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Synopsis of Atlas Shrugged, Chapters 1-5

Table of contents
1.1 CHAPTER ONE
1.2 CHAPTER TWO
1.3 CHAPTER THREE
1.4 CHAPTER FOUR
1.5 CHAPTER FIVE

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

CHAPTER ONE

Section 111: Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1

  • Plot summary:
    • Eddie Willers, walking through downtown Manhattan, wonders why the world seems to be slowly falling apart. He returns to the Taggart Transcontinental Building in order to tell James Taggart the bad news about an unfulfilled steel order and another train wreck, and to make Taggart see the seriousness of the situation the business is in because it can't get steel to replace its aging railroad tracks.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • Downtown New York
    • The Taggart Transcontinental Building

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Bum Number 1 - first and only appearance
    • Eddie Willers
    • Ellis Wyatt - mentioned
    • James Taggart
    • Orren Boyle - mentioned
    • Pop Harper - first and only appearance

  • Mysteries:
    • The question "Who is John Galt?" opens the book and is repeated over and over. Who is John Galt? Where did the phrase come from? What does it mean?

Section 112: Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 2

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart is riding the Taggart Comet back to New York after inspecting the Rio Norte Line. She hears a Brakeman whistling an unpublished piece from her favorite composer, Richard Halley, but the brakeman refuses to acknowledge this or say where he heard it. After falling asleep and waking up, Dagny discovers the train has come to a stop at a siding. She finds the train crew passively waiting instructions, and gives them orders on how to proceed. Faced with this incompetence, she decides to promote Owen Kellogg to superintendent of the Ohio Division.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Brakeman
    • Conductor - first and only appearance
    • Engineer - first and only appearance
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Owen Kellogg - mentioned
    • Passenger Number 1 - first and only appearance
    • Passenger Number 2 - first and only appearance
    • Richard Halley - mentioned

  • Mysteries:
    • What was the Brakeman whistling?
    • Did Halley write a Fifth Concerto?

Section 113: Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 3

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart and the Comet arrive at the Taggart Terminal. She gets off the train inadvertently whistling the theme from Halley's Fifth Concerto. The Brakeman watches her tensely.


Section 114: Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 4

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart meets with James Taggart and Eddie Willers. She informs them that she has ordered Rearden Metal from Rearden Steel to be used to replace the tracks of the Rio Norte Line. Later she calls Mr. Ayers to determine if Richard Halley ever published a Fifth Concerto. Mr. Ayers says he has not. Dagny meets with Owen Kellogg who tells her he is quitting for personal reasons, nothing can make him stay - not even the promotion Dagny had decided to give him.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Board of Directors - mentioned
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Eddie Willers
    • Ellis Wyatt - mentioned
    • Hank Rearden - mentioned
    • James Taggart
    • Mr. Ayers - first and only appearance
    • Orren Boyle - mentioned
    • Owen Kellogg

  • Mysteries:
    • What is it that makes Owen Kellogg quit a job he admits he loves?


CHAPTER TWO

Section 121: Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 1

  • Plot summary:
    • Hank Rearden watches triumphantly as the first order of Rearden Metal is poured. He reflects on the ten years of struggle to produce Rearden Metal, and as he walks home he reviews his life. To celebrate his triumph, Rearden makes a Bracelet out of the first Rearden Metal that is poured and gives it to his wife, Lillian. Lillian cannot appreciate the triumph this gift symbolizes and uses the occasion to ridicule her husband's sentimentalism. She makes a big deal about Rearden attending a party she is throwing in three months time (see section 161). Also at the Rearden home are his brother Philip Rearden, his mother, and a friend, Paul Larkin, who has come to warn Rearden of possible trouble in Washington. His family insults and criticizes Rearden for the crime of being able to support them. He tries to understand their behavior but cannot come to acknowledge the depths of their depravity. He believes they are expressing the same concerns that he feels, but only in a different way, and that he is morally required to tolerate them because they are weaker than he is. This is the first glimpse of the Sanction of the Victim, which is a central concept of Atlas Shrugged. The abuse Rearden receives from his family in the second part of this scene creates a stark contrast to the triumphant achievement at the mill in the first part of the scene.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Gwen Ives - mentioned
    • Hank Rearden
    • Mrs. Beacham - first and only mention
    • Passenger Number 3 - first and only appearance
    • Passenger Number 4 - first and only appearance
    • Paul Larkin
    • Philip Rearden
    • Rearden's Mother
    • Worker Number 1 - first and only appearance


