In Atlas Shrugged, how does Hank's contradictions in his philosophy harm him psychologically and practically?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hank Rearden, business man to be feared, and genius inventor of an innovative new type of metal, has always put work first in his life.  His work is the only thing that gives him true joy, and he has surpassed numerous obstacles and boundaries in order to succeed.  Success in the business world, and with his steel, has been his mantra for years.  He is willing to succeed at almost any cost--alienating his family, drowning out competitors, and showing no mercy to incompetent workers.

However, his drive to succeed is contradicted by the fact that he still bows before the moral code that the new politicians are preaching at the time.  He still, to a certain extent, cares about what the world thinks of him.  He still, to a certain extent, believes in the values and ideals that his society is preaching at him.  The one thing that he is still not willing to sacrifice in order to succeed, is his society's rules and standards in regards to certain things.  What takes him under in the end, is signing the equality act, in order to protect Dagny from being revealed as his lover.  This indicates that he is still letting the society around him make him feel ashamed for the very fulfilling and validating relationship that he had with Dagny.  He still assumes that it was wrong, and that Dagny would be ashamed to have it known to the world.  It is this erroneous assumption that eventually brings his business down, because he has let the moochers in, and they take it all in the end.

So, Hank's philosophy contradicts his actions.  He states he doesn't care what the world thinks of him, but caves to the world's pressures and standards.  He states that he will succeed at any cost, but does not stand his ground in order to succeed--instead, he sacrifices his own mind and will, which leads him to fail.

The practical impact of this is that he ends up having to cave to the moochers in Washington, and turn his steel over to people who don't know how to work, and who have no concept of a work ethic, or the value of self-earned success.  His business fails.  The psychological impact of his contradictions lead him to be tortured, and fractured.  The more he strives to succeed, the more he fails.  He exhausts himself mentally with the battle against what, in the end, he knows he needs to do:  give up all in order to stop giving his world what they ask.  He is unhappy, conflicted, stressed and worn thin.

I hope that those thoughts help you a bit; good luck!

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry Rearden is a man's man.  He works hard, is honest, and has integrity.  Henry's friends call him "Hank" and respect him as a good businessman.  Hank insists on perfection in his work and from his employees.  He accepts no excuses and cuts competitors off at the knees if that is what it takes to be the best.  You might call him ruthless.  Hank is a capitalist and believes that a man has the right to be monetarily compensated for his product or services to the client. 

Hanks personal life is not so well defined.  He is abused by his family on a personal and emotional level.  He lets them make him feel guilty for his desire to be the best at his chosen interests.  He has no interest in their lives and he lets the family, mostly his mother and wife, use this to manipulate him into giving them what they want. 

This contradiction in personal life and professional life cause Rearden to be the most guilty character in the book.  Hank is consumed with guilt after he is unfaithful to his wife with Dagny Taggart.  He loves Dagny but he nearly ruins their chance at a future because of his guilt.  He is psychologically tormented with the decision of whether or not to join the "John Galt" revolution and stop serving the altruists who would suck him dry.  His business in nearly destroyed and he has lost hope.  This is the result of inner conflict. It paralyzes a person to the point they can't make cold logical decisions and that is disastrous for a businessman like Hank Rearden.

"During his trial for the illegal sale of Rearden Metal to Ken Danagger, Hank finally pinpoints the purpose of guilt in the judicial system, which needs his cooperation to victimize him. Once he refuses to cooperate, the society is powerless and cannot harm him."