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Literature / Atlas Shrugged

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"For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. I am the man who has deprived you of victims and thus has destroyed your world, and if you wish to know why you are perishing, you who dread knowledge: I am the man who will now tell you."
John Galt beginning a very, very, very long speech.

It's 20 Minutes into the Future. The USA is a mixed-market, but heavily regulated and increasingly crypto-communist dystopia wherein the federal government is as oppressive as it is incompetent. The average Joe is being pushed further into poverty by each measure nominally intended to relieve it, and can see no way out. The upper classes are Les Collaborateurs gaming the system for every drop before it crashes, or self-deluded fools certain they can fix the socio-economic problems created by failed government initiatives with more government initiatives. With the press under rigid control, there is little public dissent against the status quo.

Worse, the handful of scientists, entrepreneurs, and managers sustaining the system are disappearing one by one. No one ever hears from them again, and their friends and relatives are left with nothing but a question:

"Who is John Galt?"

Welcome to the world of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The title is based on a popular misconception that in Greek mythology, Atlas carried the world on his back (he actually carried the sky); as Hank and Francisco discuss during the book, if he ever tired of carrying that weight on his shoulders, all he needed to do was shrug, and it would fall off. The working title for the novel, before its publication, was The Strike—but Rand changed it because she feared it would be a Spoiler Title.note 

The book is most widely known for its philosophical condemnation of religion and altruism, as well as its advocacy of free-market classical liberalism (which Rand termed "Capitalism", though non-Objectivists use the word to describe the Capitalist system). Other themes include its celebration of the individual and the argument that suffering is not a necessary part of the human condition.

For those that are interested in the technical details of Rand's ideas, there is a Useful Notes page on Objectivism (warning: RL politics/philosophy ahead).

After decades in Development Hell, a film adaptation of the novel was released in three parts. The release dates were April 15, 2011 (the deadline to file income tax returns in the United States); October 12, 2012; and September 12, 2014. All three parts are covered here.

This book provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: In addition to her intellect and industrial competence, Dagny Taggart has moments of more concrete badassery. For instance, she is an accomplished airplane pilot, which comes in handy during a genuinely awesome air chase scene — where she manages to track down her quarry in a small, under-fuelled plane, over dangerous territory, while suffering from sleep deprivation.
  • Aerial Canyon Chase: When Dagny follows John Galt's airplane into the mountains, she has to do some precision flying to avoid crashing into the canyon walls.
  • Aerith and Bob: The Taggart siblings, James and...Dagny.
  • All for Nothing: "Kip's Ma" Chalmers diverts thousands of railcars from transporting the nation's wheat harvest in order to haul a crop of soybeans she's grown in a personal agriculture project. Not only does most of the wheat end up rotting in storage, touching off widespread food shortages, but the soybeans turn out to be unfit for consumption because they were harvested too early.
  • The Alleged Boss: This is a major theme. Alleged Bosses are among the book's prime villains, and they are villains precisely because they fail to act like bosses. Case in point: Jim Taggart, who is the president of a large railroad company but is so spineless and incompetent that it's his sister Dagny, the company's Vice President, who actually runs things.
  • Almighty Janitor: All of the strikers, including highly capable people, agree to take nothing but the equivalent of minimum-wage jobs in order to avoid sustaining the looters' socialist system. Notably, scientific genius John Galt works at Taggart Transcontinental as an unskilled railroad hand for ten years.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Static Motor which provides infinite energy from the atmosphere, the invisibility/cloaking device which hides Galt's Gulch, and the super-strong Rearden Metal for High Speed Railways.
  • Alternate History: There's no particular evidence one way or the other, but a popular fandom explanation for the importance of radios, trains, and the lack of post-WWII technology is that the timeline splits around the '30s when FDR is elected, resulting in decades of stagnation, and major events such as World War II never happened in this universe.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Inverted. While the book's villains think this, the protagonists (and the author) believe that a lack of ambition is evil.
  • America Saves the Day: Simultaneously averted and played straight. Averted in that in the world of the novel, the USA is well on track to becoming just like the People's States it regularly sends government aid to (and, by the end of the novel, American society has indeed collapsed). Two heroes (D'Anconia and Ragnar The Philosopher Pirate) are Argentinian and Scandinavian, respectively. Present in that all of the novel's heroes extol (what they refer to as) American values and the majesty of a country founded on the pursuit of individual happiness. By the end of the novel all the productive people are living in lovely Colorado.
  • An Aesop: In Rand's eyes the book has several:
    • You should do what makes you happy.
    • Happiness primarily or solely comes from doing things for yourself, not for others.
    • You can only be truly happy by being honest about wanting to do things for primarily or solely for yourself, rather than pretending to care about others.
    • Governments can never fix socioeconomic problems, they can only create them. This is because government is a collective entity dedicated to altruism: people are naturally selfish and individualistic, so the people who staff it will always act corruptly and inefficiently to benefit themselves.
    • A society which attempts to go against humanity's selfish and individualistic nature by trying to keep the Unworthy from dying, and elevating them to roles for which they are Unfit, will inevitably collapse because a government powerful (and foolish) enough to save the Unfit is also powerful enough to destroy that society with its inefficiency and corruption (which it inevitably shall, see above).
    • A society which embraces humanity's selfish and individualistic nature by allowing the Fit to naturally rise to roles for which they are Worthy, and the Unfit to perish, will be a Utopia wherein the Fit and Worthy survivors shall be happy and free.
  • Anti-Hero:
    • Although Rand intended her protagonists to be morally unassailable, even many people who agree with the book's Objectivist philosophy don't perceive them as pure heroes.
    • Dagny Taggart and Francisco D'Anconia are somewhere between Pragmatic Anti Hero and Unscrupulous Hero, Hank Rearden is more of a Disney Anti Hero. John Galt is arguably a Pragmatic Anti Hero, albeit only to his enemies. By the time you get to pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, who steals ships of goods from governments so he can sell them, and give the money to people he judges as worthy/owed restitution, you're into Designated Hero territory.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2, planetary scale societal collapse. The resulting society is not better off, but it is implied that a new civilization will rise that eliminates, forever, the problems that caused the old to fall.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: John Galt is a Gadgeteer Genius with cast-iron lungs; Galt's Motor, Galt's Gulch's Invisibility Cloak, Galt's Cool Plane... There's also "Miracle" Metal, and Project Xylophone (which also contains Explodium).
  • Arc Words: "How am I to know?", "Check your premises", "Who are you to judge/think?", "He'll do something!" "The whole world should know his name!" — "Who is John Galt?"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Wesley Mouch denies the newly established businesses in Colorado the vital rail transport, the metals and alloys, the rails, the pipelines, the labor force, and afterwards imposes a 5% tax on their sales. If there are sales any more.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Galt's Gulch builds its entire economy on gold coins, treating gold as if it has some inherent value; but Gold is basically only valuable because it is scarce, and gold-backed economies all ran into the same problems in the 20th Century because the supply of gold is finite, resulting in every modern economy moving away from the gold standard. The actual value of the coins is kept extremely vague in the text, but either groceries in Galt's gulch cost an absolute fortune, or Dagny is being paid an absolute pittance for her work... or possibly both.
    • Also, Gold is absurdly heavy, making it impractical for - for instance - Ragnar to haul around stolen gold bullion to "repay" people he thinks were taxed too much. A "Good Delivery" standard gold bar is supposed to weigh 12.4 Kilograms, i.e. it is very much not something you could comfortably carry around in a pocket, even if the pocket was reinforced enough to not just rip under the strain.
    • Furthermore, events like The Great Recoinage provide a great illustration of the problem of using precious metals as currency. To quote the other Wiki: "It had proved impossible to maintain a system based on gold and silver because of the variation in the bullion value of each metal. In practice this usually meant that silver was worth more melted down into bullion." This problem might, in the novel, be prevented by the total collapse of society... but since that proves that it's really only society that makes "Precious" metals precious in the first place, you can circle back around to the parent point again.
    • There is next to no discussion of how infrastructure to exploit resources is necessary to provide the opportunity for profit. Dagny does discuss how to lay track to help get more out of Francisco's mine, but never addresses where all the extracted metals are going to go from the end of that track, or how they're going to get there.
    • Dagny (and some other characters) express great admiration for her ancestor, the founder of Taggart Transcontinental, for never taking government handouts - and, indeed, throwing someone who tried to give him one down a flight of stairs. But building railroads absolutely requires government assistance because only a government can wield the kind of compulsory purchase power (Eminent Domain, in US Law, but other countries have different names for the same process) necessary to obtain the land on which you want to lay thousands of miles of track - without the Government, just a few stubborn landowners in the right places could have prevented Taggart Transcontinental from ever becoming, well, Transcontinental.
