Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Generator
Posted on 08/01/2009 7:39:34 AM PDT by Publius
Dr. Robert Stadler flees New York by car, listening to the broadcast from the Wayne-Falkland Hotel. Following John Galts one sentence, the air goes dead and every radio station on the dial is off the air. He has been on the road four days and is now barreling through Iowa.
He had proved his uselessness to Mr. Thompson, who is now considering taking hostages to pressure Galt into working for the government. Dr. Stadlers name is at the head of that list. Now Stadler is headed for the Xylophone, which he intends to seize to take control of part of America as his personal fiefdom. This is his revenge, not only on Thompson but on John Galt.
Harmony City, the home of Project X, is a beehive of activity, populated by armed men and armored trucks. A man lies at the gate drunk, Stadler hopes. He is challenged by the guard who wants to know if Stadler is one of the old or one of the new. Stadler threatens his way past the guards into the mushroom-shaped building and finds that discipline is in short supply among the paramilitary group holding the site. An officer asks if Stadler is a Friend of the People, and he says he is he best friend the people have ever had. Identifying himself as the inventor of the Xylophone, he is taken through the building and realizes that somebody has already put his plan into motion. His overbearing manner gets him in to see The Boss, who turns out to be Cuffy Meigs!
Drunk, sweating and pacing restlessly, Meigs issues orders to establish the Peoples Commonwealth in Harmony City, now to be known as Meigsville. He is going to hold the region for ransom to the tune of half a million dollars for every five thousand people. If the money is not delivered by the next morning, he will activate the Xylophone.
Meigs is delighted to find that Stadler, who says he is going to take control, has come with neither weapons nor soldiers to back him up. They argue, and in a rage Meigs yanks a lever of the Xylophone. The building rises into the air, cracks open and collapses. Within a radius of a hundred miles, every standing structure disintegrates. The Taggart bridge over the Mississippi falls into the river while a passenger train is crossing. Meigs and Stadler die on the spot.
At the Wayne-Falkland, Mr. Thompson orders Galt back to his room under heavy guard. Chick Morrison resigns and flees. Wesley Mouch says that Galt absolutely must save them, and Ferris suggests that the State Science Institute has a tool that just might help the Ferris Persuader. Thompson gives in, and Ferris tells Eugene Lawson to get the nations broadcast stations ready for a speech by John Galt in three hours.
Dagny leaves the hotel, runs to a phone booth and calls Francisco, updating him on the governments plans. Francisco tells her to go home, change her clothes, pack, and meet him in forty minutes two blocks east of the Taggart Terminal. She follows his instructions and drops by the office just in time to hear that the Taggart bridge has collapsed. The Chief Engineer doesnt know what to do. Dagny leaps to her desk like a prizefighter at the sound of the bell, picks up the phone but then stops. She tells her Chief Engineer she doesnt know what to do either. It is the moment: Dagny has finally shrugged. In the concourse of the Taggart Terminal, she uses her lipstick to write the Sign of the Dollar on the pedestal of Nat Taggarts statue, even though John Galt will never see it. As she reaches the rendezvous point, she notices that New York is in a state of panic. Francisco reaches her on foot, and she recites Galts Oath: 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. They leave together.
The home of Project F is a small building, most of whose space is underground, that sits away from the State Science Institutes main building. Sixteen men guard the building, oblivious to what is going on in the basement. Wesley Mouch, Jim Taggart and Dr. Floyd Ferris sit while a naked John Galt is strapped to a leather mattress and wired to a mechanism much like a generator, the Ferris Persuader.
Ferris orders Galt to become dictator and take control of the present system; Galts response is silence. Ferris orders the mechanic to turn up the current, and Galt arches in pain. They torture him in various combinations of current applied in different ways to sundry places. Jim wants more torture, but Galt is impassive in the face of it. Wesley Mouch breaks, begging for it to end, lest Galts death end in their own deaths. Ferris wants more than obedience, he wants acceptance. Jim just wants more torture.
