Consider the following segment from Atlas Shrugged:

"But I don't know what's wrong with it." The man sighed, bewildered. "I don't know what to do."

"It's the vibrator that's out of order," said a voice behind them; they whirled around; Galt was struggling for breath, but he was speaking in the brusque, competent tone of an engineer. "Take it out and pry off the aluminum cover. You'll find a pair of contacts fused together. Force them apart, take a small file and clean up the pitted surfaces. Then replace the cover, plug it back into the machine—and your generator will work."

In the passage above, Galt explains to his tormentors how to fix the torture device that had broken and they knew not how to fix. Although the irony makes a powerful statement, Galt is in fact violating his sacred creed by giving his enemies the tools of his own destruction.

As proof, Galt earlier says:

I am the first man who would not do penance for my virtues or let them be used as the tools of my destruction. I am the first man who would not suffer martyrdom at the hands of those who wished me to perish for the privilege of keeping them alive.

So it seems like he is violating his principles in fixing the torture machine for them. Why did he do it? Was it merely an irresistible literary device for Rand that "the real John Galt" wouldn't have done?

1 Answer 1


The subsequent paragraph explains this seeming contradiction: Galt was running the risk that the machine would be fixed, in order to win a larger battle: to scare the torturers (and the way I read it, he was pretty sure that he would win and the risk was not too big):

The mechanic was staring at Galt; he was holding Galt's glance — and even he was able to recognize the nature of the sparkle in the dark green eyes; it was a sparkle of contemptuous mockery.

Basically, Galt lets it be known that he's so much better, so much stronger, than the opponents, that even with a working torture machine they can't break him. And that breaks them, in turn:

He made a step back. In the incoherent dimness of his consciousness, in some wordless, shapeless, unintelligible manner, even he suddenly grasped the meaning of what was occurring in that cellar.
He looked at Galt — he looked at the three men — he looked at the machine. He shuddered, he dropped his pliers and ran out of the room.
Galt burst out laughing.
The three men were backing slowly away from the machine. They were struggling not to allow themselves to understand what the mechanic had understood.

And Galt did win with this gambit, breaking not just the mooks but the main anagonists, first Taggart (in a long explanation of Taggart's mental state that I will omit here but is worth reading); then Mouch and Ferris:

Mouch and Ferris did not ask themselves or wonder what it was that had happened to Taggart: they knew that they must never attempt to discover it, under peril of sharing his fate. They knew who it was that had been broken tonight. They knew that this was the end of James Taggart, whether his physical body survived or not.

He saved them from the necessity of admitting to themselves that they wanted to escape Galt's eyes. Galt was watching them; his glance was too austerely perceptive.
For the moment, their only certainty was that they had to escape from that cellar — the cellar where the living generator was left tied by the side of the dead one.

  • 1
    I very much like your answer, DVK, but I'm also a student of history, and in the history of war and torture, most torturers would have simply continued their evil work after the machine was fixed. And then maybe Galt would have died. Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 15:34
  • @HerrimanCoder He said later that the voltages they were using were non-fatal. Commented Aug 10, 2018 at 2:11

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