    • In real life, when important business leaders quit, are fired or die while on the job, the entire industry doesn't just fail. The plot turns on the idea that charismatic, hypercompetent individuals alone have the power to keep entire industries functioning, and that without them, failure is inevitable. If this were true, then industries would not exist at all.
    • When the government enacts a law that one individual can only own one company, none of the heroes respond by incorporating a new company that immediately acquires all of their previous holdings as wholly-owned subsidiaries. Apparently there are no conglomerates in the world of Atlas Shrugged.
    • When Dagny creates the John Galt Line as a separate company from Taggart Transcontinental, so that she can run it exactly as she wants, she promises that all the Line's profits will come back to Taggart when it is re-acquired. When Rearden provides financial backing, he expects a return on his investment. The two positions are completely irreconcilable, and might even constitute fraud if Dagny did not make the conditions of her deal with Taggart known to her investors.
  • Artistic License – Engineering:
    • A diesel train is stated to have an average speed of one hundred miles an hour (yes, "average", not "maximum") on a track with lots of turns and steep grades. Compare with modern trains on routes through the Rocky Mountains, equipped with far more powerful and efficient locomotives, where an average speed of forty MPH is considered fast.
    • Railroad rails should not be made of hard steel; the repeated flexing under the rolling wheels would lead to brittle fracture, making a harder steel a far worse alternative than current hot-rolled mild steel. Having an induction-hardened head will reduce wear, but the most important characteristic of a railroad rail is actually elasticity, the ability to deform slightly under the load and spring back to its original shape.
    • Hank Rearden designs a new and revolutionary bridge to be used on Dagny's John Galt line in an afternoon. When engine drivers balk at driving trains across this new and untested structure at speed, this is depicted as being due to their weak-willed looter nature, and not, for instance, any memory they might have of The Tay Bridge Disaster. The Tay Bridge was designed and built by an experienced railway engineer - albeit one who failed to account for Wind Loading, with horrific consequences - and not by a self-taught metallurgist with no civil engineering experience at all.
  • Artistic License – Military: How do the Looters actually keep control? They had proved themselves incapable enough they can't stop the single ship of Ragnar Danneskjöld from raiding outside their very ports. Their roads crumble, factories collapse, large swathes of the country are dropping back into wilderness. Wyatt has a revolutionary method to produce oil which they don't have, Rearden has a magical alloy impervious to HEAT shells, Galt has a limitless source of power and so on. If they wanted to actually take over the country in a few weeks, they could do it, the hard, painful way. Yet up to that point each and every of the heroes obeys meekly even the most stupid decisions of Mouch and Thompson. They don't even attempt to negotiate or blackmail. Only the apathy of honest people left the bastards in control of the economy for so long.
  • Atlantis: Francisco D'Anconia's preferred nickname for Galt's Gulch.
  • Author Avatar:
    • Word of God (i.e. Rand herself) admits that she is the Fishwife in Galt's Gulch.
    • Rand also referred to her real life husband-at-the-time as "my John Galt".
  • Author Filibuster: As the quote on the Author Filibuster page says, "Eventually the question you ask stops being 'Who is John Galt?' and becomes 'When will John Galt shut up?'" Atlas Shrugged has one of the longest examples in print, with 60 to 70 pages (depending on printing) and four hours of in-universe time of John Galt lecturing the entire world (though real-life readings of the speech tend to take upwards of six). There are other, shorter filibusters as well scattered through the book. It must be noted that Ayn Rand was inspired by Victor Hugo, whose novels did include numerous examples.
  • Author Tract: One of the eminent examples in Western fiction, and possibly the modern Trope Codifier. The entire, immense Doorstopper novel has as its purpose to explain and propagate the writer's ideology, and the means it uses to do so include some of the longest Character Filibusters ever written.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ragnar Danneskjöld, the most fearsome pirate on the high seas, is also a philosophy major who enjoys reading Aristotle. He worked his way through college as a library clerk.
  • Badass Creed: John Galt's philosophy is arguably summed up in one sentence:
    "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."
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: Actively averted: Rand's view was that evil is a parasite on the good of the world, which cannot survive without willing virtues to loot.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ayn Rand genuinely believed that economics worked as the 'Austrian' school of philosophical 'economics' assumed that it did through the use of axiomatic logic ('Praxeology') without reference to the study of the real world. In the book this is how economics works, so one of its Aesops is that industrial society would collapse if those who collected economic rents from the population and corporate welfare from the government ever decided that they didn't want that money:
    "You have destroyed all that which you held to be evil and achieved all that which you held to be good. Why, then, do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you? That world is not the product of your sins, it is the product and image of your virtues. It is your moral ideal brought into reality in its full and final perfection. You have fought for it, you have dreamed of it, and you have wished it, and I — I am the man who has granted you your wish."
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: All of the protagonists and members of Galt's Gulch are described as being exceptionally attractive, while the villains are generally described as pudgy and watery eyed.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Dagny Taggart is a strong, powerful woman — who can only feel attracted to a man if she sees that he is even stronger still. The book is full of florid prose about how much she's always wanted to find a man who would be capable of dominating her, and how much Dagny enjoys being submissive when romanced by a worthy male. The contrast between this and her strength and competence is emphasized. To her credit, however, Dagny remains capable and intelligent, and being submissive to a man in a romance does not relegate her to playing second fiddle to him in other contexts, or prevent her from challenging him when needed.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia, with John Galt as Third-Option Love Interest.
    • Rand also deconstructs the trope with the actress who joined the strike because she was typecast as the Veronica: - she was tired of having to play characters who were more interesting than the Betties in formula films while always losing to them in the end.
  • Big Damn Heroes: John Galt's rescue by Dagny, Hank, Frisco and Ragnar. Ragnar even crashes through a window, guns akimbo to ambush the guards.
  • Big Good: John Galt is the undisputed leader of the disparate alliance of creative geniuses who have decided to make a stand against the corrupt socialism of the Looters: beloved, fearless and utterly devoted to Objectivism.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Explicitly endorsed by John Galt in his huge, huge speech:
    "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word:
    Hank Rearden: In my youth, this was called blackmail.
    Dr. Ferris: That's what it is, Mr. Rearden. We've entered a much more realistic age.
  • Boom, Headshot!: In the aftermath of the riot at his steel mill, Rearden learns that a newly hired furnace foreman saved his life by shooting two attackers in the face and blowing their heads off. Said foreman turns out to be Francisco d'Anconia.
  • Brain Drain: This is John Galt's major plan: to drain all of America.
  • Brick Joke: Remember how Dagny returns from Galt's Gulch just in time to hear that the engines from their star line and the cars from a coal run were being appropriated to pick up a shipment of grapefruit? Two-hundred and fifty pages later, after the looters have captured Galt, it's mentioned that Mr. Thompson's doctor had prescribed him grapefruit juice to help with an "epidemic" of colds. And we learn of this because they just at that moment ran out of juice. Right up until the collapse, resources were put aside so the Head Of State could have grapefruit juice.
  • Broken Pedestal: Dr. Robert Stadler, brilliant and idealistic scientist who compromises with the system to save what he can of science. His motives are honest at first, but in the end he becomes just another part of the looters' corrupt machine — leaving Dagny deeply disappointed with someone she thought to be admirable, and can still see that he indeed used to be, once upon a time.
  • Bromance: Hank Rearden and Francisco d'Anconia; Dr. Akston and John Galt; Kenneth Danagger and Hank Rearden...
    Danagger: About Hank Rearden... Will you do me a favor?
    Dagny: Of course.
    Danagger: Will you tell him that I... You see, I've never cared for people, yet he was always the man I respected, but I didn't know until today that what I felt was,... that he was the only man I ever loved... Just tell him this and that I wish I could—no, I guess that's all I can tell him. ... He'll probably damn me for leaving ... still, maybe he won't.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Subverted with Dagny and James Taggart. While both are in major leadership roles at Taggart Transcontinental, it's Dagny who keeps the railroad running and James who keeps either harming its interests or advancing it through dishonest means. When the three were children, Francisco always thought of Dagny and Eddie Willers, not James, as "the Taggart children," so Dagny and Eddie, who becomes her Special Assistant, count in spirit.
  • Brutal Honesty: Hank Rearden never lied throughout his business career. Not even to gain sympathy or love from his own brother. Or mom. Or wife. Never accepted unearned favor, bribe, discount. You either gain his respect by merit or he will gladly tell you what a miserable bastard you are for not living up to standards.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The Class-2 Apocalypse How caused by the intellectual elite's refusal to reform society, and decisions to speed up its disintegration and death instead, have caused altruistic readers to take this message from the book even though Rand believed that unregulated oligarchic/monopolistic free-market capitalism was an absolutely meritocratic political and economic system. This message was likely unintentional, as Objectivism maintains that refusing to act altruistically is perfectly 'moral' as long as you do not feel bad about refusing (like John Galt), and altruistic behaviour is only 'moral' when it makes you feel good (rather than it being inherently or objectively good).
