Atlas Shrugged Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

“Who is John Galt?” asks a man who is walking along the streets of New York City, noticing the grime on the buildings and the cracks in the skyscrapers. Every fourth store is out of business, with windows dark and empty. For some unknown reason, talented people are retiring and disappearing. Pessimism and hopelessness rule.

Dagny Taggart, vice president of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad (TTR), aims to repair the crumbling Rio Norte line that serves the booming industrial area of Colorado. The state is one of the few places in not only the United States but also the world that is still prosperous, largely because of Ellis Wyatt’s innovative ideas about extracting oil from shale. Other countries have become socialist states and are destitute.

James Taggart, Dagny’s brother and president of TTR, tries to prevent his sister from getting new rail from Rearden Steel, the last reliable steel manufacturer. Industrialist Hank Rearden has developed a promising new alloy, but one that does not have the approval of most metallurgists. James would rather give the business to his friend, Orren Boyle, head of the inefficient Associated Steel. TTR’s financial problems worsen when its San Sebastian line is nationalized by the Mexican government. The line, which had cost millions of dollars to construct, had been expected to serve copper mines that are run by an Argentine, Francisco d’Anconia, the world’s wealthiest copper industrialist and a former lover of Dagny. D’Anconia, a dissolute playboy, has led his investors astray, thereby contributing to the general unrest.

James, in an effort to revive his company, uses his political clout to persuade the National Alliance of Railroads to pass a rule prohibiting competition. The legislation puts the well-run Phoenix-Durango Railroad, Taggart’s competition, out of business. D’Anconia tells Dagny that he deliberately mismanaged his Mexican copper mines to damage d’Anconia Copper and TTR. Dagny is baffled, since d’Anconia had been a brilliant and productive leader.

Rearden and wife celebrate their wedding anniversary. Rearden’s mother, brother, and wife argue that the strong are morally obliged to support the weak. Although Rearden regards the three of them with contempt, he goes along and provides for them.

Dagny and Rearden manage to build the Rio Norte line, despite an incompetent contractor and an overwhelming climate of pessimism. Rearden uses his metal to build an innovative bridge, but the State Science Institute tries to bribe him to keep the metal off the market. In retaliation for Rearden’s refusal to cooperate, the institute issues a statement alleging possible weaknesses in the structure of Rearden’s metal. Taggart’s stock crashes, the contractor walks off the job, and the union forbids its members to work on the Rio Norte line.

Dagny decides to take a leave of absence from TTR and build the Rio Norte line on her own. She renames it the John Galt line, in a spirit of optimism. The government passes the Equalization of Opportunity law that prevents an individual from owning a company that does business with another company owned by that same person. Rearden, who has invested in the Galt line, is now prohibited from owning the mines that supply him with the raw materials needed to make his metal. Dagny finishes the line, ahead of schedule, and celebrates with Rearden.

Dagny and Rearden, now a couple, vacation by looking at abandoned factories around the country. At the ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company factory in Wisconsin, they find a motor that has the potential to revolutionize the world; but the motor is a wreck. When it worked, it pulled static electricity...

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Atlas Shrugged Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Atlas Shrugged is the fullest expression in fiction of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. The novel begins sometime in the near future. Technology and fashion are close to what they were when Rand wrote the novel, but private property has been abolished in most countries, now called “People’s States.” Shortages, delays, and excuses are commonplace. The United States still maintains some freedom, but the government increasingly dictates terms to producers through planning boards and economic directives. A few notice that gifted people in business, the sciences, and the arts are vanishing.

The novel’s opening line, “Who is John Galt?” introduces Rand’s theme: the value of the productive individual. John Galt institutes a strike by the world’s best minds against a collectivist social order. While Galt is the book’s spirit, the main plot line focuses on Dagny Taggart, the vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, whom reviewer Mimi Reisel Gladstein has called “probably the most admirable and successful heroine in American fiction.” Another important character is Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate. The novel’s villains ruin the world by confiscating the wealth of the productive.

