Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Fear

By Ayn Rand

Fear

Eddie Willers looked away. He had never liked the sight of that calendar. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend in with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality. (1.1.1.11)

The calendar crops up as an interesting symbol in the book. It seems like an omen, a sort of countdown to doom. Eddie feels it's a reminder that time is slipping away toward some sort of terrible end, which ties in with the general feeling of dread that dominates the book.

"We must not worry. I heard a speech that said it is useless to worry or to blame anyone. Nobody can help what he does, that is the way things made him. There is nothing we can do about anything. We must learn to bear it." (1.6.1.407)

This conversation occurs at Hank's anniversary party and it shows how people are opting to ignore or just accept fear as part of their lives. This sort of defeatist attitude culminates in places like Starnesville, where people live in terrible conditions and can't bring themselves to care.

"'You see? Is there ever any reason to be afraid?'...She said that, because she knows – I've never told her, but she knows...that I'm afraid...Yes I am...I don't know...I wouldn't be afraid if I knew of what, I could do something about it." (1.8.1.1)

Eddie again raises the theme of the fear of the unknown.

It seemed to her that some destroyer was moving soundlessly through the country and the lights were dying at his touch – someone, she thought bitterly, who had reversed the principle of the Twentieth Century motor and was now turning kinetic energy into static. (2.2.1.6)

Dagny's notion of the "destroyer" – with all the negative connotations of that word – embodies the fear and mystery surrounding the disappearances.

People were running out, running to telephones, running to one another, clutching or pushing the bodies around them at random. These men, the most powerful men in the country...had become a pile of rubble, clattering in the wind of panic, the rubble left of a structure when its key pillar had been cut.

. . . Three persons stood immovably still, like three pillars spaced through the room, the lines of their sight cutting across the spread of the wreckage: Dagny, looking at Francisco – Francisco and Rearden, looking at each other. (2.2.4.353-357)

Francisco sets off a panic when he announces that his company stock is crashing, revealing the unstable and fragile nature of the looters' world system. The looters are very hard to pin down, but their system, based on equal parts denial, greed, and fear, topples fairly easily. The end of this scene also provides some foreshadowing with the image of three of our heroes standing alone amidst the rubble of the looters.

"We'll be safe for the first time in centuries. Everybody will know his place and job.... Why should we permit them to blast the ground from under our feet every few steps? Why should we be kept on the go in eternal uncertainty?" (2.6.1.35)

James's panic and fear take on an unusually concrete form here when he reveals that he is terrified of change and that the people who are better and stronger than him are a threat to his stability.

"There were screams coming from the cars. Passengers were breaking windows. Engineer Scott struggled frantically to make the engine start, but collapsed at the throttle, overcome by the fumes. Fireman Beal leaped from the engine and ran." (2.8.1.122)

The final moments of the Taggart Tunnel disaster are some of the most terrifying in the whole book, especially since the entire disaster was the result of incompetence and corruption.

She realized how often she had glanced back at that headlight. So long as it remained in sight, she had felt as if a life-line were holding them anchored safely; now they had to break it and dive into...and dive off this planet, she thought. (2.102.35)

The headlight here symbolizes civilization and the present, while the darkness Dagny walks into represents not just the past but a sort of "alien" world of horror.

[A]n impersonal, unthinking, unembodied machine, of which none was the driver and all were the pawns, each to the degree of his evil. Dr. Stadler gripped the edge of the bench; he felt a desire to leap to his feet and run....He moved the field glasses from his eyes. He was looking at an empty prairie. There was no farm; there was nothing in the distance except a darkish strip that looked like the shadow of a cloud. (3.3.3.64-9)

Project X is terrifying, representing the brute power and fear that the government in Washington wield over people.

No exit – her shreds of awareness were saying, beating it into the pavements in the sound of her steps – no exit...no refuge...no signals...no way to tell destruction from safety, or enemy from friend. (3.4.4.76)

Cherryl's final moments before her suicide are filled with a panicky sense of suffocation and hopelessness. It's interesting that she says the world is turning to "goo" just before this scene; here she seems to be sinking and drowning in something like quicksand.

And then it was James Taggart who screamed. It was a long, sudden, piercing scream, as if at some sudden sight, though his eyes were staring at space and seemed blankly sightless. The sight he was confronting was within him. (3.9.3.77)

James's final, horrific epiphany destroys him. Contrast James's realization about himself with someone like Hank, who isn't afraid to face up to the truth.

[I]t was Eddie's face that froze into a look of terror at the sight of a ghost more frightening than any they could have expected: it was a train of covered wagons. (3.10.2.43)

Historical backsliding and decline are often used to convey fear in the book and to represent the country's downfall. Eddie's final scenes are filled with dread, since he realizes that modern civilization as he knew it is over.

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