CHAPTER THREE

Section 131: Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 1

  • Plot summary:
    • James Taggart, Orren Boyle, Paul Larkin, and Wesley Mouch meet to work out a deal by which they can stop Hank Rearden and the success of Rearden Metal. Boyle wants Taggart to get his friends in Washington to regulate the distribution of iron ore, depriving Rearden of the raw materials needed to market Rearden Metal. In exchange, Boyle agrees to get the National Alliance of Railroads to drive the Phoenix-Durango railroad out of Colorado. None of this is said openly or directly, of course. Taggart also learns from Boyle that Taggart Transcontinental's San Sebastian Line has been denuded of all but the barest equipment.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • The most expensive barroom in New York, on the 60th floor of a skyscraper, designed to look like a cellar.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Bartender - first and only appearance
    • James Taggart
    • Orren Boyle
    • Paul Larkin
    • Waiter - first and only appearance
    • Wesley Mouch

  • Pregnant Passages:
    • "It all depends," James Taggart answered slowly, "on the people who make it possible...That's what has to be known - who makes it possible."

Section 132: Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 2

  • Plot summary:
    • Recounts Dagny Taggart's childhood decision to run Taggart Transcontinental and her rise in the company. Recounts the history of the San Sebastian Line: Millionaire playboy Francisco d'Anconia invested money in developing the San Sebastian Mines, and James Taggart and the Board of Directors assumed they could trust d'Anconia to deliver a winner. Dagny opposed this project and almost quit when it was approved. James Taggart confronts Dagny and demands to know what she has done to the San Sebastian Line. She explains that she has moved anything of value out of Mexico so the "looters" would not get it when they nationalized the line. Taggart is scandalized by this but cannot muster the courage to countermand her actions.
    • After leaving the office, Dagny has a conversation with the owner of a newstand about his cigarette collection. He says there are no new brands anymore, and only a few brands still being made. He talks of the cigarette as a symbol of man controlling nature, holding fire in his hands.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • The offices of Taggart Transcontinental
    • The Taggart Terminal.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Board of Directors
    • Dagny's Father
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Eddie Willers
    • Ellis Wyatt - mentioned
    • Francisco d'Anconia - mentioned
    • Hank Rearden
    • James Taggart
    • Mrs. Nathaniel Taggart - mentioned
    • Nathaniel Taggart - mentioned
    • Newsstand Owner
    • Orren Boyle - mentioned

  • Symbolism:
    • The newstand owner explicitly explains the symbolism of cigarettes: "I like to think of fire held in man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind - and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression." This is a character explaining what cigarettes symbolize to him - it is not a use of literary symbolism.
    • The literary symbolism of this passage is established when the newstand owner likens the fire of a cigarette to the fire of the mind. In Greek mythology, it was this gift of fire that raised men up. In Atlas Shrugged, it is the achievements of the mind that raise men up. So the disappearance of most of the old brands of cigarettes, which the newstand owner bemoans, is symbolic of the disappearance of the men of the mind.

Section 133: Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 3

  • Plot summary:
    • Eddie Willers ends a long day at work by having dinner in the employees' cafeteria of the Taggart Terminal. There he meets the Mystery Worker. They sit together and he tells them about the problems of the day and what Dagny Taggart is going to do to fix things. He mentions that Dick McNamara is the contractor who will lay the new rails for the Rio Norte Line. Eddie will have many similar chats with Mystery Worker throughout the book.
    • The cafeteria is described as follows: "The cafeteria lay underground. It was a large room with walls of white tile that glittered in the reflections of electric lights and looked like silver brocade. It had a high ceiling, sparkling counters of glass and chromium, a sense of space and light." This description is in sharp contrast to the most expensive barroom in New York, from section 131, that was atop a skyscraper but made to look like a cellar. The contrast gives the chapter title - The Top and the Bottom - it's irony.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • The employees' cafeteria of the Taggart Terminal.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Eddie Willers
    • Mystery Worker
    • Dagny Taggart - mentioned
    • Dick McNamara - mentioned
    • Richard Halley - mentioned


CHAPTER FOUR

Section 141: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 1

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart visits United Locomotive Works to determine why they consistently fail to deliver the Diesel engines she ordered. The President of ULW talks for hours without answering directly or saying anything of substance. After returning to the office, Eddie Willers informs Dagny that Dick McNamara has quit without explanation. As Dagny walks home that night she sees the depravity that passes for popular culture: books and movies that trivialize what is glorious, demonize what is moral, and exalt what is base; people who act as if pleasure were a sin that one gets away with. Depressed, she returns home and listens to the soul tonic of Richard Halley. While she listens, she recalls Halley's struggles as a young composer, his sudden success, and his mysterious disappearance. She sees in the newspaper that Francisco d'Anconia has returned to New York amidst a scandal in which a married woman tried to kill her husband so she could be with Francisco, whom she identifies as her lover. Francisco says he came to New York to witness the farce - but it is not the farce people are led to believe that he wants to witness.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • The offices of Taggart Transcontinental
    • New York City in the evening
    • Dagny's apartment

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Chief Engineer
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Eddie Willers
    • Gilbert Vail
    • Dick McNamara - mentioned
    • Mrs. Gilbert Vail
    • President of ULW
    • Richard Halley - mentioned

  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dagny sees a precision machine tool anandoned and decaying in the United Locomotive Works factory; abandoned not because it was valueless, but because the owners could not extract value from it. This foreshadows another discovery in an even less competent factory - a motor that is priceless, but which is left abandoned by people who could not see its value.