  • Character Filibuster: Quite a few. A four hour long speech appears verbatim, right before the climax. After that, the rest - Francisco D'Anconia's praise of money, Hank Rearden's speech when the government puts him on trial, and plenty more - look like zingers.
  • Comic-Book Time: Galt's speech, which is described as being four hours long in the book; In real life, no-one has been able to read the entire thing, clearly and distinctly, in anything less than six hours.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Inverted. Mr. Thompson tries to offer John Galt what he thinks are comically large bribes to cooperate with the government, such as a billion dollars in gold and total economic power over the whole country. Galt points out that, in fact, such money and power would only be of value to him once he creates said value himself, making them completely worthless.
    • Inverted again when Dagny receives a $500,000 reward check for helping the government find Galt. She never cashes it, knowing that it will be worthless in both a financial and a philosophical sense.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • After listening to Galt's four-hour long tirade about the evils of government interference in industry, the looters proceed to capture him and offer him the role of economic director, a job in which he will be free to run industry as he sees fit. And then when he replies that his first order is to abolish all income taxes, Thompson balks and refuses.
    • After Dagny returns from her idyllic sojourn in Galt's Gulch, James Taggart (who probably majored in Missing the Point) brags about how much money he has made the railroad in her absence. He gloats, because all Dagny ever cared about was making lucre. He "made" that money by pulling strings with his friends to get the government to give him outrageous subsidies and advantages. Dagny's... not impressed.
    • James... again, after his sister's dynamo performance on Bertram Scudder's radio program. When Cherryl asks him about Dagny's comments, James responds by attacking Scudder and pointing out that he has been kicked off the radio, and Cherryl disliked Scudder anyway. Cherryl becomes quite exasperated.
  • Compliment Backfire:
    • Hank Rearden is thrown a banquet after the tremendous success of Taggart Transcontinental's Rearden Metal line, at which he is praised loudly for being someone who people desperately needs. He's not very impressed.
    • Composer Richard Halley joins the strike after the night his opera became a roaring success for the same reason.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Francisco d'Anconia became famous for this after adopting his playboy persona. James Taggart also goes on a spree of this later on. Notably averted with most of the heroic characters, even very rich ones: they may purchase extremely expensive objects, but do this for their quality rather than showing off how rich they are.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Many passages in the book are exactly this. Justified Trope given the genre.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Various villains, notably James Taggart and Orren Boyle. The heroes have also been accused, in-universe, of embodying this trope.
  • Corrupt Politician: Just about every politician in the book is either a weak, amoral slug or a deliberately destructive leech.
  • Crapsack World: Intellectuals such as Balph Eubank and Simon Pritchett like to present the world as one of these, a place where reason and logic are useless, man cannot achieve anything significant in the universe, and suffering is the essence of life. The general state of the world seems to imply that they are right, except that their insistence on treating those opinions as fact is causing them to become true. In contrast the Strikers use Genius and Determination to create infinite energy machines and cloaking devices, thereby Earning Their Happy Ending.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Hank Rearden flips out when he finds out Dagny slept with Francisco d'Anconia... years before the former ever met her. The scene ends with Rearden and Dagny having the greatest sex they've ever had.
  • Daddy's Girl: There are interesting shades of this in Dagny's relationship with her father. Although he mainly gave the company to James, he knew from watching her childhood that she was the Taggart to run the railroads. In turn, Dagny admires her father for being a self-made, hardworking man, but also regrets that being born into his family made her success a little easier.
  • Dead Air: After John Galt hacks the radio transmissions and delivers his speech, the other characters do anything to fill up the dead air afterward, but this is treated more as a Follow the Leader response of the radio producers that came before them.
  • Deadpan Snarker - Most of the good characters but particularly Dagny.
  • Deconstruction: The chapter detailing the fate of the Twentieth Century Motor Company is a deconstruction of the Marxist slogan "From Each According to Ability, To Each According to Need." Ultimately, the plot of the novel is intended to be a deconstruction of traditional (i.e. altruistic) moral principles.
  • Defeat Means Friendship:
    • The first guy to produce steel in Galt's Gulch is driven out of business when a better man joins the strikers. The beaten man happily works for the new steel producer, in a position which is a much better fit.
    • The winner himself tells Dagny that he looks forward to the day when Rearden joins the strikers: Hank will certainly beat him, but it'll be an honorable defeat.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Cherryl reaches hers when she comes to understand more about Jimmy Taggart's philosophy, and how he really feels about her.
  • Determinator:
    • Dagny, particularly in regards to how she finds Galt. She finds his plane, grabs her own, follows it until it seemingly disappears into the side of a mountain, and follows.
    • Hank Rearden went through countless failures before he finally invented a successful version of Rearden Metal.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Galt, the hero, doesn't show up in a major way for about 700 pages. He's in the first couple chapters, but it takes the looters about 400 pages before they really start to screw up society. That "early" portion of the book is devoted to introducing characters and establishing their personalities through extensive, extensive dialogue and flashbacks.
  • Domestic Abuse: Lillian Rearden and Jim Taggart each got married for the sheer, sadistic joy of psychologically crushing and breaking a person. Hank Rearden is technically an example, since he threatens and abuses Lillian at one point, but this is meant to be an excusable reaction to her years of mental abuse against him.
    • In one of the extensive flashbacks to their adolescent romance, Francisco slaps Dagny during an argument out of frustration. Dagny decides not to tell her mother, and treats the slap like an exciting secret adventure she shares with Francisco, that others simply would not understand.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: Your radio set, anyway. Or you'd miss John Galt's great speech to the world.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Deconstructed. The villains of the piece base their economic policies on emotionalism and feelings and (what they call) 'love for others'.
  • Door Stopper: Atlas Shrugged is (at a conservative estimate) the 8th longest novel in English, and is just about as long as the Bible.
  • Double Standard: Within the world of the novel. Dr. Ferris lampshades this when he threatens Hank Rearden with the public revelation of his affair with Dagny, mentioning that Rearden's own "conquest" would be perceived as normal, even admirable by some, while Dagny would be seen as a slut and be totally dishonoured. The fear of tarnishing Dagny's good name is exactly what drives Rearden to cave in to the looters' demands. Possibly averted when Dagny proudly declares on public radio how she has been Rearden's mistress, and actually receives some admiration.
  • Driven to Suicide: After realizing just how evil James and his friends are and seeing no way to fight them, Cherryl jumps over a bridge railing to her death.
  • Driving Question: The Arc Words.
  • Egopolis: - Averted by Galt. Everyone else calls the hidden valley where the strikers are living "Galt's Gulch", but he calls it by its owner: "Mulligan's Valley". Played straight by the planned "Meigsville".
    • On the other hand, companies with the Meaningful Names of people strapped to them are usually good, while companies with names like National, United or Amalgamated are Obviously Evil.
      • The point of the whole thing may be summed up by how Rearden wishes he didn't have to call all of his businesses by different names, but simply call his entire business empire "Rearden Life". Putting your name on something means nothing. But if you do something, it's a part of you no matter what it's called.
  • Electric Torture: Project F. Subverted in that once the machine breaks, none of the torturers know how to fix it. Galt calmly explains how to repair it, and a "Eureka!" Moment ensues: they can't even hurt Galt without his assistance, and the Übermensch 'does not want to play anymore.' Cue the Villainous Breakdown!
  • The Elites Jump Ship: This is the core plot of the novel and is played sympathetically, as elite businessmen and industrialists "go Galt" and disappear from the world stage in protest of growing socialist policies, forming their own community called Galt's Gulch, while the rest of the country collapses.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: During the meeting to plan Directive 10-289, the question of what to do about any industrialists who are caught deserting is brought up. Dr. Ferris says that since the directive makes deserting a crime, it should be treated as treason, and perhaps the death penalty should be applied in such cases. Fred Kinnan instantly calls him out on it, and nobody ever brings up the thought again.
    • Inverted later in the book, when violating Directive 10-289 means that you can no longer be legally employed and doomed to a slow death by starvation.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: After capturing Galt, the various Looters try and talk him into helping them out. We see Mr. Thompson's conversation at length, and it's clear he cannot understand anything Galt believes. The two talk past each other most of the time.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Hank Rearden and Orren Boyle. Hugh Akston and Robert Stadler. John Galt and Fred Kinnan.
    • Kinnan is particularly interesting: true to both this and Kinnan's trope, he's not just the only Looter who gives half a damn about his employees, he's the only one who's aware that they're going to lose. He emerges from a meeting with Galt saying that he enjoyed the conversation, particularly Galt's Brutal Honesty, and then calmly admits that as a career criminal like himself would be pointless in a world without regulations, he would be "the first one to go down the drain when (Galt) wins."