Dagny, aided by Hank Rearden and his new company Rearden Metal, tries to save her foundering railroads by rebuilding one of the company’s abandoned lines (which she renames the John Galt line) into Colorado, one of the few states with a growing economy. Rand shows the joy of achievement through a thrilling account of the line’s construction. Dagny and Hank persevere and triumph. Hopes for an economic turnaround in Colorado are dashed, however, by a series of new laws crippling the state’s businesses. Rand’s heroes can control nature but not politics.

While...

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Atlas Shrugged Summary

Part 1 Summary - Non-Contradiction

Atlas Shrugged opens in a devastated New York City with crumbling buildings, empty stores, and closed businesses. It is a vision of an...

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Part 2 Summary - Either-Or

In the second part of the novel, the decay of the national economy continues. Francisco d'Anconia, Dagny's childhood friend and former lover,...

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Part 3 Summary - A is A

Dagny awakens in a damaged plane after a rough landing into a well-hidden valley in the mountains; the valley is the seat of Galt's new...

(The entire section is 347 words.)

Atlas Shrugged Chapter Summaries

Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

“Who is John Galt?” That is the question asked by a homeless man of Eddie Willers, who is returning to his office at Taggart Transcontinental, the largest railroad company in the United States. Eddie is special assistant to the vice president at Taggart Transcontinental.

The homeless man's question bothers Eddie, though he insists that it does not. On his return to the office, Eddie goes to see James Taggart, the president of the railroad company. Eddie tells him that the Rio Norte Line has had another wreck. Taggart brushes it off, but Eddie insists that in order for the railroad to survive, the line must be replaced with Rearden Steel. Taggart insists on using Associated Steel, which is run by a friend. Taggart...

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Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary

Henry Rearden watches as his foundry pours the first batch of Rearden Metal. He looks back on his past: he has grown from a teenage boy working in the mines to a rich captain of industry. He walks home, fingering a bracelet he had made for his wife. The bracelet is the first thing composed of Rearden Metal.

At home Rearden is greeted by his wife, Lillian; his mother; his brother Philip; and Paul Larkin, an old friend. His mother chides him for missing dinner; his wife is contemptuously supportive. Rearden apologizes for being late, but he is met with their insults, even though they live off the fortune he has made. Seeing the bracelet, Mrs. Rearden states that her son should have brought his wife diamonds instead of...

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Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary

Orren Boyle of Associated Steel, Jim Taggart, Paul Larkin, and Wesley Mouch (who is Rearden’s lobbyist in Washington) sit in a bar in “casual” conversation. Boyle is complaining that his company has been dropped by Taggart Transcontinental in favor of Rearden, who has the advantage because they own mines as well as factories. Taggart promises to get laws passed so that Rearden will lose his mines. Boyle is pressured to get his friends to push out Dan Conway of Phoenix-Durango, which has presented stiff competition to Taggart. Mouch sits silently, but Taggart promises to find him a job in Washington if he will stay silent about these plans. Taggart asks about the San Sebastian Line, which is serviced by one wood-burning train...

(The entire section is 439 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary

Eddie tells Dagny that McNamara, their contractor, quit and disappeared. Though inwardly despairing, Dagny promises that they will find another contractor for the Rio Norte Line. Leaving the office, Dagny walks the streets of New York and back to her apartment. She puts on Richard Halley’s Fourth Concerto and notices in the newspaper that Francisco d’Anconia is in town. He is involved in a sex scandal that is about to break wide open, and he says he has come to see the farce.

James Taggart hurries his mistress out of his apartment so that he can dress for the Board of Directors meeting where he intends to corral Dagny. Right before the meeting, however, he receives a call from Mexico informing him that, just as...

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Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary

Eddie shows Dagny the newspaper article that describes the rage of the Mexican government when they discovered that the San Sebastian mines that they had seized were worthless. She tells Eddie to call d’Anconia for a meeting. Eddie reminds her that this is “Frisco d’Anconia,” her former lover. Dagny is not concerned.