Then the generator breaks down. No one knows how to fix it except Galt, who gives them detailed instructions. The mechanic flees the room in horror as Galt laughs. Jim leaps to the generator and attempts to fix it; he wants to hear Galt scream. It is at that moment that James Taggart falls apart because he sees what lies at the end of that fogbound alley, his hatred of existence. As he screams No!, Galt quietly answers Yes. Jim turns catatonic, and his friends remove him from the room. They tell Galt they intend to come back.
Ping! The thread is up.
FReeper Book Club: Introduction to Atlas Shrugged
Part I, Chapter I: The Theme
Part I, Chapter II: The Chain
Part I, Chapter III: The Top and the Bottom
Part I, Chapter IV: The Immovable Movers
Part I, Chapter V: The Climax of the dAnconias
Part I, Chapter VI: The Non-Commercial
Part I, Chapter VII: The Exploiters and the Exploited
Part I, Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line
Part I, Chapter IX: The Sacred and the Profane
Part I, Chapter X: Wyatts Torch
Part II, Chapter I: The Man Who Belonged on Earth
Part II, Chapter II: The Aristocracy of Pull
Part II, Chapter III: White Blackmail
Part II, Chapter IV: The Sanction of the Victim
Part II, Chapter V: Account Overdrawn
Part II, Chapter VI: Miracle Metal
Part II, Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains
Part II, Chapter VIII: By Our Love
Part II, Chapter IX: The Face Without Pain or Fear or Guilt
Part II, Chapter X: The Sign of the Dollar
Part III, Chapter I: Atlantis
Part III, Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed
Part III, Chapter III: Anti-Greed
Part III, Chapter IV: Anti-Life
Part III, Chapter V: Their Brothers Keepers
Part III, Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance
Part III, Chapter VII: This is John Galt Speaking
Part III, Chapter VIII: The Egoist
I find it interesting that Meigs is using a paramilitary force while expecting payment in dollars. His comprehension of the situation is obviously inadequate.
Rand is indulging herself with Stadlers death. He is reduced to a 'huddle of torn flesh and screaming pain that had once been a great mind'. Considering the fact that he went to great lengths to avoid others from finding him, his passing will go unnoticed in the 'culture of death'. A fitting end to a goal that he had chosen many years ago.
His end is fitting, also.
I think Dagny was at the low point of her hormonal cycle. She shrugged. She probably threw things, too.
Although the loss of the Taggert bridge may seem to be the reason at first, the real reason is from earlier in the chapter-
"She knew. She knew what they intended doing and what it was within them that made it possible.They did not think that this would succeed. They did not think that Galt would give in; they did not want him to give in. They did not think that anything could save them now; they did not want to be saved...
They did not want to live; they wanted him to die."
I view Dagny's shrugging not as a change of mind but of acceptance of reality. She now understands that not making a choice is giving sanction to the Looters.
Excellent. Hank made that realization at the decoy meeting at the Wayne-Falkland where the looters discussed the Steel Unification Plan. Now Dagny has had her hard collision with reality — as Galt predicted.
Thanks for that bit of insight. It’s edifying. I ought to commit to viewing all my fellow genders from that perspective. Maybe then I’ll be as bright as that CNN twit who wondered if Palin was stepping down because she was pregnant.
Somebody had to say it. Remember how Dagny just up and blew that security guard away? I mean if she wasn’t going thru a little femrage here, I have not been married twice and hit upside the head with a skillet on occasion.
Chapter twenty-nine now, entitled The Generator. It is a very short chapter, and one wonders if perhaps Rand was cheating a bit on her plan of thirty chapters. There is no grand philosophical dissertation here, no one left, apparently, to take his or her place behind an empty podium. That is done now, and there is left only the narrative.
Dr. Stadler has taken all of four days to reach Iowa from New York, an indication that travel is now next to impossible in a disintegrating country. Where before we have travel impossibly compressed in time the aircraft, for example, appear to display supersonic speed over the great white areas on the map that compose the American Midwest here we have a bit of reality, and for Stadler, it isnt pretty. (We learn in an aside that the great Taggart Bridge is not only a railroad bridge but is open to automobile traffic as well, at least for those who can still manage to find fuel).