  • Evil Will Fail: John Galt's theory of society, very much endorsed by the omniscient narrator. Socialism is a failed ideology that will cause any society that adopts it to collapse, and there's no use fighting it once the Gullible Lemmings have made their choice. Every "victory" by the looters simply brings their own defeat that much nearer by stamping out the last vestiges of productive humanity in America.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: James plays this to Cherryl after they meet.
  • Fallen Hero: Dr. Stadler was one of Galt, Danneskjöld, and d'Anconia's mentors in college, and a confidant for Dagny.
  • False Flag Operation: The siege of the Rearden Steel plant, which was planned to be passed off as a workers' riot to encourage Hank to accept the Steel Unification Plan.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: The looters' policies end up turning America into this, with critical resource shortages, riots, greatly increased unemployment rates, and trains not running on time all across the nation. By the end of the novel American society has pretty much collapsed.
  • Fiction 500: Too many examples to list them all. The Taggarts, the D'Anconias, Midas Mulligan, and Hank Rearden are a few. Perhaps unexpectedly, John Galt is not one.
  • For Science!: Dr. Stadler supported the State Science Institute for the sake of freeing scientific research from the shackles of corporate funding. He started going downhill from there. Averted by his deputy, Dr. Ferris, who is also a quite accomplished scientist, but more of a mastermind who uses science as a tool for power and control.
  • Full-Name Basis: When Francisco wants to emphasize himself, he goes for the full "Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d'Anconia."
  • Gambit Pileup: Heavily implied to be occurring in this world especially when it is revealed that Wesley Mouch, at one point the most powerful man in the United States, is "the zero at the meeting point of forces unleashed in destruction against one another" — that is, he's enough of a non-entity to satisfy rival factions trying to put their "friends" in important positions and keep their enemies out. Also occurs every other page between the "businessmen" who are incapable of earning an honest living helping each other and stabbing each other in the back as the plot demands.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The strikers' society in Colorado operates on this basis, and Danneskjold gives Rearden a bar of gold as compensation for the income taxes he has paid over the last several years.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Galt's speech can essentially be summarized as him telling the world: "You all keep saying that you want a world without selfish people who are only in it for themselves. I have given you exactly that. If anything goes wrong from here on out, you have no one to blame but yourselves."
  • Good Bad Girl: Dagny Taggart. She doesn't exactly have a world-beating sex drive, but she is absolutely guiltless about the sex she does have and has sex because she wants to have sex. She also engages in two relationships which would be considered morally controversial by some people's standards; first, a teenage passion with Francisco D'Anconia whilst they are underage, and second, an affair with married man Hank Rearden.
  • Good Pays Better, which is why, according to the heroic characters, the only true businessman is an honest businessman who doesn't need to resort to force, fraud, or coercion to profit.
  • Grail in the Garbage: the Static Motor (infinite energy generator) which John Galt researched, designed and invented all by himself while working at the Twentieth Century Motor Company is never put into production even though he left behind a working engine, complete blueprints, and all his research notes when he resigned (and the company holds the patent). That the Looters are completely incapable - or worse, unwilling - to put an infinite energy generator into production in the absence of men (and women) with John Galt's capitalist-entrepeneurial drive, symbolizes their utter incompetence. Galt later says that he abandoned the engine as easily as he would a cigarette butt; he designed it while working for the company and he respected the company's right to the intellectual property, but he also knew that he didn't have to worry about anyone stealing his ideas because no-one with the skill to recognize their value would work there ever again. By the time Dagny shows up to pick through the ruins, the motor has been stripped of so many parts and so much of the blueprints and research notes had rotted that all even a mind like hers could do was realize that it once worked.
    • Galt himself is one, overlooked by the government in their search for anyone with that name who might be in charge of the strike... because he's working for Taggart Transcontinental as a track laborer. Under his own name.
  • Granola Girl: Emma "Kip's Ma" Chalmers, fan of soybeans and Control Freak determined to improve the country's diet.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Eddie Willers has one when he sees Hank Rearden's dressing gown in Dagny's apartment.
  • Guns Akimbo: When a riot breaks out at Rearden Steel, one of the men later identified as Francisco d'Anconia stands on the roof and picks off looters, using two pistols, one in each hand. He uses them to shoot at the mob which is on both sides of the building.
  • Happily Married: Ragnar Danneskjold and former actress Kay Ludlow. She does not accompany him on his pirate adventures, but does wait loyally for him while he's away.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Ayn Rand was no ally of traditional moral beliefs, and the book's central argument is that they are all wrong and have it backwards. Specifically, it promotes selfishness as a virtue, argues for atheism, rejects The Golden Rule as rewarding parasitic behavior, justifies sex as a moral triumph, promotes the position that 'productive' members of society should be disgusted by their own spouses and children if they are not 'productive' regardless of their non-financial love and support, and finally, asserts that, if you are disgusted by how others loot their value from you, then allowing them to suffer and likely die is a morally good decision because your actions (hurtful/murderous) would match your inner feelings (hatred/indifference). Regardless of whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the aesops presented in Atlas Shrugged, they clearly fall under the category of "family unfriendly", and Moral Guardians from all over the political spectrum flew into utter outrage at these messages. The socialist Gore Vidal said Rand's philosophy was "perfect in its immorality," and the National Review's Whittaker Chambers, an ex-Communist who became a Christian conservative, said that Rand's philosophy wasn't so different from Marxism and that, from every page in the book, he could hear a voice calling "to a gas chamber, go!"
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • [Dagny saw that Rearden] "had the gayest smile she had ever seen."
    • The term gay is used frequently in Atlas Shrugged, including Hank Rearden proclaiming that "he liked to see people being gay, even if he didn't understand this kind of enjoyment." This kind of enjoyment referred to the party his wife was throwing.
    • Dagny Taggart finds Francisco d'Anconia "sitting on the floor playing with his marbles."
    • Many events and items (like Galt's motor) are "queer."
    • Oh, and Orren Boyle's personal spin doctor is overly fond of children.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Taggart has one, then goes nuts, after realizing that he wants to break Galt's spirit even if it kills both Galt and himself.
    • A more tragic example: "the Wet Nurse" of Rearden's mills.
  • Heir Club for Men: The father of James and Dagny Taggart leaves the controlling interest in Taggart Transcontinental to James, with very bad results.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Intentionally averted. None of the major characters die for the sake of others. Though the others are still willing to risk their own lives to save Galt when he is captured, so they are not completely selfish in spite of their Objectivist philosophy.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Galt's Gulch is an unbuilt example. Although the valley is shielded from the outside world by Galt's hologram device, the strikers spend only one month out of each year there solely as a "vacation" from the corrosive mediocrity of the outside world, so that they can express themselves freely.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The tactic of the strikers. Many of them take menial jobs in "hell" (the world at large) and don't even bother to use fake names. John Galt works as a track laborer at Taggart Transcontinental for over a decade, using his real name.
  • Hidden Villain: Subverted. Mr. Thompson, presented as an ominous Shadow Dictator for most of the story, seems more impressive than the other Looters at first, but eventually turns out to be just as feckless as all the rest.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Whenever a looter's utopian plan for a world without self-interest goes bad, they will claim the failure is due to this trope. The novel very much insinuates that Hobbes was wrong, and Galt deconstructs this trope in his speech when he mentions that those who damn humanity should have a good look at the moral code they are judging humanity by.
  • Holding Out for a Hero: One of the central themes of the book, the looters can't get anything done on their own. At one point, the government tries to force John Galt to help them. He says no.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, Ellis Wyatt, Ken Danagger, Midas Mulligan... By the protagonists' moral code, the only true industrialist is one who succeeds honestly — by being tougher than the toughies, smarter than the smarties, and earning money square, not by trading favors with government and plundering from those who are more successful.
  • Honor Before Reason: Eddie Willers' last-ditch expedition to re-establish transcontinental rail service. Dagny tries but fails to talk him out of it. This results in what is almost certainly a downer ending for Eddie on the penultimate page of the novel, which can be considered a Hard Truth Aesop.
  • Hope Spot: The immediate aftermath of the first ride on the John Galt Line. For a brief moment, it looks like Rearden, Dagny and Wyatt might well be able to save the country in spite of its leadership. Things don't work out that way, as Wyatt predicted.
  • Humans Are Special: John Galt's view is that humans are the only species that use reason to survive and achieve, as well as the only species to be capable of deliberate self-destruction. About half of Galt's Character Filibuster reads like a Patrick Stewart Speech about the virtues of human beings at their best.
  • Humanity on Trial: Subverted. John Galt claims in his speech that the world is on trial, but humanity is not the defendant; its moral code is.
  • Hypocrite: The brothers who ran the 20th Century Motor Company into the ground. They preach equality and Communism but spend lavish amounts of money on parties and fancy cars. Interestingly, however, the most terrifying sibling executive was the sister, who was completely and totally sincere about her philosophy.
