Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
The ending of the book is kind of a downer and a half, which feels like a bit of a rip-off considering that we've stuck around for thousands of pages. We do get a positive, heroes-saving-the-day moment when our crowd of Super Friends rescue Galt from the Villains' Evil Lair, so to speak. But as they are getting the heck out of Dodge, Dodge pretty much collapses. New York plunges into a blackout, and the country's transportation system goes to hell in a handbasket. The very end of the book tracks our heroes safely back to Galt's Gulch, the valley that Dagny calls Atlantis. But this is kind of undercut by the wrenching scene that immediately precedes it: that of our favorite Super Sidekick Eddie Willers, collapsed on the ground and stranded alone with no way to get home.
In a way, the book really needed to end on this note of muted optimism. After all, the narrative basically tracks the total collapse of society from beginning to end. The apocalyptic downfall that did occur couldn't be written off with a falsely cheerful ending. Even though most of our heroes are safe, they have a long, hard road ahead of them. Rebuilding society isn't exactly something to throw a parade about.
It's also worth noting that the final scenes with Eddie pack more of an emotional punch than the quick rundown of characters we get at the very end. Again, this helps highlight the costs and consequences of Galt's strike and the government's lousy job. Galt and his strikers may have escaped, but, like the stranded Eddie, they have a very long journey ahead of them, even though, for the purposes of the narrative, their stories have come to a close.