Section 142: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 2

  • Plot summary:
    • James Taggart awakes at noon, hungover, in his apartment with Betty Pope, with whom he is having a romanceless sexual affair. He brags about how he is going to bring down Dagny Taggart for what she did to the San Sebastian Line. But before he has a chance to do this, he receives a call from his man in Mexico telling him the line and the San Sebastian Mines have been nationalized, just as Dagny predicted.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Betty Pope
    • Board of Directors
    • Dagny Taggart - mentioned
    • James Taggart
    • Jock Benson
    • Jules Mott
    • Liz Blane


Section 143: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3

  • Plot summary:
    • James Taggart addresses the Board of Directors after the San Sebastian Line is nationalized. He takes credit for removing everything of value from Mexico, and assures everyone that with his Washington connections he can get the government to demand just compensation from Mexico. He places the blame for his disaster on two men who played only a minor role in the fiasco.


Section 144: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 4

  • Plot summary:
    • Orren Boyle meets with James Taggart about the Mexican disaster. They can't believe Francisco d'Anconia was swindled out of fifteen million dollars, and they assume he must know something they don't know. Taggart tries to make an appointment with Francisco but he refuses to see him, because Francisco finds him "boring".

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Francisco d'Anconia - mentioned
    • James Taggart
    • Orren Boyle
    • James Taggart's Secretary


Section 145: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 5


Section 146: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 6

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart visits Dan Conway in order to try to persuade him to fight the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule, and to discuss morality. Conway admits the ruling is not fair, but he doesn't feel he has any right to fight the will of the majority. He meekly resigns himself to running his railroads in Arizona. Conway states, "I suppose somebody's got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain." This is an important passage because it is the first explicit statement the concept of the Sanction of the Victim.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Dan Conway
    • Ellis Wyatt - mentioned.
    • James Taggart - mentioned.


Section 147: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 7

  • Plot summary:
    • Ellis Wyatt appears suddenly and unexpectedly in Dagny Taggart's office. He issues an ultimatum, saying if Taggart Transcontinental fails to run trains the way his business requires, his business will fail - and he will drag them down with him. Dagny surpises him by quietly assuring him, without excuses or explanations, that he will get the service he requires. Wyatt states, "You expect to feed off me while you can and to find another carcass to pick dry after you have finished mine." He understands that the parasites are dependent upon him, and when he issues his ultimatum, he is refusing to grant the Sanction of the Victim. Thus Ellis Wyatt is a sharp contrast to Dan Conway in the previous section. The responses of these two men to the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule represent opposite sides of the book's central conflict - one accedes to being a victim, one refuses.


Section 148: Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 8

  • Plot summary:
    • Dagny Taggart meets with Hank Rearden at his steel mill to tell him that, because of the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule she will need her rails in nine months instead of twelve. She asks Rearden if he can deliver the order in time, and he tells her he will. Dagny acknowledges that Rearden now holds Taggart Transcontinental in his power - if he fails to deliver, the railroad might collapse. But, Rearden needs this project to succeed as well because it will prove the value of Rearden Metal, creating new markets for him. They stand together in silence, watching as the first load of Rearden Metal is loaded onto the trains, both knowing what this new invention represents. The two talk about business as if one business' success creates opportunities for another, which is in sharp contrast to the talk about "destructive competition" that was used to justify the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule earlier in this chapter.
    • There is an apparent plot hole in this section. Dagny needs rails because the Phoenix-Durango has been ordered to suspend operations in Colorado in nine months. If she doesn't get the new rail laid, Colorado will be without transportation and its economy will collapse. However, when the Phoenix-Durango suspends operations, it is not going to roll up its tracks and take them away. Dagny could easily run her trains on Dan Conway's track. She could buy them outright or lease them. Conway in section 146 expressed sympathy for Dagny - he does not hold a grudge and wishes her success - so there is no reason to assume he would refuse her this. In fact, because Conway in this chapter is being used to illustrate the Sanction of the Victim, he could not refuse such a request. From a business point of view, it would provide him a way to still make money in Colorado despite not being allowed to operate there; and with the option of using this line, Taggart Transcontinental would not be dependent on Rearden. There is no explanation for why this obvious solution to the problem is not even considered.
    • (I would argue that the above writer is incorrect about this being a "plot hole", because either in that section or later, Dagny has an argument with James Taggart, her brother, when he mentions he tries to purchase the rail from Dan Conway, who states in anger that not one foot of his rail will ever be sold to Taggart Transcontinental.)