  • Idiot Ball: Dagny abruptly picks it up in Part III when she swallows Mr. Thompson's bait hook, line, and sinker of wondering aloud if John Galt is still alive.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: Directive 10-289, the "moratorium on brains," chains all existing employees to their jobs, with a potential penalty of jail for any that quit. If any do quit, anyway (or lose their job for other reasons), that job is then assigned to someone else by a government committee, regardless of that person's ability to actually do the job. "There had been a time when he had been expected to think. Now, they didn't want him to think. Only to obey."
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • Right before directive 10-289 is approved of, it is evident that James Taggart is getting very uncomfortable with the way the conversation is going when one of the looters denounces a quote of George Washington's as being "Outdated", and he keeps staring out at the Washington Monument throughout the entire meeting. Just as he seems to be getting the point through his head that what they are about to do is wrong, he closes the window shades.
    • Robert Stadler is shocked by his research being used to create the weapon of mass destruction best known as Project X, and an idealistic young man begs him to publicly denounce the thing as a great evil. Stadler goes ahead and gives the speech that Floyd Ferris asked him to give, a speech explaining how the weapon will bring peace and harmony to the world.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Deconstructed and gender-flipped via James Taggart. He doesn't want to be loved for his money, his skills, the pleasure of his company... no, he wants to be loved for himself. Not for any benefit he can bring into one's life (after all, that would be selfish!). He wants to be loved for himself, or ultimately he wants to be loved for no reason at all.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: The novel's explicit philosophy of love that all the protagonists live by.
  • I'm Not Here to Make Friends: "I don't give a damn about 'the public good'. I'm running a business."
  • Invincible Hero: The villains never stand the slightest chance against Galt & Co. Every confrontation in the book between the two, whether it's physical, economic or intellectual, is handily and easily won by the heroes. Dagny and Hank do suffer several defeats in their overall goals for most of the novel, but this is only because they try to fight the looters on their terms - terms which the looters and their predecessors have refined for generations to be in their favor. Once they cross over to the strikers, their foes are utterly helpless.
  • Invisibility Cloak: John Galt invents one and uses it to hide Galt's Gulch.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Averted. John Galt claims that humanity has been acting to destroy itself for most of its history: however, this is not insinuated to be part of basic human nature, but a choice made based on the attempt to follow bad philosophies such as altruism and mysticism. He also claims that those whose nature is to destroy themselves, such as James Taggart, would have long ago if the productive hadn't kept enabling them.
  • Insult Backfire:
    • Midas Mulligan, banker and striker. He legally changed his name from "Michael" when his enemies gave him the nickname.
    • Also:
      Cherryl: I'm Mrs. Taggart. I'm the woman in this family now.
      Dagny: That's quite all right. I'm the man.
  • I Reject Your Reality: A Strawman Political tries to (un)reason a mother who lost her son in an accident that she doesn't really know he's dead — or that he ever even existed.
  • Ironic Echo: So many times it crosses with Chekhov's Boomerang;
    1. Stadler considers his greatest failure to be a student with "the kind of intelligence one expects to see, in the future, changing the course of the world" which "vanished without a trace into the great unknown of mediocrity."
    2. Rearden pessimistically says that if the creator of the super-motor was still alive, "The whole world would know his name by now."
    3. Ivy Starnes remembers the second man to quit when she took over Twentieth Century Motors, but not the first - "He wasn't anybody important."
    4. Akston slyly notes that though he knows the student Stadler speaks of, but that "His name would mean nothing to you. He is not famous."
  • It Amused Me: At first played straight, and later subverted, with Francisco d'Anconia who tells Dagny that the purposefully orchestrated San Sebastián disaster was “much funnier” than a recent divorce scandal. He also doesn't deny it when Dagny accuses of him “seeking a thrill” by destroying industry and swindling dumb investors.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: John Galt and his followers feel this way about America.
  • It's All About Me: The good characters would swing from the chandelier to proclaim their own selfishness but are actually the only characters in the story concerned with others' welfare. The evil characters vocally proclaim themselves paragons of selflessness but actually only care about destruction, particularly abusive spouses James Taggart and Lillian Rearden.
  • It's All Junk: Hank Rearden, when he realizes and accepts that his company, Rearden Steel, is a lost cause.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: A society-wide example. After they complete the John Galt Line, Hank and Dagny spend several weeks on a vacation in the Midwest... and find themselves disturbed to find that much of the country has reverted to Wild Wilderness. They wistfully note that, though many people despise gas stations and billboards, they're signs of civilization — that there are people traveling to, from, and through those areas — and their lack can only be seen as evidence of a creeping Class 2 Apocalypse.
    Rearden: What I'd like to see is a billboard.
    Dagny: Selling what and to whom? We haven't seen a car or a house for an hour.
    Rearden: That's what I don't like about it.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy:
    • Deconstructed, but still played straight; Rand defined Romantic love as a capitalist exchange of values like any other; affection for affection, gratification for gratification. Under this definition, a Yandere would be just another Looter, gratifying themselves with their "beloved's" pain, so it's better to break it off cleanly. And one vertex of a love triangle breaking away before things are settled will only leave everyone bitter about what could have been.
    • Played straight with Rearden and Dagny. He doesn't seem that upset when he realizes that Dagny's public confession of being his mistress referring to him in the past tense means she found someone else.
  • I Was Just Passing Through: This trope is virtually a way of life for the strikers.
  • James Bondage: Galt during his electrical torture scene.
  • Just Before the End: The entire book is the fall of industrial society.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: The whole plot point of the static motor, a source of virtually free energy (though to be clear, not exactly a perpetual motion machine, it does require some fuel) being left to decay in a factory abandoned by workers and management after an experiment in collective ownership... what doesn't make sense (except outside the context of Objectivism, in which anyone opposed to the Objectivist heroes is secretly a power-hungry Dirty Coward who is as stupid and incompetent as they are lazy and conceited) is why a socialist movement would ignore a technological device that would help them achieve most of their aims. The static motor could revolutionize automation, allow more leisure, and significantly reduce the cost of transportation and energy, which are all things that actually could have helped the Looters maintain control and sustain the peoples' loyalty.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: Lillian Rearden often uses this as her excuse after insulting Hank.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Zig-Zagged with Ragnar Danneskjöld. The Government insists that he's a pirate stealing from the poor, while he sees it as stealing from the government's rich taxmen and returning it those who were taxed into poverty. He also says what he is doing not selfless - he's hastening the government's end by stealing their goods, and funding those who will rebuild civilization after Galt's strike is complete.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Averted by simply not getting too technical, right up until Dagny's crash, where she follows the other aircraft's "taillights" and clings to the "steering wheel." Also, she tends to "leap behind the wheel" and take off without any kind of preflight—which is not impossible, just inadvisable.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Dr. Stadler admitting to Dagny that the State Science Institute is launching a smear campaign against Rearden Metal because it makes them look incompetent, and then deliberately choosing not to tell the truth about it because he believes that life in society means that someone always has to be sacrificed. He doesn't want it to be the Institute.
    • This is pretty much James Taggart's modus operandi whenever he appears.
  • King Incognito: John Galt spent his time out of the Gulch as an unskilled laborer at Taggart Transcontinental: - the same one Eddie Willers exposited to regularly.
  • Kirk Summation: Galt gives several while he's being held captive.
  • Latin Lover: Subverted with Francisco D'Anconia, who hails from Argentina and is a shameless womanizer... but only in his disguise while striking. Played straight in his relationship with Dagny, although even then she is only attracted to him for his talent.
  • Lost World: Galt's Gulch, where industry produces miracles like it used to.
  • Lower-Class Lout: "Altruistic," New Deal-type policies are depicted as having turned the working class into this, as they became more interested in collecting paychecks to spend on Conspicuous Consumption while the quality of their work went into freefall, secure in the knowledge that they'd never be fired because the union had their backs. John Galt's origin story is that he got fed up with his co-workers and their employers, the Starnes family, enabling them through their embrace of socialism, and told them to Take This Job and Shove It once they socialized the 20th Century Motor Company (which they proceeded to run into the ground).
  • MacGuffin:
    • The generator Dagny finds that can convert atmospheric energy into electricity and revolutionize the industrial world.
    • Wesley Mouch can arguably be called a human MacGuffin. While not appearing for an amazing length of time, he is able to stay prominent in the plot by being a giant hammer over the heads of the protagonists due to his new position.
  • Messianic Archetype: Galt, complete with a Crucified Hero Shot as he's enduring Electric Torture at the hands of the villains. Subverted, since he's not acting out of altruism.
