Hank Rearden’s wedding anniversary party is one of the most insightful episodes in Atlas Shrugged. Firstly, it shows the reader the glaring contrast between the movers and the parasites, through their opinions on the new Equalization of Opportunity bill. Those who are happy, if not think of it as their right, to feed off other people’s efforts, talk about the necessity for such a law. To them, it is based on a superior moral; equality that is a result of altruism. They are heard saying that owning anything private is evil. When Hank, on the other side of the battle, a mover, is forced to listen to these ideas, he is just unable to digest it. He cannot relate to a moral that condemns productivity and efficiency. He does not know why he is amidst such a crowd, why he must stay there and endure the pain. And then thankfully, two other people on his side of the wall turn up.
Dagny Taggart generally does not care for anything that comes in the way of her work. She would rather spend all her time and effort in bettering her business, than indulge in small talk. And that is why everyone is surprised, if not confused, at her entrance to the party. She looks quite stunning; her outfit glorifies her confident personality.
She comes there for Hank, expecting to have her idea of a party and fun. The important point is that her presence is solely motivated by her attraction for Hank. She sees him as an ideal man; a powerful mover who is passionate about his business. She has seen him work, she knows that his factories and metal mean the same to him as her railroads mean to her. And now she is curious to know what he is like in his personal life.
Dagny enters the party hoping to be part of a brilliant event. She wants to see the other side of Hank, and where he goes back to everyday. But even as she skims through the characters at the party, she knows she has stepped into a hall with the same kind of people she is forced to work with everyday. After all, James Taggart accompanies her to the party.
The room is filled with people talking about charity, equality, and their unanimous approval of the bill. She tries to understand how equality with no relation to effort can ever be possible. If at all, there can only be equality in terms of effort, definitely not as a birth right. Even when she tries to figure out the rationale behind the voices she hears, she spots Hank, and forgets about her confusion.
Dagny approaches Hank almost with relief and excitement, not unlike how one would approach a known face on the first day of class. It is not that she did not know the others in the room; as a matter fact she knew many. But Hank’s face was the only one she felt like she really understood. To her surprise, however, Hank does not respond as she would have like. He merely welcomes her with formal words and acts very indifferent and rigid the whole time she tries to strike a conversation. She is confused by his behavior and slips away only to hear more painful conversations.
Hank Rearden is tormented between what he really feels and what he believes to be morally right. He cannot permit himself to fall for Dagny; he is married and that would mean infidelity. He has forced himself to live with his wife Lillian for eight years, even though he has no idea why either of them continues to live with the other. She displays herself as a strong believer of selflessness and altruism. She engages herself in social activities; she meets people with or without reason.
In direct contrast, Hank is work driven, and passionate about what he does. To him, that is the greatest purpose of his existence, the sheer pleasure of engaging in what he likes, and working to the best of his ability, is what keeps him going. He does not take or wait for orders, and he does not listen to other people’s opinions about his work. He is a true achiever and mover, and yet he is not entirely satisfied with his life.
Hank has no qualms about his work morals; he knows exactly what is required, and what he ought to do. However, in his personal life, he is a different person. He endures suffering, and sacrifices a lot, in order to support his family members, none of whom understand or relate to him. Even though they are mean to him, and keep making fun of his ideals, he still bears with them patiently, because he believes in that kind of a sacrifice with personal relationships.
On the day of his wedding anniversary, he is tormented by his personal life more than ever. The sight of Dagny, of what she represents instills a strong sense of belonging in him. It is very rarely that he feels a connection with another person, and the very first the one he feels for Dagny. He resists his feeling and concentrates on his work problems. His superintendent has seemingly quit his job for no particular reason, and that troubles him in more ways than he can understand.
The Meeting of Francisco d’Anconia and Hank Rearden
Francisco d’Anconia enters the party, like a superhero who comes to save his people in trouble. He is there uninvited, but does not look embarrassed or sorry. In fact, it looks like he has a very clear purpose in being there. He indulges in sarcastic and witty retorts to the people who think that any action done for the benefit of the majority is acceptable. His prime motive in attending the party is to have a chat with Hank; almost a way to sort out Hank’s confusions.
On the way he hears someone saying “Isn’t it odd? When a politician or a movie star retires, we read front page stories about it. But when a philosopher retires, people do not even notice it.” He barges in to reply “They do, eventually.”(Rand, Chapter 6). Though no one truly understands his answer, it is the key to the plot of the entire book.
The movers of the world are those who work towards a selfish cause which results in creation. They are the ones that have made inventions possible, that have given the world a glimpse of the limitless, and have generously permitted others to make use of their ideas and efforts. The main concerns for the movers are those associated with their work; they never attach importance to how they get treated for their greatness, or how people use them. Or at least they never did. And that is when the second-handers started taking control. Not of running the world or improving economy, but of the movers.
When the motors of the world are tortured for their greatness, when they are used as commodities, John Galt, a prime mover decides that it is time to create a new world. He realizes that the second-handers live at the mercy of the movers, and in order to teach the former a lesson, all movers had to be removed from this world. And slowly, throughout the book, it is seen that he is able to achieve that; one by one, mover disappear from the face of the earth. It is later seen that they have been taken to Galt’s new world where the movers no longer endure any pain or suffering. It is a new world of possibilities, work and pleasure. The highest virtue there is that of satisfying one’s own purpose and goals in life. Selfishness and egotism are not just principles, but are a natural way of life, as it ought to be.
Coming back o the party, when Francisco says that eventually people will realize that a philosopher has retired, it refers to all the movers of the world being taken away to a new one, by his friend John Galt. At that point in the story, there haven’t been any very obvious events that point to the mission of John. Slowly there are many sectors where the first-handers disappear and their companies collapse. No one seems to realize the cause or the pattern behind the economic disasters that follow. Though Hank and Dagny can clearly see that is their most efficient people that go missing, they cannot understand where or why.
The main reason for this inability to connect the dots, especially for the second-handers is their having taken the movers for granted. They demand work from those who are generous, and ride on their simply because they don’t refuse. The second-handers become so used to being parasites, that even when their hosts disappear, they are unable to see why they aren’t being fed.
Like the guest at the party says, people notice when something insignificant happens, because they have chosen to center their lives on the insignificant. They praise the unworthy, they applaud the petty, and they choose to exist without any sense of individuality or originality. It is then no surprise that these people do not immediately notice something really important. Even if they did, they can neither understand nor appreciate it.
The entire theme of Atlas Shrugged is to clearly differentiate these two classes of people, and the parts they play in the world. The movers are like the philosophers; they are working quietly and though people benefit from them, they are taken for granted. Movers are generally not only condemned for their efforts, but people don’t even give them a second glance. They are made to feel guilty for being better than the rest. They are made to endure painful comments wherever they go. Ironically, they have been stamped as evil and unworthy. Though they do not care to brood over the irrational, the suffering just keeps getting worse, until John rescues them. And then like Francisco points out, eventually people do realize when they are gone.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged:(Centennial Edition). Penguin, 2005.