Atlas Shrugged: Part One: Chapter Eight: The John Galt Line


“AMERICA LOVES SPEED. HOT, NASTY BADASS SPEED.” –Elenore Roosevelt

Chapter VIII: The John Galt Line

Summary: Eddie Willers pours his heart out to the anonymous, silent worker at the Taggart Cafeteria. These little chats are a tidy way to lay out expository dialogue with (relative) subtlety: The John Galt line is coming along well, but there’s a shortage of diesel engines, because the United Locomotive Works is bankrupt. The reader is also treated to some more of Eddie Willers’ patented self-loathing and worshipful Dagny love.

Dear Dagny, do you like me? Check ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe.’  -Eddie

Dagny sits in the tiny, decrepit office of the John Galt Line, savoring the simple pleasures of railroad building and, in a weird little interlude, pining for the rough embrace of a perfect male specimen, more perfect than Francisco d’Aconia or even Hank Rearden.

Speaking of that strapping Iron Monger, Hank has to deal with the massive logistical nightmare of complying with the Equalization of Opportunity Act. He’s selling off his ore mining concern to Phil Larkin, his weak-willed and clearly untrustworthy “friend.” It’s supposed to be a paper transaction, but Hank is fully aware that Larkin can screw him over at any time. Rearden needs ore to make the Rearden Metal for the John Galt Line, and now Larkin controls his supply of ore. Larkin simpers and wheedles and whines his way through the transaction in such a way that you know with absolute certainty that he’s going to screw over Hank. After stoically handing over his ore mine, Hank has a meeting with Eddie Willers, who confesses that Taggart Transcontinental is on very shaky financial ground, and might not be able to pay Rearden on time for his Metal. Rearden instantly agrees to delay all payments until six months after the opening of the John Galt Line. Eddie is ashamed at having to ask for charity, while Hank reminds him that there’s nothing charitable about it: the success of the John Galt Line is going to prove the viability of Rearden Metal to the world.

IronMonger.jpg Iron Monger image by Zaraxion1021

“Rearden Metal Monger” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There’s some more expository business about Orren Boyle and his government handmaidens rallying public opinion against the John Galt Line, James Taggart wetting himself in terror because of the bad publicity and the unwillingness of the engineer’s union to let their members drive trains on the Line. Dagny tells James to suck it, because every engineer at Taggart Transcontinental is volunteering to take the first locomotive into Colorado.

Dagny and Hank hold a press conference where they trumpet the imminent opening of the John Galt Line, brag about all the money they’re going to make, and pretty much tell everyone in America to suck it.

Dagny Taggart addresses the press.

And this brings us to the biggest setpiece of the book so far: a panting, delirious, near-mystical description of the maiden voyage of the John Galt Line, with Dangy and Hank riding in the engine. It’s a rapturous celebration of human achievement that’ll make you want to hug a piston.

After the inevitably triumphant arrival at Wyatt Junction, Ellis Wyatt holds a celebratory dinner at his spartan home. Afterwards, Hank and Dagny, flush with victory, succumb to their desires and have some more of that patented Ayn Rand rough sex.

Observations: The centerpiece of this chapter is the multi-page description of Hank and Dagny’s triumphant journey on the John Galt Line.  It’s a piece of writing that illustrates why the book has managed to maintain such a following over the years, and also why it’s such a punishing slog to read if you’re not on Rand’s wavelength.

Given all the grueling obstacles Rand has placed in the paths of Dagny and Hank, their successful trip to Wyatt Junction is a moment of pure triumph.  If the reader identifies at all with Rand’s protagonists at this point, it’s impossible not to feel some the giddy rush of accomplishment Dagny and Hank feel.  Especially considering the torrent of prose Rand unleashes in describing it.  Five plus pages of churning engines, billowing smoke, thrumming rails, screaming whistles; it’s a raw poetry of speed, power and action.

“Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine, Ayn Rand, you better watch your speed.”

All of this rhapsodic description is interspersed, however, with long, dry reflections on the part of Dagny, while she ruminates on the nature of human achievement and the symbolic importance of machine power.  It’s not so much the sentiment that’s tedious as the presentation.  Rand’s protagonists don’t interact with the world, or each other, in any significant way.  They simply observe, and then expound to themselves  (and the unfortunate reader) in long internal monologues.  I guess this is appropriate given the radical solipsism of Rand’s philosophy, but there’s no denying that it makes for objectively bad fiction writing.  The characters simply bounce off of one another, isolated globes of self-righteous certainty.  I don’t care if you think every word is a bolt of pure truth, it’s still boring. It lacks the fundamental interpersonal frisson that powers compelling literature.  I’ll admit I have a hard time taking Objectivism seriously, but at least it approximates the form of a coherent life philosophy.  Anyone claiming that Atlas Shrugged works as a novel, on the other hand, get’s instantly put on the shelf with people who think Battlefield Earth is one of the great works of world literature.

The difference between L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand: Hubbard’s cult controls Hollywood, Rand’s cult controls Washington.

Quotes:

“To find a feeling that would hold , as their sum, as their final expression, the purpose of all the things she loved on earth…To find a consciousness like her own, who would be the meaning of her world, as she would be of his…No, not Francisco d’Aconia, not Hank Rearden, not any man she had ever met or admired…A man who existed only in her knowledge of her capacity for an emotion she had never felt, but would have given her life to experience…”–

“Eddie, what do we care about people like him? We’re driving an express, and they’re riding on the roof, making a lot of noise about being leaders. Why should we care? We have enough power to carry them along–haven’t we?” –Hank Rearden

“Miss Taggart says—quote–I expect to make a pile of money on the John Galt Line. I will have earned it. Close quote. Thank you very much.” –Dagny Taggart

“Why had she always felt that joyous sense of confidence when looking at machines?–she thought. In these giant shapes, two aspects pertaining to the inhuman were radiantly absent: the causeless and the purposeless. Every part of the motors was an embodied answer to “Why?” and “What for?”–like the steps of a life-course chosen by the sort of mind she worshiped. The motors were a moral code cast in steel.”

In honor of Ayn Rand, all wood-based erectile euphemisms should be replaced with metallic ones.

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  1. Curtis Plumb
    July 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    “The difference between L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand: Hubbard’s cult controls Hollywood, Rand’s cult controls Washington.” Are you serious??

  2. mattchristman
    July 18, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Well, it’s supposed to be a joke: neither Scientologists nor Randians CONTROL anything, but they sure have influence incommensurate with their numbers. I mean, they don’t call it the “Washington Consensus” for nothing.

    • Curtis Plumb
      July 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      What makes you think that “Randians” have any influence? The Greenspan connection shibboleth is false, you must know by now. Please enlighten me.

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