  • The Mole: Eddie Willers, unknowingly, in a way. He tells everything about what's happening with Dangy Taggart and Taggart Transcontinental to a man in a cafe, not realizing that man is John Galt.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe—Hank Rearden recognizes that some may cross over to this level of unforgivable evil, where he comes to realize that "to convict a human being of that practice was a verdict of irrevocable damnation... a verdict of total evil" and that "he would not believe it of anyone, so long as the possibility of a doubt remained."
  • Morality Pet: Subverted. James Taggart wants Cherryl to be this, but instead she realises what he is and refuses to play her part.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Averted. Several characters on the looter side have doctorates, such as Dr. Ferris (who is a biologist by training), Dr. Simon Pritchett, and Dr. Stadler. However, it is not insinuated that university education itself is bad: Fred Kinnan, the most clear-headed and honest of the looters, once says that he is clear on things "because he never went to college", but it's heavily implied that this is because the philosophy of the looters has taken over the education system in this world, not because intellectualism is bad on its own.
  • Mr. Exposition: Eddie Willers, whose conversations with a mysterious co-worker provide both the reader and said co-worker with vital plot-relevant information...
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Gender Flipped and subverted. After Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart's first sex scene, it is Hank that plays the "fallen woman" routine; he pleads for Dagny's forgiveness for "debasing himself by giving in to his low, animalistic desires". Dagny considers it utterly ridiculous that anyone could possibly hold such shame for being a sexual creature, and bursts out into laughter.
  • Never My Fault: Pretty much every unadmirable character in the book will refuse to take responsibility for things which they actually are responsible for. Contrast this with the heroes, who will take responsibility or downright abuse even when they morally shouldn't. The latter approach is treated much more favourably, but it's also insinuated that both these tropes are examples of refusing to acknowledge reality.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dagny accidentally leads the Looters to Galt. (However, Galt had accepted, and prepared for, this eventuality.)
  • Noble Demon: None of the heroes can ever do something kind or noble or what we could call sacrificial without insisting it's selfish.
    • Hank Rearden is offended in Chapter VIII by Eddie Willers' thanks and insists he had done no favor for TT, just protected his investment. After plenty of such episodes involving his own family. In any other case it should appear ridiculous; it only works for Rearden since he never lied until that point and always weighed to the last atom any person's merits or lack thereof.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Most of the heroic businesspeople, such as Dagny Taggart, Midas Mulligan and Hank Rearden will be this, having already made millions of dollars but staying in business pretty much because they love doing it. The entire D'Anconia family also counts, although Francisco pretends to be a worthless playboy for a while as part of his cover when striking.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Subverted for Galt's Engine. He left all three behind at the Starnes Motor Company (he invented it on the clock, after all, and Galt is nothing if not an Honest Man), and all it did was prove that it once existed. Looters (both high and common) tear up the prototype for spare parts, and leave the plans and theoretical research notebooks to rot. Even when Dagny realizes what she has, almost all of the "engineers" she calls upon to study the remains refuse to believe it could work (some even say that the Engine, if it worked, would be immoral, because it would make other scientists look stupid). Plans, prototypes, and backups are only useful to people with enough intelligence to know their value, which for groundbreaking work can set the bar pretty damned high.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Francisco tries to tell Hank Rearden this when the latter walks in on him with Dagny in her apartment.
  • Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Nukes may have not yet even been around when the idea behind Project Xylophone came together.
    • It's not that ambiguous though, because late in the book there is a reference to nuclear technology in the form of an atom-smashing machine, but in almost 1200 pages, no one refers to World War II, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, or the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, which would all have been very recent or contemporary in memory 20 Minutes into the Future of 1957. Ragnar's warship also uses battleship-grade cannons (long after battleships were technologically obsolete) instead of something like a ballistic missile to destroy Boyle's factor. See YMMV for speculation on this novel's timeline and technology.
  • #1 Dime: Unsurprisingly, considering the similarities between the novel and the Trope Namer, Dagny has two — the bracelet Hank Rearden had made from the very first pour of Rearden Metal, and the first coin she earned working in Atlantis.
  • Obviously Evil: The evil characters are all physically grotesque with either bulbous nose, potbellies, watery eyes, or bad posture, and have ridiculous names like Orren Boyle, Wesley Mouch, and Tinky Holloway. The good characters by contrast are always tall, thin, and handsome with haughty, angular faces and good posture. Subverted with Midas Mulligan, a good guy who is short and stocky, and again with Dr. Ferris, the book's most evil villain, who is given no description other than being tall, thin, graceful and handsome. And Lillian Rearden is also good-looking, except for her joyless eyes.
    • Justified in-universe as, for the most part, both the heroes and the villains earned their physiques. Francisco d'Anconia had been a keen athlete for most of his life, Hank Rearden and John Galt have decades of hard physical labor in their past, and Dagny Taggart had been described from childhood as highly disciplined, with great care for her body, clothing, and diet. Meanwhile, James Taggart's first appearance starts with his description as a prematurely-aged man, looking old at 39 years of age, and his later backstory shows him as a slob who didn't like either sports, labor, or intellectual activity and took little care to groom himself.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Jim Taggart has a Villainous Breakdown when he realises that he is this.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: John Galt for sure, but Rand treats all her heroes like this to some extent; "Genius" is treated as an elastic quality that can apply itself to any field, with no requirement for specialised knowledge or study to make vast and sudden leaps in science and technology. Meanwhile, things that have actually been significant real-world drivers of scientific progress — large, government-funded or government-backed projects and organisations, e.g. The Manhattan Project or NASA — are specifically denigrated as being worthless, bureaucratic wastes of individual talent. Rearden Metal is subjected to bad press from the State Science Institute because they're embarrassed that one man came up with something better than all of them working together could.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The boy sent by Washington to oversee Rearden's mills is nicknamed "the Wet Nurse." Rearden takes to calling him "Non-Absolute," and only calls him by his true first name (Tony) after finding him dying of a gunshot wound.
  • Opposed Mentors: Robert Stadler (physicist) and Hugh Akston (philosopher) for Francisco, Ragnar, and John Galt.
    Hugh Akson: …They were majoring in two subjects: physics and philosophy. Their choice amazed everybody but me: modern thinkers considered it unnecessary to perceive reality, and modern physicists considered it unnecessary to think.
  • Oppressive States of America: About halfway through the book, the United States has become a Communist dictatorship in all but name. Private ownership remains on paper, but business is so heavily regulated that it's has become a legal fiction. The planners in Washington make all the decisions: who a company should (not "may") hire, what they should pay him, what orders they should accept, and what raw materials they will be allocated. The regime is also a tyranny for the worker, of course, who must work where and as assigned or starve (and increasingly, he will starve anyway). Blatantly obvious Corrupt Politicians, police state methods, and propaganda media ruthlessly crush anyone who dissents.
  • Overly Long Name: Francisco's full name is "Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d'Anconia." Easter Egg: His first two Christian names comprise the name of a pirate and former slave from The Golden Age of Piracy.
  • Peace & Love Incorporated:
    • All of the villainous businessmen claim to be working only for "the public good", while in fact they are anything but. The heroic businessmen make no secret of the fact they are only out to make money, or so it seems. Most seem to actually be motivated more by the love of running a business well than anything.
    • Twentieth Century Motors under the leadership of the Starnes children is a notable example. The two brothers were pretty much hypocrites, but Ivy Starnes was quite sincere and had no interest in money. The workers found her to be the most loathsome of the three siblings.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: By the end of the novel every country in the world sans the United States is a "People's State" (read: a communist dictatorship).
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: John Galt's Static Motor, which collects the static electricity in the atmosphere.
  • Pirate: Ragnar Danneskjöld, who is also an Alternate Character Interpretation of Robin Hood that walks like a man.
  • Pet the Dog: Dr. Stadler shows genuine interest in the motor which Dagny finds, and his speech about how he is so pleased to see a new, brilliant idea which is not his own is very touching. For a while, it seems he may have some hope of redemption as he recommends a scientist who may be able to reconstruct it to Dagny. It didn't last, though.
  • Pietà Plagiarism:
    • John Galt carries Dagny away from the site of the plane crash.
    • Hank Rearden carrying the dead body of the Wet Nurse to the mill infirmary back from the slag heap.
  • The Power of Love/Love Is a Weakness: Comes up in the conversation surrounding the Sadistic Choice Dr. Ferris gives Hank Rearden.
  • President Evil: Mr. Thompson, though the book uses the title "Head of State" rather than "President" (possibly reflecting constitutional changes in its dystopian future USA). He is a bit of a subversion, however: the book builds him up as a sinister Shadow Dictator, but when he finally appears in person, he's just another bewildered Looter who is completely out of his depth when confronted with John Galt.
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: James Taggart marries Cherryl Brooks so he can play the Prince Charming to a Cinderella.