Dagny reflects on her childhood with Francisco. The son of a wealthy Argentinean businessman, Francisco was reared all over the world so that he would feel a sense of ownership over the entire planet. Every year, he also spent time with the Taggarts. He ignored James and devoted his attention to Dagny and Eddie. Francisco admitted he liked Dagny simply because she would one day run Taggart...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary

Henry Rearden remembers at the last minute that he promised to attend the anniversary party planned by his wife. Rushing home, he throws on his dinner clothes and walks into the gathering. The guests are mostly people Lillian assumes to be his friends but are not. Most are intellectuals who support government regulation over such things as literature and industry. They believe that such oversight will in fact lead to greater competition.

James and Dagny Taggart arrive together, though James is inconsequential next to his “famous” sister. Another surprise guest is Francisco d’Anconia, whom James confronts about the San Sebastian copper mines. D’Anconia tells James that he was simply doing what the rest of the...

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Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary

Dagny visits Colorado, where the Rio Norte Line is being rebuilt. There is trouble, however, because the factory equipment is inadequate for forming material from Rearden Metal. She orders the material to be made, no matter the cost. Ellis Wyatt has been working on the site, a sign that he has forgiven Dagny. When Hank Rearden appears, he suggests that the bridge, which has been judged to be too expensive to replace, should be repaired instead with Rearden Metal. Dagny agrees, grateful for Rearden’s partnership. She asks him for a ride in his plane back to New York, but he tells her that he is going to Minnesota. When she goes to the airport, the attendant tells her that no flights are available for two days. He also expresses...

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Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary

Eddie Willers apologizes to his friends in the underground cafeteria for not being there lately. He has been made Acting Vice-President of Operations, though Dagny Taggart is the one who is actually making the decisions, even as she is building the John Galt Line. Eddie describes the exhalation that he sees in Dagny because of the work she is doing. Not much has been known about the John Galt Line simply because it is a success.

Dagny, working late in New York before she returns to Colorado, notices the shadow of a man at the door of her office. She expects him to knock, but instead he jerks backward and leaves, seemingly in some battle with himself.

Rearden sells his mines to Paul Larkin in order to...

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Part 1, Chapter 9 Summary

Dagny and Rearden wake up in bed together after a night of violent sex. Rearden tells Dagny he has nothing but contempt for her for what they have done. He does not love her, but he needs her and that repels him. Dagny is at first shocked and then bursts out laughing. She tells him that she is more depraved than he is and is willing to be the object of his lust. She considers her greatest achievement is to have made love to Hank Rearden.

James Taggart accepts the praise of the Board of Directors, claiming credit for the success of the John Galt Line. On his way home he encounters a store clerk, Cherryl Brooks, who recognizes him from the morning newspapers. She gushes about how the papers say James was the guiding force...

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Part 1, Chapter 10 Summary

Wesley Mouch, the new head of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources, promotes several new laws that are ostensibly designed to equalize interstate trade. The maximum speed and length of trains are to be limited. The number of trains run in Colorado must not exceed the number run in any other state. The output of Rearden Metal by Reardon’s plant must not be greater than the output of other plants and must be shared equally with all. Colorado would be closed to the influx of relocating companies. Rearden discovers that Paul Larkin had not shipped the ore to Rearden’s plants but had instead sent it to Orren Boyle, as per an agreement Boyle had made with James Taggart. Left with no other option if he intends to...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

Dr. Robert Stadler of the State Science Institute is irate at the publication of a book by the Institute promoting the derivative theory that reasoned thought is nonexistent but is simply the result of chemical interchanges in the brain. Following Ellis Wyatt’s destruction of his oil fields, an oil shortage grips the nation. Fewer people drive cars, and Dagny Taggart is forced to cut back on train operations. Many companies go out of business entirely. The government steps in and imposes oil rationing, which forces a return to coal as the major source of energy. Taggart Transcontinental has only one train left that uses oil; the rest run on coal. The heads of industry begin to disappear, voluntarily quitting their positions and...

