irrational in Stadler’s thinking,
so any application of science to human life is equally irrational.
In response to the motor, he wonders why any mind so purely brilliant
could be interested in the mundane, practical application of his
discoveries. Dagny, on the other hand, assumes that the inventor
created a practical tool because he liked life and “belonged on
Earth.” The inventor, like Dagny, understood the role of thought
in man’s happiness on Earth. He did not believe in the separation
of thought and action or mind and body, but believed in their integration.
This integration is a critical feature of Rand’s philosophy, which
holds that rational thought cannot be separated from the things
it creates or the world it powers.
The Wet Nurse embodies the collectivist world in which
he was trained. Although he has a degree in metallurgy, he has no
practical skills. He merely repeats things he has been told and
uses words cleverly so as not to say anything clearly. He is taken
aback by Rearden’s insistence on calling things exactly what they
are. His job is to determine Rearden’s output so that it is in compliance
with the laws. But without the laws, there would be no need for
his job in the first place. Rand, a strong proponent of unfettered
capitalism, uses him to demonstrate the absurd ways in which bureaucracy
fuels its own growth and the waste and foolishness required to keep
an artificial system running. In a capitalist system, Rearden would
be free to produce as much steel as his customers require, and they
would be free to buy it or to go elsewhere if he could not give
them what they wanted. For Rand, the simplicity of free markets
stands in obvious contrast to the complex bureaucratic structures
seen here.
Jim’s wedding offers more insight into the back-door intrigue that
runs the looters’ world. Everyone at the party falls into one of two
categories: those who have come as a favor to Jim and those who
have come in fear of his hostility. The first group consists mostly
of Washington men, the second mostly of businessmen. The sum of
the two groups is an estimation of Jim’s power. Their complicated
web of influence is based solely on each man’s connection to the
ultimate power in the decaying nation: physical force. Though everyone
knows this, no one is willing to admit it. The bare, ugly truth
of their power hides behind a mask of words and euphemisms. Francisco
reveals the fragility of this illusion when he asks if any of them
realize that to destroy their entire complex structure, it would only
take someone naming the exact nature of what they are doing. This
line offers a useful piece of foreshadowing.
Francisco’s “money speech” lays out some critical elements
of Rand’s philosophy. In it, he puts forth the idea that rather
than being the root of evil, money is the manifestation of creativity
and good. Money is exchanged for and represents the products and
services created by man. Creative production makes survival and
prosperity possible and is therefore the highest good. If a man’s
ability to be productive is represented by his ability to make money,
then money is a moral tool and an indicator of the value of man.
Another key element of Rand’s philosophy demonstrated here is the
necessity of accepting and stating what is real. For Rand, as for
Francisco, the only evil is the refusal to think. The looters’ success
depends on their victims refusing to see or confront what is happening.
But the heroes—Dagny, Rearden, and Francisco—will not go along.
They insist on clarity and straight speaking, which rattles the
looters, who are themselves in denial.
Finally, the altercation between Dagny and Lillian marks
a growing change in Rearden. He has already begun to understand
that he cannot be victimized without giving his sanction to his
victimizers. When he tells the representative from the State Science
Institute that he will not pretend to be a willing seller but will
force them act as the thieves they really are, he understands his
own power in his business affairs. When Dagny refuses to go along
with Lillian’s vague accusations but forces her to be specific,
Rearden sees that Lillian also requires the sanction of her victim.
He stands by Dagny now, just as he stood by Lillian previously.
He has begun, slowly, to integrate his public and private selves
and understand his power. Meanwhile, Francisco continues to counsel
him and arm him with moral clarity.