They arent having much luck convincing their prisoner Galt to save the country, or rather to do so on their terms, which are leaving the present ruling class in place and taking a place at its head that its members cannot conceive it possible to wish to refuse. They dont understand Galt, but they do understand how to get people to do what they wish, and they know that Stadler means something to Galt. By the time they find out what that really is Stadler realizes that they might have done him to death. Hence his panicked dash for power, the power that possession of his own invention will confer.
The motive? His mind had repeated insistently that his motive was terror of Mr. Thompsons gang, that he was not safe among them any longer, that his plan was a practical necessity To seize control, to rule there is no other way to live on earth
He isnt the only one to think that way. Stadler manages to bully his way through security by merely invoking his own name, at least until he finds out who The Boss is. That is one rather drunken Cuffy Meigs, who has his own ideas about seizing control. The notion of such a thug in possession of his brainchild rouses Stadlers last scrap of self-deception.
Do you think Ill let you cash in on my life? Do you think its for you that I that I sold He did not finish
Oh, but he did. Sold, indeed. But in his world one doesnt get value received for value offered. Thats only true where the terms of exchange are Galts, not Cuffy Meigss. In the world Stadler has chosen there are only looters who have, at last, run out of things to steal.
And Stadler himself has run out of time. Project Xylophone does turn out to be a formidable weapon, and in an effort to demonstrate that he is as good a man as any of those dime-a-dozen technicians, Meigs throws the wrong lever.
It destroys the entire site. It also slices the Taggart Bridge in half, which is decidedly inconvenient for the first six cars of a passenger train that end up in the Mississippi as a result. Quite a swan song for the weapon of mass destruction that takes with it, in its death throes, its creator and its usurper.
The significance of this is not lost on the reader that bridge was, after all, the one thing keeping Dagny from at last shrugging herself. Gone now in the blink of an eye, by a jackbooted ignoramus pulling a lever, a fitting end for Stadler who has, in the final analysis, sold out to precisely such a man.
His counterpart Dr. Ferris, however, is in his moment. He has the means to bring Galt around to cooperation, a rather unpleasant-sounding device known variously as Project F, or the Ferris Persuader. Jim Taggart shows a particular enthusiasm for its employment on Galt. And what is it that they intend to persuade Galt to do?
Weve got to MAKE HIM take over Weve got to force him to rule, said Mouch in the tone of a sleepwalker.
The notion of a shackled Philosopher-King is nearly too ridiculous for fiction were it not for the fact that Rand does understand her villains so very well, and what Mouch has in mind actually does make a twisted sense.
He has to take over and save the system.
Just so. Galt is to perpetuate the very system that keeps them all in power despite the fact that they can create nothing, produce nothing, merely confiscate and redistribute all the efforts of men and women greater than themselves. At last the parasites realize their peril: of all the world, this host is the last one, and when it perishes, they do. Mouch still clings desperately to their original faulty premise: given that all of capitalism is theft, who would not want to take his place as a Prince of Thieves?
Ferris, however, has fewer illusions. Galt will be a cooperative figurehead for as long as hes useful, and Ferris has the means to see that he goes along. Already we are told that several of the members of the ruling class have their private redoubts:
He [Chick Morrison] has a hide-out all stocked for himself in Tennessee, said Tinky Holloway reflectively, as if he, too, had taken a similar precaution and were now wondering whether the time had come
It has come, and passed. Theyre trapped unless Ferris can buy them some breathing room.
Gene, he said tensely, Order all stations to stand by. Tell them Ill have Mr. Galt on the air within three hours.
Dagny, in the meantime, has called the number Francisco gave her and is relieved to hear a reasonable voice after the madness she has heard in the mouths of the teetering ruling class. They have been indiscreet enough to declare their intentions in front of her and she wastes no time in informing Galts friends. And we are as relieved as Dagny to hear Francisco, at last, become what he really is.
Now listen carefully. Go home, change your clothes, pack a few things youll need take some warm clothing. We wont have time to do it later. Meet me in forty minutes
So long, Slug.
