Atlas Shrugged – Plot Overview

In an environment of worsening economic
conditions, Dagny Taggart, vice president in charge of operations,
works to repair Taggart Transcontinental’s crumbling Rio Norte Line
to service Colorado, the last booming industrial area in the country.
Her efforts are hampered by the fact that many of the country’s
most talented entrepreneurs are retiring and disappearing. The railroad’s
crisis worsens when the Mexican government nationalizes Taggart’s
San Sebastian Line. The line had been built to service Francisco
d’Anconia’s copper mills, but the mills turn out to be worthless.
Francisco had been a successful industrialist, and Dagny’s lover,
but has become a worthless playboy. To solve the railroad’s financial
problems, Dagny’s brother Jim uses political influence to pass legislation
that destroys Taggart’s only competition in Colorado. Dagny must
fix the Rio Norte Line immediately and plans to use Rearden Metal,
a new alloy created by Hank Rearden. When confronted about the San
Sebastian mines, Francisco tells Dagny he is deliberately destroying
d’Anconia Copper. Later he appears at Rearden’s anniversary party
and, meeting him for the first time, urges Rearden to reject the
freeloaders who live off of him.
The State Science Institute issues a denunciation of Rearden metal,
and Taggart’s stock crashes. Dagny decides to start her own company
to rebuild the line, and it is a huge success. Dagny and Rearden
become lovers. Together they discover a motor in an abandoned factory
that runs on static electricity, and they seek the inventor. The
government passes new legislation that cripples industry in Colorado.
Ellis Wyatt, an oil industrialist, suddenly disappears after setting
fire to his wells. Dagny is forced to cut trains, and the situation
worsens. Soon, more industrialists disappear. Dagny believes there
is a destroyer at work, taking men away when they are most needed.
Francisco visits Rearden and asks him why he remains in business
under such repressive conditions. When a fire breaks out and they
work together to put it out, Francisco understands Rearden’s love
for his mills.
Rearden goes on trial for breaking one of the new laws,
but refuses to participate in the proceedings, telling the judges
they can coerce him by force but he won’t help them to convict him.
Unwilling to be seen as thugs, they let him go. Economic dictator
Wesley Mouch needs Rearden’s cooperation for a new set of socialist
laws, and Jim needs economic favors that will keep his ailing railroad
running after the collapse of Colorado. Jim appeals to Rearden’s
wife Lillian, who wants to destroy her husband. She tells him Rearden and
Dagny are having an affair, and he uses this information in a trade.
The new set of laws, Directive 10-289,
is irrational and repressive. It includes a ruling that requires
all patents to be signed over to the government. Rearden is blackmailed
into signing over his metal to protect Dagny’s reputation.
Dagny quits over the new directive and retreats to a mountain lodge.
When she learns of a massive accident at the Taggart Tunnel, she
returns to her job. She receives a letter from the scientist she
had hired to help rebuild the motor, and fears he will be the next
target of the destroyer. In an attempt to stop him from disappearing,
she follows him in an airplane and crashes in the mountains. When
she wakes up, she finds herself in a remote valley where all the
retired industrialists are living. They are on strike, calling it
a strike of the mind. There, she meets John Galt, who turns out
to be both the destroyer and the man who built the motor. She falls
in love with him, but she cannot give up her railroad, and she leaves
the valley. When she returns to work, she finds that the government
has nationalized the railroad industry. Government leaders want
her to make a speech reassuring the public about the new laws. She
refuses until Lillian comes to blackmail her. On the air, she proudly
announces her affair with Rearden and reveals that he has been blackmailed. She
warns the country about its repressive government.
With the economy on the verge of collapse, Francisco destroys the
rest of his holdings and disappears. The politicians no longer even
pretend to work for the public good. Their vast network of influence
peddling creates worse chaos, as crops rot waiting for freight trains
that are diverted for personal favors. In an attempt to gain control
of Francisco’s mills, the government stages a riot at Rearden Steel.
But the steelworkers organize and fight back, led by Francisco,
who has been working undercover at the mills. Francisco saves Rearden’s
life, then convinces him to join the strike.
Just as the head of state prepares to give a speech on
the economic situation, John Galt takes over the airwaves and delivers
a lengthy address to the country, laying out the terms of the strike
he has organized. In desperation, the government seeks Galt to make
him their economic dictator. Dagny inadvertently leads them to him,
and they take him prisoner. But Galt refuses to help them, even
after he is tortured. Finally, Dagny and the strikers rescue him
in an armed confrontation with guards. They return to the valley,
where Dagny finally joins the strike. Soon, the country’s collapse
is complete and the strikers prepare to return.