Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 2 - The Chain

Summary

Hank Rearden pours the first heat for his first order of Rearden Metal. As he walks home from his office late that night, Rearden thinks about the ten years of excruciating effort that went into inventing his new metal. We learn that he has been working since he was 14 years old, starting in the ore mines of Minnesota. With exhausting labor over a period of decades, he rose to own the ore mines. Now he owns steel mills as well.

The first thing that Rearden made from the first heat of Rearden Metal was a bracelet for his wife, Lillian. When he arrives home, he gives Lillian the bracelet. Lillian, his mother, and his unemployed brother — who all reside with Rearden and live off his income — insult him. The trio tries to make Rearden feel guilty for the hours that he works and his love of the company, and they accuse him of neglecting them. Lillian looks at the bracelet, which is shaped like a chain, and remarks, "A chain. Appropriate, isn't it? It's the chain by which he holds us all in bondage."

Paul Larkin, an unsuccessful businessman who claims to look up to Rearden, warns him regarding the state of his public relations. Larkin says that the newspapers depict Rearden as an antisocial enemy of the people, interested only in running steel mills and earning a profit. Rearden says that the newspapers are right about his love for his business. Larkin hints at possible political dangers and warns Rearden to make sure that his "Washington man," the political lobbyist he pays to protect him from the legislation of the socialist rulers, is loyal.

Analysis

This chapter establishes several important points regarding Rearden and his family. Rearden is an innovative metallurgist who, by means of herculean labor over a ten-year period, created a new metal that will revolutionize industrial production. Like all great creative minds, Rearden is motivated by his love of the work (constructive action in the field of his choice). His work — both as a manufacturer of steel and as the inventor of Rearden Metal — is enormously beneficial to his fellow man every day. This fact pleases Rearden, but it's not his driving motive. His motivation is the creative effort itself, his love of doing the work. The positive results that his fellow man accrues are a felicitous secondary consequence.

With the character of Hank Rearden, Ayn Rand makes a point regarding the nature of creative individuals. Rearden is similar to the great inventors, industrialists, writers, and artists of history. The Edisons and Wright Brothers, the Carnegies and Rockefellers, the Shakespeares and Michelangelos all created works that significantly benefitted mankind. Whether through the electric light or the airplane, the production of steel or oil, or the creation of brilliant poetry or sculpture, these great minds have been the benefactors of human society. But, like Rearden, these creative geniuses are driven primarily by their love of their work — by their passionate fascination with a specific field of endeavor. Rearden, and all original thinkers like him, are self-driven, self-motivated, and self-actualized. They aren't slaves to others, nor do they think of themselves as such. Rearden is selfish, not in the conventional sense of his family's accusations (meaning uncaring toward others) but in Ayn Rand's sense of being motivated by his own values and happiness.

However, Rearden isn't fully consistent in his commitment to himself. In his work, he has created an unremitting source of joy, but in his marriage and family life, he acts selflessly. His wife and family members are unemployed parasites who live on his generosity and criticize him relentlessly for his indifference toward them. Their accusations have only one purpose: to make Rearden feel guilty. They want him to feel guilty for his ability, initiative, success, money, pride, and happiness. Rearden's family wants him to feel responsible for their feelings of helplessness, misery, and despair. If they can convince him, at some unspoken level, that he is the reason their lives are empty, Rearden will be malleable clay in their hands; they'll be able to control him. Unfortunately, Rearden feels an obligation to them. Although they contribute nothing to his life but more burdens to carry, he believes that he must take care of them. Rearden has accepted the code of altruism, the moral theory that claims that the able have the responsibility of caring for the unable. Consequently, he gives to them endlessly without receiving anything positive in return, without asking for or expecting any reciprocation. Because of his self-sacrificial code of ethics regarding his personal relationships, Rearden tolerates the injustice that his family perpetrates on him.

Paul Larkin's warning indicates that the press holds the same moral code as Rearden's family. The press writes that Rearden is selfish and antisocial because he's proud of his mills and runs them himself. The press resents the same things about Rearden — his creative drive, his success, and his pride — that his family does. But Rearden feels strong and laughs off the press attacks. His abundance of productive energy allows him to feel that he can afford to be tolerant of the media.

Larkin urges him to make sure that his protective man in Washington is loyal, but Rearden doesn't take the warning seriously. Because he accepts the premise that a productive man is obligated to carry the needy on his back, Rearden doesn't yet recognize the evil of those who attack him for his success. Consequently, he makes no effort to answer the vicious accusations of his family or the false smears of the press. At this point in the story, Rearden is a great man willing to bear guilt for his virtues and to accept the responsibility of supporting parasites who seek to control him. Rearden needs to be liberated from his acceptance of the self-sacrifice ethics.

Glossary

Rearden's "Washington man" The "Washington man" is a lobbyist Rearden must employ to protect his business from proposed anticapitalist legislation. In a mixed economy such as contemporary America, there is a combination of freedom and government controls (capitalism and socialism). Rearden owns his mills, but the government has the right to control, regulate, and even expropriate his business. To protect himself, Rearden must hire a man with political connections to plead with the politicians on his behalf. As Rearden points out, the men available for such a job are an unprincipled lot.

The chain The chain is actually the bracelet in the shape of a chain that Rearden gives to Lillian. She claims that it's symbolic of the bondage in which Rearden keeps his family. Lillian has properly identified the nature of the relationship, but this chapter raises the question of who is in bondage to whom.

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