Study Guide

Atlas Shrugged Visions of America

By Ayn Rand

Visions of America

It began with a few lights. As a train of the Taggart line rolled toward Philadelphia, a few brilliant, scattered lights appeared in the darkness; they seemed purposeless in the empty plain, but too powerful to have no purpose. The passengers watched them idly without interest. [...] An office building appeared, close to the tracks. The big neon sign on its roof lighted the interiors of the coaches as they went by. It said: Rearden Steel. (1.2.1.1-7)

The light motif emerges again here in connection with Rearden Steel and industry in general. This passage also sets up a recurring theme: that of an oblivious society that doesn't appreciate what it has.

She walked on. She stopped at the window of a bookstore. The window displayed a pyramid of slabs in brownish-purple jackets, inscribed: The Vulture if Molting. "The novel of our century," said a placard. "The penetrating study of a businessman's greed. A fearless revelation of man's depravity." (1.4.1.30)

In this sequence Dagny encounters an entire series of signs of cultural decline. It's no mistake that in a looter-dominated culture, the bestselling book involves "vultures."

The car jerked forward. It moved slowly through a gap in a plank barrier, past the hole of a broken water main. She saw the new pipe stacked by the excavation; the pipe bore a trademark: Stockton Foundry, Colorado. She looked away; she wished she were not reminded of Colorado. (1.7.2.16)

The importance of Colorado is demonstrated through a series of images where Dagny sees how Colorado's industries are basically supporting New York. Scenes of urban decay are contrasted to shiny new equipment from Colorado.

The sky had deepened to the greenish-blue of the rails, when they saw smokestacks in a distant valley. It was one of Colorado's new towns, the towns that had grown like a radiation from the Wyatt oil fields. She saw the angular lines of modern houses, flat roofs, great sheets of windows. ...a rocket shot out form among the buildings, rose high above the town and broke as a fountain of gold stars against the darkening sky. Men whom she could not see, were seeing the streak of the train on the side of a mountain and were sending a salute, a lonely plume of fire in the dusk, the symbol of celebration or of a call for help. (1.8.7.48)

The rocket acts as an important symbol here for Colorado's precarious position. Like the rocket, Colorado seems like a huge success, but it's on the verge of destruction.

"Why didn't you move?"

"Where to?"

"Anywhere."

"What for?"

Dagny was staring at the two buckets; they were square tins with rope handles; they had been oil cans. (1.9.6.75-79)

The residents of Starnesville are apathetic and defeated. Like the oil cans – stripped of their true purpose– they seem to have gone backwards in time.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money – and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement....[T]here appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being – the self-made man – the American industrialist." (2.2.4.39)

Francisco links up themes of money and America here in his "money speech." Money represents hard work and values to the Objectivists, so it's fitting for money to define America.

Nathaniel Taggart had been a penniless adventurer who had come from somewhere in New England and built a railroad across a continent, in the days of the first steel rails. His railroad still stood; his battle to build it had dissolved into a legend. (1.3.2.14)

Nat Taggart's story is a quintessentially American one: that of the self-made man whose hard work takes him from rags to riches.

"You know, Dagny, Thanksgiving was a holiday established by productive people to celebrate the success of their work." (2.2.4.199)

Again, people with Objectivist values (Hank here) claim America as their own, here by connecting Thanksgiving with a strong work ethic.

The first story of the Minnesota disaster appeared in the newspapers three days later. It reported that the farmers who had waited in the streets of Lakewood for six days, with no place to store their wheat and no trains to carry it, had demolished the local courthouse, the mayor's home and the railroad station. Then the stories vanished abruptly and the newspapers kept silent, then began to print admonitions urging people not to believe unpatriotic rumors. (3.5.3.33)

We get a lot of rundowns of disasters throughout the country, which emphasizes the novel's epic scope. There are interesting details here about how the government is censoring the media and how people are starting to get violent in their protests.

"From its start, this country was a threat to the ancient rule of mystics. In the brilliant, rocket-explosion of its youth, this country displayed to an incredulous world what greatness was possible to man, what happiness was possible on earth. It was one or the other: America or mystics." (3.7.1.372)

Galt sets up another of his patented either-or dichotomies here by contrasting mysticism (faith, or a lack of logic) with the true spirit of America, setting up America as a champion of freedom and reason.

"Do you know that the United States is the only country in history that has ever used its own monogram [the dollar sign] as a symbol of its depravity?... It was the only country in history...whose money was the symbol of man's right to his own mind, to his work, to his life, to his happiness, to himself." (2.10.2.179)

The fact that money has been turned into a negative symbol demonstrates how twisted and misguided the looters' values are. Owen Kellogg takes up Francisco's theme of realigning America with all of the positive values that money represents to the Objectivists.