Dan Conway, head of the Phoenix-Durango in Atlas Shrugged, was evidently a superb executive. He also receives (largely) positive treatment in the novel. However, the book also says that he initially went along with the industry group behind the anti-dog-eat-dog rule, and the novel gives several other indications that the author's not trying to present him as being 100% positive.

First, is there any significance to the fact that his railroad wasn't named after him? The "good" characters all named their companies after themselves (Wyatt Oil, Rearden Steel, Taggart Transcontinental, etc.) and the "bad" characters' companies had generic-sounding names (Associated Steel, Amalgamated Switch and Signal, etc.), so is the generic-sounding name evidence that we're supposed to have a negative view of Dan Conway - that he represents people who just "caved" morally?

Secondly, he definitely never joined the strikers (he wasn't in Galt's Gulch when Dagney was shown around, and Eddie is able to track him down towards the end of the novel), and there's no evidence either way about whether John Galt ever approached him (in fact, he seems to have quit on his own without any of the strikers having met with him).

That being said, why didn't Dan Conway ever join the strike? Why didn't the novel say whether he was asked to join? Would John Galt have been likely to have asked him to join? (It seems like an odd omission given that Dagney asked him to stay and fight and Eddie tracked him down to ask him to help Taggart Transcontinental).

How does Ayn Rand want us to view this character? Is he basically a good person who "caved" under pressure from the looters?

I'm asking specifically about authorial intent here.

  • Do you intend to ask about Rand's intention, specifically, or about literary analysis of the book (possibly divorced from authorial intent)? I ask partly to make sure I understand your question (I have a copy of the book at hand, and may attempt an answer), and partly because I'm looking for an example to use for my most recent meta post (see also meta.literature.stackexchange.com/q/507/481)
    – Shokhet
    Feb 28, 2017 at 3:06
  • 1
    I never really thought about Conway, but if you've read The Fountainhead, you'll recall that some people embrace Rand's idea of morality fully, some reject it completely, but there are a few characters in the middle (even though Rand professes that if you're not completely with her you're against her, but whatever. I'm doing the interpreting here :P). I wonder if Conway is another of these in-between characters.
    – Shokhet
    Feb 28, 2017 at 3:09
  • @Shokhet That's a good question - both are actually really useful now that you mention it, but I was thinking in particular about Ayn Rand's intent and how she viewed the character and/or wanted us to view him. Feb 28, 2017 at 3:41
  • Okay. I'll let you know if I find anything
    – Shokhet
    Feb 28, 2017 at 3:53

2 Answers 2


While many of Ayn Rand's characters are completely unambiguous (Hank Rearden is good, Head of State Thompson is bad), some are ambiguous or mixed.

Also, Ayn Rand is trying to include different "types" of characters.

  • Dr. Robert Stadler is the guy who knew better - the ultimate traitor, in a sense.
  • Fred Kinnan (the union boss) knows he's running a racket but doesn't do anything about it.
  • Eddie Willers represents the common man - the guy who's just as moral as a Hank Rearden or Dagney Taggart but lacks their ability.
  • Dan Conway's the guy who could have been, so to speak - he almost "gets it" but he "caves" under pressure. He's somewhat reminiscent of Gail Wynand from The Fountainhead in a way.
  • The Wet Nurse (Tony) is the guy who changes.

Dan Conway is the Bill Gates and/or Albert Schweitzer of the novel.

ie., egalitarian, I'm no better, one civilization is as good as the next, today's terrorist is tomorrow's freedom-fighter ...etc. The tell is that he gives a huge tip to the cleaner after they deliver his death blow at that final meeting. He believes in competition but is resigned to submission to the power of majority rule as evidenced by his response to Dagny's pleas to return. Galt and his strike would crumble from within if this anti-heirarchy mentality prevails. Oddly enough Dr.J.B.Peterson realizes this but remains in denial of the value of Ayn Rand's identification of this fact.

The battle is sill individualism vs. popular culture, Galt's way of fighting it is the best, most human way. Withdraw your sanction and come and join us in developing the motor.

Moral Code:Motive Power:Motor Unit

Indivisible, (Integrated) and Perfect.

And I mean it.

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