Atlas Shrugged (“Who is John Galt?”)

By Ayn Rand

Here’s where the live blogging gets a bit messy: by recapping as we go through it, we often decide to either not mention or put off mentioning something until it proves itself important. But the whole John Galt thing is sort of gradually gaining in importance, so there hasn’t been a good time to really address it head-on (yet) and we probably should have mentioned it beforehand. So, to catch up, here’s a quick run-down of John Galt:

  • It began as just a saying that people used in situations where someone asks a question and no one knows the answer: “Who is John Galt?” (It is also the very first line of the book, asked of Eddie Willers by a beggar on the street.)
  • Dagny always hated the phrase, because it seemed to indicate a sense of giving up searching for an answer, so as a sort of joke, she named her Colorado tracks The John Galt Line.
  • At one of the previously mentioned extremely boring parties, an older woman tells Dagny that she in fact does know who John Galt is and that he was a millionaire who discovered Atlantis while on his yacht and then promptly sank his yacht in order to reach it. Dagny is understandably dubious.
  • At yet another extremely boring party, another woman mentions that she, too, knows who John Galt is, and that he was a millionaire who discovered the fountain of youth while mountain climbing, but because he couldn’t bring the fountain down the mountain, he stayed up there with it.
  • In chapter 5 (recap coming up), Francisco tells Dagny that John Galt is:“Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.”Which is a description that would give any student of the classics a bit of a headache. The men didn’t send the vultures, the gods did, as punishment for the theft of fire – it’s originally a quite straight forward story that Francisco is twisting up in order to make it applicable to this situation, and that feels a bit like this book in general.

So, basically, I believe there is supposed to be this through-line of John Galt that gradually gains in importance through the book, from just a random saying, to a cultural idea, to an actual character. Unfortunately, Rebecca and I had already had spoilers as to John Galt from years ago, so we knew that he was going to show up in the flesh eventually, which is one reason we haven’t mentioned him yet.

We were wondering, though, if we had been unspoiled whether we would have been suspicious of Francisco being John Galt. We are currently thinking that the only presence of John Galt so far in the book is that he is probably the unnamed character that Eddie Willers periodically spills his guts to (and drives Rebecca crazy) in the Taggert company lunchroom.

So, that’s a bit of a catch-up on what will probably end up being the most important part of the book that neither one of us have bothered to mention so far.

—Anna

4 comments on “Atlas Shrugged (“Who is John Galt?”)

  1. Rebecca says:

    Damn Eddie Willers and his loose lips!

    Also, I’m currently guessing that the guy who spoke with Danagger before his sudden retirement and smoked the money brand cigarette was John Galt.

    • Anna says:

      Oh, right, I’d forgotten about him, but yeah, I agree that it seems pretty clear that was John Galt and I’m a little daunted by the three hours he spent talking with Danagger – I’m afraid that we are going to have read a version of that three hours in a later chapter.

  2. Yeah I think Atlas Shrugged was supposed to partly be a mystery. I think we’re supposed to be scratching our heads wondering where the rich people are gone, only to be shocked the sudden appearance of John Galt. Unfortunately, as everyone knows the plot, this effect is wasted.

    • Anna says:

      I’m definitely getting the sense that it would be a much different experience coming at it fresh. I will say this, though: while I’ve heard some additional spoilers, I’m having trouble quite believing they are correct, so I’m going to very interested in how it plays out.

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