Atlas Shrugged – Part Two, Chapters III–IV

Summary—Chapter III: White Blackmail
After the party, Rearden goes to see Dagny and asks her
to forgive him for coming with Lillian. He tells her that what he
said at Wyatt’s house was wrong. Dagny has always known this, and
she tells him there is nothing to forgive. Meanwhile, Lillian discovers
that Rearden has a mistress, but she does not know who it is.
Dr. Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute comes
to see Rearden and tells him that if he will not fill the order
for Project X, he will be arrested for his illegal deal with Ken
Dannager. Rearden refuses, and both Rearden and Dannager are indicted.
Eddie Willers eats lunch with his worker friend. He worries about
Dagny. She knows that Rearden is strong enough to stand trial, but
she is afraid for Dannager. She thinks he is ready to break and
will be taken by the destroyer. He tells the worker Dagny is going
to see Dannager tomorrow afternoon. When Dagny reaches Dannager’s
office, she is too late. He is with a visitor, and when he finally
meets with her, he has already decided to retire. He assures her
that even if she had reached him before his last visitor, she would not
have been able to prevent his retirement. His only real regret is that
he is leaving Rearden behind at such a dangerous time.
Francisco comes to see Rearden at his mill. He asks Rearden
why he is willing to accept condemnation for his virtues and sanction
the actions of his enemies. Francisco tells Rearden his only sin
is to agree that his self-interest is wrong. Rearden should have
reaped incredible benefits from his invention, but instead he is
punished for it. His hard work has only empowered the looters. Francisco
asks Rearden what would he say if he saw Atlas holding the weight
of the world but losing strength. Rearden asks what Francisco would
tell him to do. “To shrug,” Francisco answers. Rearden begins to
think he understands Francisco. Francisco is about to ask Rearden
what makes him continue his work, when suddenly an alarm rings and they
must rush to fix a broken furnace. They work with skill and speed,
each knowing exactly what to do. Afterwards, Rearden asks if Francisco
wishes to continue his question. Francisco tells him that he knows
now exactly why Rearden remains with his mills.
Summary—Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
At Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Rearden begins
to see them in a new light. He finally confronts his brother Philip,
who has sponged off of him for years without respecting him, and
tells him he no longer cares what happens to him. He realizes that
he has allowed his family to inflict suffering on him by accepting
their condemnation. He will no longer offer them his sanction by
accepting their moral code over his own.
At his trial, Rearden refuses to participate.
He offers no defense because he refuses to honor the proceedings
or pretend the trial has merit. He declares that he does not recognize
the court’s right to control the sale of his metal. He explains
that he lives for the sake of creation and profit and that he refuses
to apologize for his success. The crowd bursts into applause behind him.
The judges are frightened and apologetic. They impose a $5,000 fine
on him but suspend the sentence.
Rearden goes to see d’Anconia at his hotel in New York.
When he asks how a man as intelligent as Francisco could waste time
in promiscuity, Francisco begins a discussion of sex, saying that
a man’s lover is the embodiment of his moral code. If he despises
himself, he will pursue immoral women. If he truly knows his own worth,
he will seek a goddess. Though he has purposely fueled the scandals
surrounding his own love life, Francisco has loved only one woman
in his life.
Rearden tells him that he has decided to sell his metal
to whomever he wants and has ordered copper directly from d’Anconia. Francisco
shouts he had warned Rearden not to deal with d’Anconia copper and
runs to the phone, but stops himself. He turns to Rearden and swears
by the woman he loves that he is his friend, though Rearden will
soon damn him. Days later, Rearden learns that the ships bearing
his copper were seized and sunk by the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold.
Analysis: Part Two, Chapters III–IV
Rearden represents the mythical Atlas of whom Francisco
speaks. He has been carrying the world and is now being punished
for it. But he is no longer a willing participant in his own victimization.
He has rejected the division of mind and body, and admitted to Dagny
that his attitude toward sex has been misguided. He has confronted
his family and put them on notice that they can no longer use his
own sense of honor as a weapon against him. Most important, he has confronted
the politicians who accuse him of breaking an irrational and unjust
law. He triumphs at his trial because he withdraws his sanction.
He refuses to help the politicians hide the brute force that is
the true nature of their power. He tells the politicians, “If you believe
that you have the right to force me—use your guns openly. I will
not help you to disguise the nature of your action.” By exposing them
for what they are, Rearden has upset the system in which the looters
exploit their victims’ refusal to see reality. The looters need Rearden
to work so they can feed off his productivity, so they are forced
to set him free. In this, the essential paradox of collectivism
is revealed. The strong are tyrannized by the weak and made to feel obligated
to support them, but only their belief that they must allow it keeps
them shackled. If they refuse to participate, if “Atlas shrugs,”
the weak will have no recourse beyond brute strength. While people
can use physical violence to coerce action, they cannot force others
to think or create for them.
Rearden’s transformation continues to be fueled by Francisco’s wise
counseling. In their conversation at the mills, Rearden is closer than
ever to understanding the message Francisco offers him. Francisco
is on the verge of revealing more to Rearden and finally explaining
why he must destroy his own fortune, when the fire interrupts them.
Afterward, Francisco cannot continue. He knows that Rearden’s love
for his work will continue to hold him. When Rearden’s copper supply
is hijacked by Ragnar Danneskjold, he knows Francisco is behind
the attack. The betrayal means the loss of Francisco’s friendship
as well.
After Dannager retires, Dagny knows that the disappearance
of the industrialists is not a random coincidence. The timing of
the disappearances is deliberate as well. Stockton disappeared just
as the need for his furnaces intensified. Now Dannager is gone at
the very moment his coal becomes essential. She is convinced a destroyer
is loose on the world, deliberately snatching great men just as
they are needed most. But many questions remain. Dagny must find
out who the destroyer is and how he knows which men to take. Furthermore, if
the vanished men are alive, where have they gone?