Atlas Shrugged Themes

Themes

Unlike the majority of popular fiction. Atlas Shrugged explores a number of serious themes, from the role of the creator in society to the very nature of reality itself. The book contains all of the tenets of Objectivism, and like the rest of Rand's novels, it is fiction designed to provide a framework to explain and illustrate her philosophy. Rand's central concept in this work is the denial of self-sacrifice, a staple of conventional morality. She denies that the good of others should be a person's primary concern, and, in John Gait's radio speech says, "We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one's happiness is evil." According to Rand, it is irrational to place the good of others ahead of oneself, although this is a creed preached, oddly enough, by both Christianity and Communism. Rand opposed both, and in this work, reached her conclusion: Rather than submitting to exploitation for whatever reason, people should drop out of society until they are free to return to an uncontrolled society where they may live and work in any way they please. The producers in the world of the novel — inventor John Galt, copper magnate Francisco D'Anconia, philosopher Ragnar Dannesjkold — resolve not only to deprive the world of their intellects, but also to approach others of their ilk and persuade them to drop out until the country is deprived of the men of ability that are the lifeblood of an industrial society. A corresponding group of people led by James...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Atlas Shrugged Themes

Individual vs. Society
The very title of Atlas Shrugged illustrates the rebellion of one person against the system. It evokes the image of the mythological giant whose job in the universe is to hold the world on his shoulders—until he shrugs and lets it fall. Likewise, the revolutionary John Galt exemplifies the conflict of one against many when he starts a rebellion against the entire system of corruption that has taken over the world.

Several characters—who eventually end up on Galt's side—experience the feeling of fighting society alone. Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden often perceive their position as that of solitary crusaders, trying to prevent the collapse of the world by gathering as many capable industrialist leaders as possible for their struggle. Rand makes it quite clear that her celebration of individualism requires her heroes and heroines to become isolated: Dagny is the only effective executive at the Taggart Transcontinental, always fighting with her brother and the board of directors to let her keep the railroad running. Hank faces the same prospect as he tries to preserve his business from the industrial looters; when he is put on trial for selling more metal to one of his customers than regulations allow, he stands up to the judicial system alone.

Isolation is another requirement in the struggle, since the secret of the revolution must remain among the people already devoted to the cause. Thus, the new world must be carefully hidden from intruders in the depth of the mountains. With the individualist aspects of the revolution comes a necessary sacrifice of one's social ties. None of the rebels can share their knowledge with their friends and family members, unless those individuals are deemed ready for the conversion to Galt's cause.

Guilt
Hank Rearden is the most guilt-ridden character in the novel. In the process of his conversion to Galt's revolution, Rand develops the Objectivist theory of guilt and explains how this emotion is used by the establishment as a means of social control. Guilt is isolated as a tool that keeps individuals tied to the parasitic elements of the community. According to the establishment, since "people" in general are not as skilled and capable as the novel's successful capitalists, it is the duty of those who can produce goods and services to take care of the needy—because they should feel guilty for being successful in the first place.

At the beginning of the novel, Hank feels guilty because he does not have any interest in his family's pastimes and opinions. To redeem himself, he lets them live in his house and spend his money. When his mother asks him to give his incompetent brother a job at the mills, however, Hank refuses to be drawn into a family obligation that would jeopardize his business. Although he is not ashamed of his business, Hank still feels guilty...

(The entire section is 1184 words.)