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Dan Conway
    • Ellis Wyatt
    • Hank Rearden
    • James Taggart
    • Looters - mentioned



CHAPTER FIVE

Section 151: Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 1

  • Plot summary:
    • The government of Mexico suddenly nationalizes the San Sebastian Mines thinking they would be a great new source of revenue for the state, only to discover that the mines were completely worthless. Furthermore, there was never any chance of mining copper there, so Francisco d'Anconia must have known all along the project was doomed to failure. Eddie Willers shows the news report to Dagny Taggart, who tries to figure out how this could be, and finally tells Eddie to get her an appointment with "the bastard". Eddie warns about meeting him in a way that indicates the emotional significance seeing Francisco will hold for Dagny.


Section 152: Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 2

  • Plot summary:
    • In this long section, Dagny goes to the Wayne-Falkland Hotel to confront Francisco d'Anconia. Before she arrives she reminisces about her childhood with Francisco and we learn why this man is so significant to her.
    • Francisco had been a childhood friend of Dagny and Eddie Willers. He spent his childhood all over the world, because his father wanted him to feel the world was his home. But for one month every summer he visited the Taggart estate, and his visit was the highlight of Dagny and Eddie's year. Francisco had an unlimited capacity for joy, and he loved tackling new challenges. His great goal for his life was to run d'Anconia Copper so well it would double in size. He talked to Dagny about their great futures running their respective family businesses - this was the vision of the future Dagny came to expect.
    • When Dagny was sixteen she began working at Taggart Transcontinental, much to her mother's chagrin. Her mother was worried that Dagny showed no interest in boys, or in feminine things in general. She decided to throw Dagny a coming out party at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel. Dagny loved the idea, and went there with the eager expectation of finding people who were as filled with joy as Francisco, but instead she found they were just as bored and unhappy as in everyday life. In later years Dagny would discover her vision of the future was mistaken in the same way, and she would often think back to this party and wonder why people seemed incapable of living life in joy, why they lived instead with a constant undertone of fear and unhappiness. Where were the men of joy? Where were the men who were appropriate for life on earth?
    • That summer, when Francisco returned, he and Dagny discovered they were in love, and spent the summer going off together and making love in secret places where no one could discover them. They kept it secret not out of guilt, but because they felt it was too personal and too special to share with anyone else.
    • The romance continued for eight years, as Francisco rose to become head of D'Anconia Copper and Dagny finished college and began her rise at Taggart Transcontinental. Then, when she was 24, Francisco invited her to his room at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel. She was shocked to see, for the first time, pain in his face, and that he was torn by the obvious struggle within him that he could not explain to her. He warns her that he will have reasons for things he does, and tells her not to wait for him.
    • After that night, she did not hear anything about Francisco for a year, and then she began to hear the stories of a new Francisco, a worthless, irresponsible playboy, with no apparent interest in his work. At first she could not believe these things, but as the years passed and the stories piled up, she had no choice. Time deadened her pain, but she never found another man to love -- another man for whom life was joy.
    • When she arrives at the Wayne-Falkland and confronts Francisco, she accuses him of deliberately plotting the swindle of the San Sebastian Mines. She tries to determine his motives, and he leads her on, eventually telling her that he is deliberately trying to destroy the producers, that his goal in the San Sebastian Mines was to waste millions of dollars, and that Ellis Wyatt will be next one to be destroyed and Taggart Transcontinental will collapse as well; he tells her that she is the one he must fight. She could never believe he had become so corrupt, but she has no choice but to believe it now.

  • The following Places in Atlas Shrugged are used as settings in this section:
    • Downtown New York
    • On and around the Taggart Estate in Dagny's childhood
    • The Wayne-Falkland Hotel.

  • The following Characters in Atlas Shrugged appear in this section:
    • Dagny's Father
    • Dagny's Mother
    • Dagny Taggart
    • Eddie Willers
    • Ellis Wyatt - mentioned
    • Francisco d'Anconia
    • Francisco's Father
    • James Taggart
    • Mrs. Gilbert Vail - mentioned
    • Nathaniel Taggart - mentioned
    • Orren Boyle - mentioned
    • Richard Halley - mentioned
    • Sebastian d'Anconia

Continue with Synopsis of Atlas Shrugged, Chapters 6-10.



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