Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 10 - Wyatt's Torch

Summary

Dagny begins the search for the motor's inventor, interviewing the town officials in Rome, Wisconsin where the Twentieth Century Motor Company was located. But when she contacts her assistant Eddie, he warns her that the politicians are threatening to pass laws that would kill industrial production in Colorado. The Union of Locomotive Engineers demands that the maximum speed for all trains on the Rio Norte Line be reduced to 60 miles per hour, and the Union of Railway Conductors and Brakemen demands that the length of all trains on the line be reduced to 60 cars. Likewise, the states of Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona demand that no more trains run in Colorado than in any of these neighboring states. A group headed by Orren Boyle demands the passage of a Preservation of Livelihood Law, which would limit the production of Rearden Metal, and other businessmen demand passage of a Fair Share Law, which would give an equal amount of Rearden Metal to any customer who wants it.

In the meantime, Rearden has lost his supply of iron ore. Paul Larkin, in compliance with the terms of the crooked deal that James Taggart arranged, sold the ore to Orren Boyle and shipped it via Taggart's railroad rather than the cheaper lake ore boats.

Dagny's search for the inventor of the motor leads her to the widow of William Hastings, former chief engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Mrs. Hastings tells Dagny that one of her husband's young assistants was the motor's inventor. She doesn't know his name, but she's met a man who was a mutual friend of her husband and the inventor. Mrs. Hastings directs Dagny to a remote diner in the mountains of Wyoming, and Dagny goes to visit. The man working as a cook knows the inventor, but he refuses to give Dagny any information. Dagny is stunned to learn that the cook is Hugh Akston, the last great philosopher, who retired from his profession many years ago. When she arrives back in Cheyenne, Dagny learns that the socialist rulers have passed a series of directives in accordance with the demands made by the unions, Colorado's neighboring states, and mooching businessmen. A special tax has been levied on Colorado so it can assist its financially needier neighbors. Dagny is terrified at how the defiant Ellis Wyatt will respond. She races to Wyatt's Junction but finds that she's too late. Wyatt has set fire to his wells and disappeared.

Analysis

This chapter deepens Ayn Rand's portrayal of socialism as parasitical. Rearden, Dagny, and the great Colorado industrialists have, against terrible difficulties, created enormously productive enterprises. They create steel, oil, transportation, and superb innovations. The goods and services they provide make it possible to build and heat homes, construct and fuel automobiles, and participate in countless other productive activities. As a result, they create jobs for thousands of employees. In a capitalist system, the great Colorado industrialists would be free to sell their products to customers and make the fortunes that they've earned. But under socialism, they're forced to carry less competent people along with them. The unions of railroad workers clamor for shorter trains that run at lower speeds, and the government makes these demands law. This means that Taggart Transcontinental must run more trains and hire more men to do the same amount of work. Therefore, in return for her superb work, Dagny is compelled to run an inefficient, costly line that doesn't generate the profit it could. The union membership is rewarded while Dagny, the line's creator, is penalized.

Unfortunately, Rearden's situation is even worse. The government and many businessmen tried to block Rearden from putting Rearden Metal on the market. They threatened him, smeared the reputation of his metal, and robbed him of his ore mines. No one but Dagny had the wisdom and courage to buy his new product. But now that Dagny and Rearden have demonstrated the metal's worth, every one of his enemies demands the metal, and the government forces Rearden to fulfill their demands. Even worse, Rearden's competitors, recognizing the huge demand for the metal, convince the government to limit Rearden's output. Therefore, Rearden must sell to every person or business that wants his product while simultaneously restricting his output. The laws pull Rearden in opposite directions. He is tortured for the enormity of his achievement while men like Boyle, Larkin, and James Taggart benefit. With this scenario, Ayn Rand makes a compelling condemnation of socialism. In forcing the great creators to support those who cannot match their achievements, the socialist government penalizes a man for his ingenuity and hard work and rewards other men for their lack of accomplishment.

Dagny's relentless quest for the motor's inventor further shows the virtues of freedom. In a capitalist system, Dagny could profit from her recognition of the motor's worth. She would be free to hire the inventor and use his motor to revolutionize the transportation industry. In time, customers would recognize the superiority of the new motor, just as they recognized the great merit of Rearden Metal. Taggart Transcontinental's improved transportation would earn the company — and Dagny — a fortune. But under socialism, Rand argues, the goal is to serve the needy and the unproductive, not to provide justice to the men and women of achievement. Like Rearden and Dagny, the motor's inventor would be enslaved to serve a horde of parasites under a socialist government. Rand's message is that capitalism is the system of justice, because it rewards the good. Socialism, on the other hand, is a system of injustice, because it penalizes the good and rewards unproductive moochers.

This chapter's title refers to the rebelliousness of Ellis Wyatt's independent spirit. Wyatt will not be shackled. Rather than permit his achievement to be looted in order to support the parasites, he destroys it. Wyatt is both a symbol and a warning: He is a symbol of the great creative and free spirit that tyranny can't subjugate and a warning to those who try to enslave him. "Don't tread on me" was a saying popular at the time of the American Revolution, and Wyatt represents that same spirit of freedom. He won't serve people who try to loot his property. In defying them, he delivers a severe blow to their scheme to redistribute wealth.

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