So long, Frisco.
The belongings she cares about are scarce, and these, Rand reminds us, she earned:
She left [her evening gown] lying in the middle of the floor, like the discarded uniform of an army she was not serving any longer she put her jewelry in the corner of the bag, including the bracelet of Rearden Metal that she had earned in the outside world, and the five-dollar gold piece she had earned in the valley
And she learns that the Taggart Bridge is gone. It is the final break.
Miss Taggart! cried the chief engineer. We dont know what to do!
The receiver clicked softly back into its cradle. I dont, either, she answered. In a moment, she knew it was over.
But there is one final bit of symbolism she expresses defiantly before the statue of her heroic ancestor. Seizing her lipstick and
smiling at the marble face of [Nat Taggart], the man who would have understood, she drew a large sign of the dollar on the pedestal under his feet.
It is the signal, now useless, that she agreed upon to mark her final break. And now, as Francisco approaches,
she stood solemnly straight and, looking at his face and at the buildings of the greatest city in the world, as at the kind of witnesses she wanted, she said slowly, her voice confident and steady: 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.
He inclined his head, as if in sign of admittance. His smile was now a salute. Then he took her suitcase with one hand, her arm with the other, and said, Come on.
And now we encounter the strangest scene in the entire novel. It is, at once, the consummation of Rands view of sexuality among the elite as a form of power exchange, an expression of the supremacy of mind over flesh, and a reformulation of one of the oldest jokes about engineers in the entire body of human comedy.
Nothing is spared Galt in the way of modesty, although modesty is, one suspects, a quality more desirable in lesser men he is stripped naked and spread-eagled on a leather-covered table, and Rands single concession to decency is that electrodes are attached to wrists, shoulders, and ankles instead of the more customary locations. We are treated to a two-page description of his physical circumstances that for the time would have bordered on the pornographic. Rand here is very much on the edge of outrage and reveling in it.
One is tempted to caution the reader not to try this at home. The Ferris Persuader runs electrical current through, as Rand describes it, the lungs, which is in real application across the heart as well. Safe voltages only, according to her, although there is, in fact, no such thing, and it is amperage and not voltage that kills in any case. That aside, Galt is in for a remarkably unpleasant few minutes, spurred on by Jim Taggart in a rather disturbing sadistic frenzy. Even Wesley Mouch is alarmed.
Whats the matter with you? gasped Mouch, catching a glimpse of Taggarts face while a current was twisting Galts body: Taggart was staring at in intently, yet his eyes seemed glazed and dead, but around that inanimate stare the muscles of his face were pulled into an obscene caricature of enjoyment
Even by modern standards this is pretty strong stuff. The room reeks of sweat, sadism and homoeroticism. Jim is revealed as finally having crossed the line into the insanity whose borders he has spent the novel exploring. One must wonder what the recently deceased Cherryl would have thought of her husband and conclude that her watery grave constitutes a kindness of sorts.
We are relieved and the novel remains publishable by the fortunate malfunctioning of the Persuader, specifically its generator, reminding us once again of the chapter title. And so to the joke one must wonder if Rand had heard it, or something like it, or simply came across its expression of irony all by herself. It is simply that a true engineer and Galt is certainly that reacts to this situation in character, which is to state, as a technical challenge. One early version of it had an engineer condemned to the guillotine watch two of his predecessors released by a malfunction in the dropping of the blade, and when his turn came pointed up and said, Oh, there, I see what the problem is!
And so Galt tells them in cold detail how to fix the instrument of torture to which he is affixed. What results isnt laughter, it is flight on the part of the crew and the final descent on the part of Jim Taggart into screaming madness. He has, at last, noticed the monster in the mirror.
No he moaned, staring at that vision, shaking his head to escape it. No no
Yes, said Galt.
So much for Jim. While they escort his quivering remnants from the room they caution the guards to guard carefully,
the living generator [that] was left tied by the side of the dead one.
That is Galt, of course. He remains, bound, naked Rand has taken considerable trouble to remind us of the point and triumphant. And his friends are on the way.