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Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary

Dagny notices that all the nation’s leading industrialists are disappearing, so she tracks down and hires Quentin Daniels to work on the motor. She knows he works at the Utah Institute of Technology, but she is shocked to learn he is just a night watchman. Daniels explains that there are no research centers that are producing anything worthwhile, so he uses the UIT to provide himself a place to do his own research unwatched. He agrees to work for Dagny but at a low monthly wage; he says he will not take her money until he produces something worthwhile. When he does, he will demand a high percentage of the profits. Dagny agrees. Daniels will continue at UIT to work on the motor. She sends him a check every month, and he sends a...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary

Following the reception, Lillian says she is going to take the train home. Rearden refuses to accompany her, stating that he has business in the city the following morning. He goes to Dagny’s apartment and apologizes for coming to the reception with his wife. Dagny says there is no need for forgiveness; she has always accepted the fact that he is married and feels content with things as they are. When Rearden returns to his hotel room the next morning, he finds Lillian sitting there. She had felt sure he was not coming back to the hotel because he has a mistress somewhere. She does not know who the mistress is, but she assumes it is some low-class girl who is content to fulfill Rearden’s animal passions without love. She tells...

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Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary

On Thanksgiving, Rearden dines with his family but has finally decided he will no longer accept their moralizing. When his brother Phil states that Rearden of guilty of greed, Rearden tells him that it would be better if he would leave and live life on his own rather than live off Rearden’s money, which he finds so distasteful. Phil begins to backtrack; he says he was speaking in general terms about politics, not against Rearden himself. When Rearden gets up to leave, he tells Lillian he is going to New York, and she understands that he is going to his mistress.

The following day, Rearden stands trial for his “crime” of selling Rearden Metal to Ken Danagger. Rearden refuses to participate in the trial. He will not...

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Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary

Due to the loss of copper, Rearden Steel is not able to fulfill its orders for the first time in its history. Without the steel, the railroad lines cannot be rebuilt and repaired. Without the railroads, goods cannot be delivered. Without the goods, businesses fail. The country sinks into starvation and depression. The Rio Norte Line has very little business even though it has the most stable line. Colorado, where the line is located, suffers more than any other place in the country.

The Taggart Transcontinental Board of Directors holds a meeting to discuss the situation. When it appeals to Dagny, she claims to have no opinion and no proposal to save the company. She points out that the decisions previously made by the...

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Part 2, Chapter 6 Summary

James Taggart travels to Washington to join with others involved with the government to discuss the future course of the nation. Mr. Thompson, the Head of State, is also present. They decide to enact Directive 10-289 to theoretically stop the economical decline. There are several severe implications of the Directive: all workers must remain in their present positions, neither resigning nor being fired; all businesses and industries must remain in operation; all patents and copyrights will be turned over to the government; no new devices or products may be produced or sold; all businesses will sell the same amount of goods and services as they have been selling; all people will be required to spend the same amount of money as they...

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Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary

Eddie Willers meets his worker friend in the cafeteria. He talks about the state of the country and how laborers are walking off their jobs and roaming the countryside. Because quitting a job is illegal according to Directive 10-289, these laborers are labeled “deserters” and are imprisoned if caught. Since Dagny resigned her position as Vice-President of Operations, James Taggart has filled the post with his friend, Clifton Locey. Locey is bringing Taggart Transcontinental down because he refuses to make decisions to keep the railroad running safely. Eddie’s friend tells him that he will be going away for a while.

Rearden leaves his home. He tells his brother and mother that his secretary, Miss Ives, will make...

