Atlas Shrugged – Part Two, Chapters VII–VIII

Summary—Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Eddie Willers meets his worker friend at the Taggart cafeteria.
He complains about the terrible effect of the directive on the railroad. Competent
men are abandoning their posts, and only shiftless vagrants are
taking jobs. A friend of Jim’s, Clifton Locey, has been hired to
replace Dagny. His sole purpose each day is to avoid making decisions.
The worker tells Eddie that he will not be coming back the next
week because he is going away for a month’s vacation.
Rearden has moved out of his house and asked his lawyers
to pull whatever strings are necessary to obtain a divorce from
Lillian with no financial settlement for her. Walking to his apartment
one night, he meets a man dressed in dark clothes who calls himself
the friend of the friendless and hands Rearden a bar of solid gold.
He tells Rearden that the gold is partial repayment for the income
taxes he has been paying to a corrupt government, and it represents
justice. He has been collecting the taxes of many industrialists
for years in order to help them rebuild the world after the looters
force it to collapse. When Rearden learns that the man is Ragnar
Danneskjold, he is appalled, but moments later lies to police to
protect him.
Taggart’s cross-country Comet is stranded in Colorado.
Kip Chalmers, an important politician, is on board and demands that the
train move ahead. The diesel engine is beyond repair, and the only
available replacement is coal-burning and cannot enter the long,
airless Taggart Tunnel. After a series of communications in which
everyone from Jim Taggart to the train’s engineer refuses to take
responsibility by sending vague directives, Chalmers is finally able
to bully the employees into using the coal engine. A drunken engineer
agrees to take the Comet through the tunnel after the assigned engineer
resigns in protest. Everyone on board is killed from the toxic fumes.
The last thing they see is the still-burning flame of Wyatt’s oil fields
(“Wyatt’s Torch”). Later, an army munitions train slams into the stalled
Comet and explodes, destroying the tunnel.
Summary—Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Francisco visits Dagny at her country lodge. He has come
to confess his love and tell her everything. Now that she has quit,
he thinks she is ready to join him. He tells her that he is one
of the industrialists who have withdrawn from the world. But instead
of disappearing like the others, he has stayed and systematically
ruined d’Anconia Copper to keep the looters from taking it. She
is furious that he could do such dishonor to something he loved
so much, but he tells her that it was for the sake of his love that
he did what he did. Losing her respect was the hardest part.
Dagny begins to see the logic of Francisco’s withdrawal
and is ready to follow him when the radio broadcasts the news of
the tunnel disaster. Instinctively, she rushes back to her job.
She restores train service by rerouting onto other railroads’ tracks.
Her actions are illegal under the Directive, but she knows the Unification
Board will not stop her, as they now depend on her to fix the problem.
She calls Rearden and admits she knows the looters are using her
love for her railroad to hold her captive, just as they hold Rearden
for his love of his work.
Analysis: Part Two, Chapters VII–VIII
By now we know that the worker Eddie dines with in the
Taggart cafeteria is a key figure in the story, but still we know
nothing about him. In a novel filled with dialogue, he himself has
no lines. Everything he says is inferred from Eddie’s responses.
This curious fact highlights the mystery of who he is and why he
is so interested in Eddie’s stories. Whoever he is, he knows a great
deal about Dagny from his conversations with Eddie.
The mysterious Ragnar Danneskjold is finally revealed,
and Francisco’s mysteries also become clear. On meeting Danneskjold, Rearden
finds him to be a thoughtful and articulate man with a rational
approach to his activities, far from the criminal thug Rearden imagined.
Danneskjold represents justice in the story as he seeks to right
the wrongs committed by the looters. In order to fight for justice,
he must become a criminal, which is ironic, but when robbery is
sanctioned by law, restitution becomes a crime. Although Rearden
has always despised Danneskjold, after learning Danneskjold’s true
story, Rearden is compelled to protect him from the police. The
gold Danneskjold gives Rearden becomes a source of strength for
him as the chaos intensifies.
As for Francisco, we learn he is one of the vanished businessmen, but
he has chosen to stay in the looters’ world to further its collapse and
urge others to withdraw. His conversations with Rearden and Dagny
have been part of his recruiting effort. When he tells everything
to Dagny, he nearly succeeds in getting her to leave, to withdraw
her mind and ability in order to speed up the inevitable collapse
of society. But in the same way that the furnace fire pulled Rearden
back to his mills, the tunnel disaster pulls Dagny back to her railroad,
just when she was ready to leave it. Dagny and Rearden both know
they are held to the corrupt system by their love for their work.
They know they are helping to feed the parasites, but their love
is still too compelling.
With no one of substance or intelligence left in leadership
roles, the Taggart Tunnel disaster is inevitable. Dagny would have
let rational facts rule her decision and would never have allowed
the train to enter the tunnel, regardless of the consequences for
her. But Clifton Locey’s only concern is his own place in the hierarchy
of influence and favor. He refuses to upset a powerful Washington man,
even if his refusal ultimately kills the man. Although he will not
say no to running the coal train, he is also very careful not to
say yes either. The fear of taking responsibility is a characteristic
shared by all of the looters. The issue of personal responsibility
is critical to Rand’s philosophy. Her heroes are always decisive
and responsible regardless of the situations they face.