Atlas Shrugged: Synopsis, Characters & Author

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

'Atlas Shrugged' incurred deeply negative reviews by critics and a wealth of praise by fans. Built on themes of individualism and freedom, it remains one of the most controversial novels of our time. In this lesson, we will discuss the story line, main characters and the author's background.


Atlas Shrugged follows Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden in their struggle against a socialistic government that continues to impede individual success. As they work together, they discover that John Galt is the engineer behind the strike of great minds that leads to the downfall of the government and the return to a free society. The novel was written by Ayn Rand, a writer who witnessed the Russian Revolution prior to immigrating to the United States.


Atlas Shrugged opens in the United States with Dagny Taggart, Vice President of Operations for the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, looking to rebuild the Rio Norte Rail into Colorado. The country is in a state of economic despair. Despite her plan to strengthen the company, her brother James intervenes with inefficient alternatives. Dagny wants to use Rearden Steel, a reliable steel manufacturer that has designed a super-strength alloy for the rails, but her brother refuses since it has never been used before; he wants to use Associated Steel, an inept company ran by his friend.

As Dagny works to complete her mission, productive minds continue to disappear leading to further economic strife. As a result, society continues to be pessimistic about individual success and capitalism, siding in favor of a community that champions mediocrity over individual success.

When James' investment in the San Sebastian Line plummets, he convinces the National Alliance of Railroads to pass the 'Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog' rule prohibiting ruthless competition. This forces his competitors out of business. Dagny realizes she must act if she wants to build the Rio Norte Line. She meets with Hank Rearden, and they work to rebuild the Rio Norte Line. Since Dagny cannot get a metallurgist to support the Rearden alloy, she steps away from Taggart Transcontinental, starts her own railroad company and agrees to return the Rio Norte Line to Taggart Transcontinental if it succeeds. Dagny renames the line the John Galt Line.

After the line proves successful, Dagny and Rearden travel together. They find a remnant of an old motor in an abandoned auto factory. Seeing the potential of this motor on the transportation industry, Dagny seeks an inventor to recreate the entire motor. In the meantime, several pieces of legislation pass preventing successful companies, such as Rearden Metal, to thrive. Brilliant minds continue to disappear. Rearden goes to trial for making an illegal sale. During the trial, Rearden argues that he will not give into the government's demands because he is proud of his company's success; he labels the government as thieves. Upon his accusation, the public applauds him and the court decides to suspend sentencing.

Due to more legislation that shuts down the companies in Colorado, Taggart Transcontinental is forced to close the Rio Norte Line. As the legislation being passed brings down the country's most successful companies, a state of fiscal emergency ensues, leading to the Directive 10-289 putting the government in charge of all industry operations and intelligence. Afterwards, Dagny resigns and Hank is forced to sign over his business to the government to avoid exposure of his affair with Dagny being made public.

After Dagny's resignation, she returns to New York City to handle a railroad crisis before traveling west to speak with Quentin Daniels. During her trip, she learns more about John Galt, an engineer who resisted the communist slogan 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' put into effect by the Twentieth Century Motor Company.

Dagny finds John Galt in the valley Atlantis where all of the great minds have convened since their disappearances. She discovers that John Galt is the creator and operator of the strike. Subsequently, she falls in love with Galt. Galt, who has been watching Dagny for years, admits his love for her. Although she can stay and strike with the rest of the members, she chooses to return to Taggart Transcontinental with John Galt by her side. Dagny sees the state of the country as it falls further into complete despair.

The government, desperate to change the economic strife of the country, asks Galt to act as the economic dictator. He refuses the request, leading to his capture and torture. The strikers and Dagny come to his rescue. Galt is released, returns to Atlantis and is reunited with Dagny. The government collapses and the members of the strike are able to return to the free world.


Atlas Shrugged contains many characters. The most prominent characters in the novel are John Galt, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.

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