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Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary

Dagny stays at her retreat at Woodstock in the Berkshires, New York. She avoids thinking about the railroad as much as she can but often wakes up in the night worrying about it. One day she hears the sound of a car over the music coming from her radio. She hopes that it is Rearden, but it is Francisco d’Anconia. He has come to convince her to join him in his own exile. He tells her that, twelve years before, he was the first industrialist to walk away from his company. But he does not disappear as the others have done; he stays to destroy to keep it from the looters. Dagny cannot understand how he could destroy something he loved, but d’Anconia tells her that it is because of his love that he has been working to take it apart...

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Part 2, Chapter 9 Summary

Dagny stands at the window of her apartment with Manhattan Island spread before her; she thinks it looks like a sinking ship. Francisco d’Anconia arrives, which does not surprise her. He no longer has the look of a playboy. He has come to talk to her about the accident. He realizes that he cannot stop her from returning to the railroad, but he still tries. She will stop only when she realizes that her work is in the service of man’s destruction. He reminds her that he is in effect her enemy and that he plans to destroy that which she loves. Dagny asks d’Anconia if he is one of the destroyers. She wonders if it was he who was in Ken Danagger’s office before she came to convince him not to leave. He denies it. He says that...

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Part 2, Chapter 10 Summary

As Dagny crosses the plains, she is depressed by the desolation she sees along the way. At one stop, she sees the conductor pull a tramp off the train. There is some quiet dignity about him that impresses Dagny, so she invites him into her private car. He explains that he has been traveling around without holding a job long over the past several years. He was a factory worker, but all the factories kept closing not long after he was hired. He introduces himself as Jeff Allen and tells Dagny that he used to work at the Twentieth Century Motor Company in Wisconsin, where she had found the motor. He tells her of the Starnes heirs, the owners of the factory, and their new policies. The workers were told to work according to their...

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Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary

Dagny regains consciousness and finds herself lying in a field of grass in a mountain valley. She is looking up at a face that strikes her as free from guilt or pain. He addresses her by name and then introduces himself as John Galt. When she asks where she is, John Galt tells her she is at Taggart Terminal. Dagny is unable to walk, so John Galt carries her to his small home and places her in the guest room. On the way, Dagny sees a large golden dollar sign. John Galt tells her it is a joke by Francisco d’Anconia, a symbol of what the valley stands for. The valley is protected by rays invented by John Galt, who also invented the motor. She meets Hugh Akston (who greets her) as well as Midas Mulligan, the banker who owns the...

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Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary

The next morning, as Dagny is cooking breakfast and John Galt is out checking on the ray screen, a stunningly beautiful man bursts in the door. He stops when he sees Dagny but expresses his pleasure that she has decided to join them. She explains that she is a “scab,” meaning that she is there but does not belong. He tells her that he has been watching her progress for some years. When John Galt returns, he introduces the man to her as Ragnar Danneskjold. Dagny is shocked to face the infamous pirate in person, but he explains that he has only stolen from those who steal from others. He tells her that the others in the valley (known usually as Galt’s Gulch) do not approve of his means of protest. He tells Dagny that he has a...

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Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary

Dr. Robert Stadler is invited to a demonstration in a field in Iowa. Viewing stands have been constructed for the viewing. Dr. Floyd Ferris reveals Project X, which is a sonic ray weapon. He uses it to demolish a farmhouse and some goats. The crowd is horrified, as is Dr. Stadler, whose research has been used to build this weapon. He points out that the world is at a standstill because of the economic crisis and does not have the resources to wage war. Dr. Ferris says the weapon is for maintaining internal peace, to control American citizens who are threatening the security of the government.

Dagny finds a small-town reporter and tells him to publish the news that she is alive and on her way back to New York. When she...

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Part 3, Chapter 4 Summary

James Taggart learns that Argentina will be declared, like most of the other major nations, a People’s State and will thus nationalize d’Anconia Copper Mines. He buys stock in a new company so he will have control when the State seizes the mines. This, with his other investments, ensures that he will have a major influence in every State in the Southern Hemisphere. On the way home, he gives a tramp a one hundred dollar bill because it is the only thing in his pocket. The tramp is as indifferent to this as James is.

