Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 - Atlantis
Dagny belly-lands her plane. Her injuries aren't severe, but she does lose consciousness. As she awakens, she looks up at the face of a man kneeling by her side — a face that shows no sign of pain or fear or guilt. The man is John Galt. He is the object of both of Dagny's quests, because he is both the motor's inventor and the destroyer who is draining the brains of the world.
Dagny discovers that all the great minds who retired and vanished from society now live and work in this remote Colorado valley. Ellis Wyatt is here, as are the other Colorado industrialists. Ken Danagger has joined them. The great banker Midas Mulligan owns the valley, and the philosopher Hugh Akston and composer Richard Halley reside here also. Dagny learns, not surprisingly, that Francisco d'Anconia is another thinker who has come here to be free from the looters' oppressive code.
Galt's motor powers the valley's electrical appliances. It also powers a ray screen that shields the valley from view, which is why it remains undiscovered by the outside world. Galt takes Dagny to a building that houses the generator, where she reads his oath inscribed above the door: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
At dinner that night, in the home of Midas Mulligan, Galt quietly tells Dagny the purpose of the valley's residents: They are on strike. The men of the mind refuse to support the looters' system, which consists of involuntary obligations and enforced servitude.
The mystery that has compelled much of the novel's plot so far is finally explained in this chapter. The decline of industrial civilization has occurred not solely as a result of the looters' socialist policies. The decline has been hastened by the finest minds in the United States going on strike. The sudden retirements and the disappearance of the country's finest brains now make sense to Dagny (and to the reader). John Galt, the inventor who once worked at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, has kept his word; he is on the verge of stopping the motor of the world by halting invention, production, and all other economic progress.
Galt was the first person in the group of great minds to understand that the only way rational men can live freely is to withdraw their support of the looters' corrupt code and permit the current economic system to collapse. Only after that happens can the thinkers rebuild the world based on the principles of individual rights and political freedom — on the realization that the human mind must be free. Galt's oath, inscribed over the door leading to the generator, explains the essence of the strikers' code. The strikers are egoists: They believe that each individual has an inalienable right to his own life, that a person should pursue his own happiness, and that the individual has no moral obligations to others except to respect their rights to pursue happiness. Galt's oath repudiates the code of altruism practiced by the looters, a creed that demands selfless service to others. His oath specifies that an individual must neither sacrifice his values for others nor demand that others sacrifice their values for him.
Galt shared this message with each person now living in the valley, but only when each was prepared to accept his idea. As a result, Galt has orchestrated a strike unlike any other in human history. Obviously, this isn't the first group of people to go on strike while claiming to be indispensable to human well-being. Striking workers have often accused wealthy entrepreneurs and industrialists of exploitation — of gaining profit by robbing the true producer of wealth, the manual laborer. But Galt's strike is designed to show that the mind — not physical labor — is the fundamental source of wealth, and that the men and women who perform intellectual work are the true creators of value. Galt insists that the thinkers — the inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who plan a company's long-range policies — are fundamentally responsible for prosperity. Galt intends to prove that when the thinkers participate in the economy, the standard of living is high, but when the thinkers withdraw, the standard of living plummets. The manual laborers stay on the job, and they undeniably do constructive work that aids the production of goods and services. But their work alone, without the guidance of the mind, cannot move the economy forward.
The reader learns something in this chapter that Dagny doesn't know yet: John Galt works as a laborer for Taggart Transcontinental. He is the nameless worker who pumps Eddie Willers for information in the Taggart cafeteria. We first make this connection when Dagny recognizes the lack of pain, fear, and guilt in his face, because the description matches Eddie's description of the Taggart worker. Galt reveals that he has watched Dagny closely for years, and we now realize from which vantage point.