  • Propaganda Machine: The press, as seen starting with the campaign to slander Rearden Metal started by Orren Boyle, Rearden's chief competitor and head of a national metalurgical committee.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: The protagonists commit all sorts of reprehensible acts in pursuit of their personal freedom from taxation, but Ragnar Danneskjöld, a pirate who plunders foreign aid ships, probably takes the cake.
    • Another noteworthy instance is illustrated in two train journeys:
      • At the start of the book, Dagny Taggart is on a train that is stuck at a red signal and is at risk of being late for a meeting. She demands that the driver proceed despite the signal, laying out a chain of logic that works internally but fails to account for all the reasons why a signal might be at rednote . As she is the heroine of the novel, everything is just fine.
      • Later in the book, Kip Chalmers, a politician, also demands that his train be got moving again because he doesn't want to be late to his destination; because he is a looter and a villain, the result is that absolutely everyone on the train dies and infrastructure that is critical to the entire nation is destroyed.
      • Objectively speaking, these two characters make the same decision, with the same motivation, with the same lack of knowledge of what is going on elsewhere on the railroad; the only difference is in the author's respective opinions on them.
    • Features very prominently in the final chapters, ultimately culminating in Dagny and her allies murdering security guards in cold blood on the way to rescue John Galt, despite - or perhaps even because - the narrative saying they're too paralyzed with indecision to step aside. There's a bizarre undertone of, "Help us, fight us, or get the hell out of our way, just do something besides just sit there" during the rampage. One can argue that the questionable behavior up until that point was just washing one's hands clean of a broken system, but at that point the Strikers are just flat-out executing people for what they consider the ultimate sin - apathy.
      • In regards the rescue, there is one final cherry on the top to consider; if you take the Galt oath as being a pithy statement of the man's morals - "I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" - then by attempting to rescue him the protagonists are breaking John Galt's own moral precepts. At no point does he complain that these alleged fierce individualists are acting collectively for the good of someone other than themselves.
  • Proud Merchant Race: Galt's followers although the more scientifically inclined combine this with Proud Scholar Race.
  • Pulp Magazine:
    • Many bits of the novel read a lot like an adventure from a pulp magazine of the era. Hidden valley utopias, unlikely scientific inventions, doomsday machines, villainous villains, heroic heroes, airplane chases, secret conspiracies... and Galt ends up looking a lot like Doc Savage.
    • As in the Hard Truth Aesop example above, sex between Dagny and Hank as a moral triumph is a trope of adventure novels. The Hero gets the girl. Or a heroine gets a great guy. Or both heroes get together, like Hercules and Xena.
  • Purple Prose: Oh dear. Enormous psychological dissertations between each and every line of dialogue, street lamps that are "glass globes filled with light", not to mention... the speech.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: A facet of its Central Theme. Though the looters always get whatever physical wealth they lay claim to, they never get the true source of that wealth. Whenever the looters are going to seize one of the properties of the actual or future strikers, they end up with either a worthless property, or one with no one competent to operate it. D'Anconia blows up his ore mines and docks, Dannager abandons his coal mines, Wyatt blows up his oil fields, Rearden walks away from his steel mill, etc.
  • Rage Quit:
    • When Dagny discovers through the newspaper that Directive 10-289 has been passed into law, which forbids anyone from quitting (and realizes James was involved), she walks into James' office, throws the newspaper in his face, and quits, saying she won't be a slave or a slave driver.
    • "Wyatt's Torch" is lit when Ellis Wyatt blows up all of his oil fields after the government passes laws that would doom his business, and the John Galt Line, to a slow death. "I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It's yours."note 
  • Rags to Riches: Cherryl Brooks upon her marriage to James Taggart... which is when all her troubles start.
  • Railroad Baron: Dagny and James Taggart. What's more, they are the latest generation of railroad barons.
  • Raygun Gothic: An adamantium-like metal, portable X-Ray machines, and a Weapon of Mass Destruction powered by sound are several examples of the "futuristic" tech in Atlas Shrugged.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Tony (a.k.a. the "Wet Nurse"), who was attached to Rearden's company as a part of the "rationing" program forced upon Rearden.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: As the U.S. government becomes more tyrannical, John Galt's "strike" idea spreads and more and more people begin quitting their jobs or working under their means, refusing to be exploited. In response, the government institutes Directive 10-289, in which nobody is allowed to quit their job. If they do, they are branded as an outlaw, and their job is given to somebody else that isn't currently employed, regardless of that person's ability to actually do the job.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The fate of the Comet in the Taggart Tunnel disaster is similar to a real-life rail disaster in southern Italy in 1944, though the second train loaded with explosives didn't happen in reality.
  • Rocky Mountain Refuge: Galt's Gulch is located somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, and provides a safe haven where its residents can seek shelter from the tyrannical government as well as all the chaos that ensues when the government inevitably collapses from the weight of its corruption and incompetence.
  • Room 101: The residents of Galt's Gulch nickname the room where they all spend their first night in the valley "the torture chamber" because of the psychological trauma they suffer the first night of leaving their old life behind.
  • Sadistic Choice:
    • The Tunnel Disaster is a series of these for everyone involved who was paying attention.
    • Dr. Ferris' ultimatum to Hank Rearden — the rights to Rearden Metal, or Dagny's reputation.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: As noted, Atlas held up the sky, not the Earth, and was doing so as a punishment imposed on him by Zeus, and so couldn't "shrug" even if he wanted to.
    • Richard Halley's great work, the opera Phaeton, retells the story of Phaeton taking the reins of Apollo's chariot. In Halley's version, Phaeton succeeds in flying the chariot; this goes against the entire point of the story (which is that overreaching your bounds can end in disaster), but everyone treats this as a great triumph of creativity.
  • Science Hero: John Galt. He majored in physics, then worked as a mechanic, and used his skills to create an engine that converts atmospheric electricity to useful work. He continues to tinker with various devices, both mundane and exotic, to enable various developments over the course of the story.
  • Science Is Bad: Various characters believe this, especially Balph Eubank, who believes that machines have destroyed humanity's connection to the earth to the point where women are now running railroads instead of raising children. Averted with Dr. Stadler, however. He has become a villain, but this is only because he is using science to serve the looters.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!:
    • Hank Rearden turns down a large lump payment of government money for the rights to Rearden Metal, because he is proud of the fact that he invented it and of the honest money he could make with it.
    • Promising young scientist Quentin Daniels turned down Dr. Stadler's offer of a presumably prestigious post at the State Science Institute due to his views on governmental involvement in science. When Dagny first meets him, he is working as night watchman at an abandoned technical institute.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The bonds of "friendship" among the looters, a.k.a. the "Aristocracy of Pull."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
    • Hank Rearden resorts to this when he finally decides to divorce his wife Lillian.
    • Dagny does this to a couple of legislators during the construction of the John Galt Line. However, it is implied that the rules she is bribing to get around are just obstructive red tape. She also orders her employees to bribe any officials trying to hinder new track being laid around the Taggart Tunnel after its cave-in, but since the government has passed Directive 10-289 at that point she can't really be blamed.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The looters frequently resort to "public-spirited" laws with huge loopholes meant to hurt their enemies, like the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Rule" or Directive 10-289.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Dr. Robert Stadler — too late to do him any good.
  • Self-Destructing Security: John Galt's preferred method of security.
  • Self-Defeating Prophecy: The novel itself, or so the author hoped.
  • Self-Made Man:
    • Hank Rearden, John Galt. Most of the minor heroic industrialists, such as the Starnes heirs' father, are also hinted or outright stated to be this. Averted with the Taggarts, who inherited their huge railway company, but their father was also one.
    • Inverted by Orren Boyle, who likes to present himself as one of these but in fact got the majority of his head start using a hundred million dollar loan from the government.
    • Francisco d'Anconia, in his spare time during college, works at a copper mine and rises to own it, just so he can prove he could.
  • Serious Business: A whole philosophy and cult of personality sprang up around Ayn Rand and her literature. The philosophy itself is still going; the cult of personality has significantly waned (especially after she died).
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Rearden says exactly this after his first time with Dagny, who promptly tells him he's being stupid.
  • Shout-Out: Rand read both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Her villains not only must master the art of doublethink to function in their new jobs and environment but (sincerely) espouse words of wisdom such as "slavery is freedom."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very cynical in its appraisal of the motivations of high government officials who wish to exercise control over the country. However, Rand had a decidedly idealistic take on humanity as a whole, or at least human potential, and she also argued for a very benevolent conception of the world itself (i.e. she denied any person's joy need come at any other person's cost).
  • Smug Snake: If you're not a Striker or a Muggle, you're a Looter and smug about it. But especially Dr. Floyd "Why Do You Think You Think" Ferris.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Rand certainly thinks so. When someone lights up in the book, it's used as a metaphor by Rand for thinking. All the Strikers smoke - and the rare handmade cigarettes from Galt's Gulch, "stamped with the sign of the dollar" in gold foil, are a major plot device. Kinnan is the only Looter who smokes, and is the one smart enough to get his way all the time despite being just a union boss to their CEOs, Senators, and Professors.