When he returns to his apartment, he asks Cherryl for some champagne so they can celebrate. She is indifferent to the celebration, having lost all admiration for James since their marriage. She begins to...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 5 Summary

Because of the copper shortage, the nation’s infrastructure begins to break down. Telephone lines cannot be replaced. Cuffy Meigs is the sole decision maker of what constitutes an emergency, and he will take no action. Dagny transfers some of the company’s copper to California, which is one of the few states where oil is still produced. James begs Dagny to do something. He says that if he is miserable, it is her fault. If people suffer, it is blamed on those who could alleviate their suffering but do not. He had planned to surprise her with the news of his control of D’Anconia Copper, but just as soon as the company was nationalized, every property and material that belonged to D’Anconia Copper was destroyed. Rearden is...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 6 Summary

The workers at Rearden Steel request a raise; however, they do not present their request to Rearden himself but to the Unification Board. Rearden learns of it only indirectly. He also learns that the Unification Board has denied their request. When the newspapers report that the Rearden Steel workers are near destitution and that their request for a wage increase has been denied, they fail to mention who exactly turned down their request—they allow the assumption that Rearden did it. Rearden receives a notice that his bank accounts have been “attached” (garnished) for three years’ worth of unpaid back taxes (which is a false accusation). He agrees to meet with the Unification Board on November 4.

The same day,...

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Part 3, Chapter 7 Summary

A panicked James Taggart tells Dagny that Henry Rearden has vanished. The steel industry collapses and the economy goes into a tailspin. To calm the chaos, newspapers begin to print stories with differing accounts of Rearden’s disappearance to give the semblance that the powers that be are in the know. Dagny receives a note: “I have met him. I don’t blame you.” Rearden must have met John Galt.

To quiet the fears, the Head of State Thompson plans on addressing the nation by radio. Just minutes before the broadcast, the radio signals fall silent all across the nation. It appears that some kind of transmission is blocking them. At 8:00, when Thompson was supposed to speak, a voice comes on and announces that it is...

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Part 3, Chapter 8 Summary

Panic erupts in the radio station following John Galt’s broadcast. The men disagree whether they should resume regular broadcasting without comment or make a statement so the public will not think the state has endorsed John Galt’s message. Dagny tells them they should give up, step aside, and let free men live their lives. The men discuss the next course of action in relation to John Galt.

Eddie Willers tells Dagny he has known John Galt for years and did not realize it. Galt was the worker with whom Eddie always spoke in the cafeteria. Dagny tells him he will not see John Galt again. Thompson tries to calm the country following the broadcast and calls out to John Galt to come to negotiate with the government....

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 9 Summary

Dr. Stadler sees the John Galt Plan broadcast and hears Galt cry, “Get the hell out of my way!” Stadler decides he wants no part of the government. He drives to the testing site of Project X, where the sonic ray is stored. At the entrance, no one knows who he is. It is clear that another group has taken over the site. Dr. Stadler learns that Cuffy Meigs is now in possession of Project X. Dr. Stadler and Meigs fight over the controls and accidentally set it off. The machine, the building, and everything and everyone within a hundred-mile radius is destroyed.

Dr. Ferris decides it is best that John Galt be tortured into taking over the country as an economic dictator. Dagny hears about this and frantically tries to...

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Part 3, Chapter 10 Summary

Dagny approaches the guard at the door of Project F, where John Galt is being tortured. When the guard refuses her admittance, she says she is there on the order of Mr. Thompson. The guard argues that he has no orders to accept orders from Mr. Thompson. Dagny questions him as to his understanding of her identity, which he confesses he knows. She tells him that he has the choice of either letting her in or being shot. He breaks down, unable to make a decision, so Dagny shoots him. Francisco d’Anconia joins her, as do Hank Rearden and Ragnar Danneskjold. The other guards are tied up. They enter the project and are confronted by one of the other guards, who leads them to where John Galt is being held. D’Anconia and Rearden enter...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Michael Foster, Ed. Scott Locklear