Atlas Shrugged: Dagny Shot First

There is one scene in the book that many people hate. It makes Dagny look like a cold-blooded killer to them. I was looking forward to reading it and judging Dagny’s actions for myself.

John Galt is captured and is being tortured in the science building where Dr Ferris works. Dagny and other strikers approach from all sides. Dagny approaches a guard and tries to persuade the guard to let her in, because she’s a friend of the president. The guard is the type of guy who doesn’t know how to think for himself, but is very good at following orders (which is why he and the other guards were selected to guard the torture building). Because he’s trained to listen to authority, he is confused and not sure whether to listen to Dagny’s authority or Dr. Ferris’ authority. He can’t choose at all – he neither steps aside, nor draws his own gun. Not even when Dagny draws hers and tells him she’ll shoot him dead if he doesn’t move aside. Dagny shoots and kills him.

“But I can’t decide! Why me?”

“Because it’s your body that’s barring my way.”

“But I can’t decide! I’m not supposed to decide!”

“I’ll count to three,” she said. “Then I’ll shoot.”

“Wait! Wait! I haven’t said yes or no!” he cried, cringing tighter against the door, as if immobility of mind and body were his best protection.

“One-” she counted; she could see his eyes staring at her in terror- “Two-” she could see that the gun held less terror for him than the alternative she offered – “Thee.”

Calmly and impersonally, she, who would have hesitated to fire at an animal, pulled the trigger and fired straight at the heart of a man who had wanted to exist without the responsibility of consciousness.”

I could see why this scene would make Dagny look bad. The guy is a total dumbass. Did he deserve death? Not to mention, Francisco, Ragnar and Hank all go through guards as well, but don’t kill theirs – they just bind and gag them. Couldn’t Dagny do the same?

I guess she could have. But the more I think about it, the more I see that it would have been extra nice of her to do that, rather than the only alternative worthy of a heroine. Imagine your loved one is being tortured in a building, you don’t know what shape they are in, and the guy at the door refuses to budge. He’s hired to guard the torture building and he probably knows what he’s guarding (the guards inside certainly knew). It doesn’t matter if he is just following orders and is unable to decide anything – he is aiding and abetting torturers. And even if you’re not sure if he knows what he’s guarding, you still have this strong urgency to go past him. Wouldn’t you fight to death for those you love?

P.S. I wonder why only Dagny kills an entrance door guard. Maybe only her guard was stupid, and the others valued their lives. Or maybe she was the most desperate to save Galt due to romantic love. What do you think?

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8 Responses to Atlas Shrugged: Dagny Shot First

  1. theasdgamer says:

    Dagny killed the guard so that Rand could boringly preach about consciousness requiring responsibility.

    • Perhaps in a more realistic scene, she’d just sneak up on him and kill him without saying anything (although using deceptive tactics doesn’t sound so bad, either).
      But still, I thought it was a good illustration of the rule that willful ignorance doesn’t save you from reality. For me, it works, even though Rand novels do tend to have funny moments (like when some hero is able to make a really long speech in front of a large audience, completely uninterrupted)

  2. Liz says:

    I vaguely remember this scene in the book.
    It didn’t stand out at the time as being anything unusually “controversial”, I’d have to reread, but I don’t remember thinking Dagny’s actions were extreme or unusual or unwarranted.

  3. Eric says:

    I think it somewhat illustrates the difference between how men and women deal with conflict. Dagny tried to talk the guard out of being shot. In the same situation, I would have reasoned just like she does, but killed the guard without any argument. Women need sometimes to talk themselves into taking drastic action, whereas men simply act on their pre-conceived principles.

    • Now that you mention it, I also thought Dagny being a woman might have played a role, but for a different reason. She wasn’t strong, so she couldn’t allow herself to get into a situation where she’d wrestle the guard and try to bind him. She had to use a weapon.

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