    "I like to think of fire held in a man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind—and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression."
  • Speech-Centric Work: Among other things, it features a single monologue which goes on uninterrupted for fifty pages.
  • Spiteful Suicide: Eric Starnes, one of the three siblings who ran the 20th Century Motor Company into the ground. As described by a character in-universe:
    "... He needed love, was his line. He was being kept by older women, when he could find them.
    Then he started running after a girl of sixteen, a nice girl who wouldn't have anything to do with him. She married a boy she was engaged to. Eric Starnes got into their house on the wedding day, and when they came back from church after the ceremony, they found him in their bedroom, dead, messy dead, his wrists slashed.... Now I say there might be forgiveness for a man who kills himself quietly. Who can pass judgment on another man's suffering and on the limit of what he can bear? But the man who kills himself, making a show of his death in order to hurt somebody, the man who gives his life for malice—there's no forgiveness for him, no excuse, he's rotten clear through, and what he deserves is that people spit at his memory, instead of feeling sorry for him and hurt, as he wanted them to be.... Well, that was Eric Starnes. ..."
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The opinion of progressive-minded author Balph Eubank on the role of women. He sees Dagny's position of railroad executive as unnatural and wrong.
  • Steel Mill: The one at Rearden Steel headquarters is given some description. Unusually for the setting, it is described positively.
  • Strawman Political: Almost all characters who don't agree with the protagonists' (and Rand's) philosophy are portrayed as corrupt, thieving, lying, comically incompetent fools, all working towards the country's destruction while spouting platitudes about the "common good," and stabbing each other in the back while shooting themselves in the foot. If anyone says they want to help the poor, they’re really just trying to grab power for themselves.
  • Straw Loser:
    • Lee Hunsacker, former wannabe big industrialist who sued banker Midas Mulligan for refusing to give him a loan he couldn't possibly pay back, hates everybody and everything for not "giving him a chance", and refuses to do the dishes.
    • Almost every antagonist in the book fits this trope, to one extent or another. They all whine, blame others for their frequent failures, and demand that the more competent protagonists keep bailing them out.
  • Take That!: Earns more than a few. The book itself throws the middle finger at Christianity, Marxism, and all their intellectual and philosophical descendants and antecedents, with a handful of specific people targeted.
    • Several of the looters say "in the long run we're all dead," which is a verbatim quote from economist John Maynard Keynes.
    • When Head of State Thompson signs the most odious of the economic legislation, he says the government will keep trying different tactics until something works. Franklin D. Roosevelt said much the same thing when launching the New Deal.
    • The rhetoric "against unfair competition and monopolies", another direct quote of Roosevelt, refers specifically to the antitrust laws, and especially the first of them, the Sherman Act of 1890.
  • Taking You with Me: Oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt sets his fields ablaze as a parting shot before disappearing.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: John Galt fell in love with Dagny Taggart from hearing Francisco d'Anconia talk about her.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: The story is, in a way, about a group of very rich people who got so tired of being called greedy and selfish by people in society who were mooching off them that they basically just "Hang it. You want to call us greedy and selfish? Fine, then we'll go off on our own where you can't find us and be exactly that and you can just see how you do without us. Goodbye."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: John Galt's Speech, four whole hours of uninterrupted castigating that no one can escape from. Plenty of other speeches of similar tone and purpose are directed towards the bad guys by various characters throughout the novel. The villains in turn try to give similar speeches to the heroes from time to time, but they never succeed.
  • Sexual Karma: Combined with Good Adultery, Bad Adultery. Dagny's affair with married man Hank Rearden is portrayed as an exalted, beautiful and fulfilling relationship, whereas Hank's wife Lillian (a villain) believes Sex Is Evil and uses Hank's guilt over his fondness for sex to control and manipulate him. In contrast, James Taggart's one-night stand with Lillian is treated as disgusting, as those involved are doing so not out of their enjoyment of the act itself, but out of their (mistaken) belief that the act will somehow harm Hank Rearden. James actually calls Lillian "Mrs. Rearden" as he gets off.
  • The Simple Life is Simple: Industrialists and businessmen take to farming with no trouble at all and even have enough time left over to write symphonies and work on inventions. On one hand, they're explicitly described as the world's most capable people, but on the other, they have no specific farming knowhow and no labor but themselves. Of course, they also have unrestricted access to their inventions and no "looters" demanding a cut. Galt has his power station, and the doctor has a portable X-Ray machine of his own design (in the film, it's a smartphone). It's also stated that their holdings are the merest fraction of what they had Outside, but it was also 100% theirs.
  • Three Amigos: Francisco formed one with Dagny and Eddie when they were children and with Ragnar and John Galt while in college.
  • Title Drop: Unintentional, with the novel being renamed as publication neared.
  • True Art Is Angsty: invoked Balph Eubank is a major proponent of this idea. It says something that no book of his has ever sold more than three thousand copies. So, he proposes a law which states that ten thousand copies is the maximum legal sale limit for any book...
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: invoked The preferred philosophy of modern academia in the book. During Lillian Rearden's party, a group of unadmirable pseudo-intellectual types gather and talk about how plot in fiction, and melody in music, are completely unnecessary.
  • Übermensch: All of the heroes are or ultimately become this, but John Galt is the supreme example and pathbreaker for the rest.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Hank Rearden is this to his mother and brother Phillip as well as to his friend, the unsuccessful businessman Paul Larkin. Unfortunately, they all betray his generosity in one way or another. His mother and brother live off Rearden's money while making no effort to support themselves or even be nice to him, and Paul Larkin ends up betraying Rearden by forming a coalition with the looters which would legally force Rearden to sell Larkin his ore mines.
  • Un-person: The dedication to Nathaniel Branden was removed in later printings of the book after his falling-out with Ayn Rand.
  • Unobtainium: Rearden Metal
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The government, the public, the heroes. Pretty much everybody. Done intentionally.
  • The Vamp: Lillian Rearden, who we discover married Hank just to drive him to have an affair and break his spirit.
  • Viewers Are Morons: invoked Dr. Floyd Ferris writes the propaganda piece Why Do You Think You Think? for the general public, whom he believes have the intellectual ability of "drunken louts", and Dr. Stadler agrees with his premise enough to not publicly protest his methods, even though Ferris has cited Stadler's own research, completely out of context, to prove his points. Stadler's agreement with this trope is also why he had the State Science Institute founded in the first place. Many regular people in this universe seem to play this trope straight, although it is also hinted that acting on it is actually causing it to become true.
  • Villain Ball: The looters' policies hurt the protagonists a lot, but hardly benefit the looters themselves. Especially egregious when several laws are passed as part of a plot to "kill Colorado."
  • Villainous Breakdown: James Taggart suffers one at the very end.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The leaders of the looters pretend to care about the poor and oppressed, with the controlled media going along with this and presenting them as good and compassionate people. Actually, however, they are simply power-mad Straw Hypocrites to a man.
  • Wall of Text: Several characters interrupt conversations to hold what amounts to speech-like monologues, sometimes with literally pages of oration on end without so much as a paragraph break.
  • We Can Rule Together: The looters try to make this offer to Galt at gunpoint after the speech. He points out that all they need to do to save their civilization is start releasing controls, but they refuse, saying that that's not his concern - they just want him to "do something", refusing to accept that their controls are what is causing civilization to collapse. By the end, they're torturing him to force him to become their leader.
  • What We Now Know to Be True: Galt's engine is called out as working on a new principle and proving several laws of physics to be false.
  • Who Are You?: The final chapter of Atlas Shrugged does this with Ragnar Danneskjöld, who only has to say his name to inspire fear.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: The creators in the world willingly want to help the rest, but socialist and bureaucratic types screw it up. So they basically take their inventions and leave.
  • A World Half Full: Despite all the social and economic collapse, the world of the novel is really one of these, as it is clear that evil and suffering are completely unnecessary and will collapse in on themselves once the good stops feeding them.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: The Looters look at the collapse of industrial civilization with a degree of satisfaction as a return to these. Dagny is present as they comment on the stability of newformed Indian feudalism, and is horrified when none care about how many are suffering and dying for lack of modern necessities luxuries such as drinkable water.
  • Zeerust: The technology and society depicted as near-future in the book are very 1950s. Computers do not play a significant part in the story, and Galt's cheap energy machine is based on extracting atmospheric electricity (if written today, it would probably be cold fusion or something like it). Ragnar Danneskjold can hide a battleship from the authorities on the seven seas, which would still be possible (though increasingly implausible) in the 1950s, but completely infeasible in an age of satellite surveillance. On the other hand, supertechnology like Project X is still beyond us today.