Have a great week, Publius!
Rand demonstrates it well in the next chapter (I'll try to avoid spoilers here) with Dagny's interaction with a guard.
The concept that I'm referring to is the act of indecision. How can indecision be an act? I'll let others better able to articulate the definition do so but will demonstrate how it works.
Those of us who are blessed with raising teenagers have probably heard the retort 'whatever' in response to any number of requests made of them. The proper rejoinder is thus-
"Since 'whatever' encompasses such a vast array of possibilities, I'll select from this list of chores that need done...." You can see how the vagueness of the 'whatever' can be used against them (for their own good ,of course:) ).
Dagny has been saying 'whatever' for a long time, that allowed the Looters to make her decisions for her. She was abdicating her responsibilities by _not_ making a choice.
You can choose a ready guide from some celestial voice;
If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.
But I agree with you - you see what the lyricist (I think it was Peart) meant, but the notion of, as the stanza concludes, "choosing" free will begs the question of whether such a thing is actually possible. Could you be fated to choose free will? That little ripple of logic has caused many a late-night dorm room or faculty lounge discussion. It also helped light Europe on fire during the Reformation.
Oh, and you're right, Parsy is cheating with that Annie Oakley reference (although now that I think about it I don't believe Oakley ever actually shot anybody. Calamity Jane, then). Dagny doesn't actually blow anyone away until the next chapter in a scene more reminiscent of Walter Mitty than James Bond. "He drew his Webley-Vickers..." :-)
Both the Generator and the Xylophone _did_ work even though malfunctioning. The result was opposite of what they were seemingly intended to do, Jim Taggert reduced to jelly and Stadler even more so.
The calendar, though still working was malfunctioning as well. Is it Rand's intention to include these inanimate objects as antagonists subject to the same end as people who follow the culture of death ??
AbFab analysis! However, note how Dagny made her choice at an emotional moment. Her man was in trouble. Most of the time Rand’s characters are so one dimensional its pathetic. The sex scenes have less zip than your average 3rd rate porn flick.
Maybe one dimensional is the wrong term. Perhaps
“absolute” or black and white. And then the psychological mindset of the heroes. Have you ever seen more passive-aggressive people in your life? I also wonder if this where the liberals got the idea of victimology.
Serious about your analysis. Great. Can’t remember, did any of the characters limp?
Francisco called it in chapter 9:
Francisco tells her she will stop running the railroad the day she discovers that her work has been placed in the service of the One Mans destruction.
As for the sex scenes, well, it was 1957, after all. I did think the thing with Galt in the abandoned tunnel was pretty...ah, forceful...I mean, taking a chunk out of the guy with her teeth and all, tearing off the dress, down and dirty on the burlap sacks, concupiscent slurping echoing through the stone walls of a man-made cave. If Rand had placed the word "syllogism" in Dagny's mouth at that point I think I'd have burned the book and become a Carmelite monk. Well, there aren't any, but I would have if there were.
As for Dagny capping the guard, what the heck, it's only a week until that chapter and it's the last one. She shoots him offhand with a silenced pistol, coldly, bloodlessly, with less regard than one might shoot an animal (nearly Rand's exact words). Rand did trains very well, steel mills she brought to life, airplanes not so bad; gunplay she took out of 40's Westerns. It would have been a much rougher (and better, IMHO) novel if she had gone into the same detail about Dagny's victim spitting blood and exsanguinating on the floor as she did with Galt's little electrical S&M scene. As it is, the guard was a cardboard prop that fell with a thump when pushed. It bugged me. ;-)
I read AR about 4 times. Last time probably 15-20 years ago. Age adds perspective. I like the book, but heck I like The Three Musketeers and Captain Blood. A little off topic but could you imagine writing Dagny into an episode of Sex and The City?
BTW, if you get a chance try to find a copy of The Limping Hero. I’ll double check the title. Great perspective I never.
If you want a view into the Ivy Leagures since the 1960’s watch the Hitchcock movie: Rope.
Watch them sneer, condescend and culture themselves right into murder and then slimily justify it.
They are superior after all.