In the novel, Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden is the character that struggles the most to find himself. He is the only character in the story that changes and grows the most. The process Rearden has to follow in order to change is to mend the split he has in his soul. Rearden constantly battles himself to unearth that he is stuck between a soul-body dichotomy. He states, “I had accepted the one tenet by which they destroy a man before he’s started, the killer tenet: the breach between his mind and body” (857). His soul-body dichotomy lies in the code he holds to his business, and the standard he doesn’t permit to his own life. The dichotomy is shown through his relationships between his wife, Lillian, and the woman he has an affair with, Dagny Taggart.
Rearden allows Lillian to control his personal life. However, he refuses to allow anyone to even attempt to control his mills. He makes it clear to everyone that he holds his business to his standards, and will not listen to anything differently. He is unaware, though, that Lillian is slowly trying to demolish his business. She uses her words of malice to slowly break him down. She said to him one evening, “Is it an inferiority complex or a superiority one, Henry? Do you believe that nobody can want to see you for your own sake, or do you believe that nobody can get along without your help”(33)? This statement puts Rearden to shame. He takes the blame for things that are not his fault. At first, he takes pity on people who cannot achieve what he has accomplished, and feels guilt about it.
Rearden despises his wife, but feels an altruistic duty to her. Even though he is not a religious person, his marriage sets grounds for altruism. This gets him to believe that to be good, is to be selfless and self-sacrificial. He feels he is duty-bound to his biological family, but even more so toward Lillian because he felt that since he had given his word and promise to Lillian, he intended to keep it. For Rearden, his word is his bond. So although he does not love Lillian, he chooses to stay married to her, because of the duty that he weighs on himself.
He feels, at that time, that sex is an evil, animalistic pleasure. He finds that he’s disgusted with himself when he has sex with Lillian. Sex is supposed to be an enjoyable pleasure, but Rearden cannot enjoy it with Lillian. His body has needs for that pleasure, but he can’t find it with the woman he’s honor-bound to have sex with. Lillian says to him, “I’ve always known that under that ascetic look of yours you were a plain, crude sensualist who sought nothing from a woman except an animal satisfaction which I pride myself on not having given you” (429). This gives him the perception that he should be damned; that any desire or shred of physical pleasure is considered immoral.
Because of this, he felt unbearable guilt for having an affair with Dagny. Although Rearden loves and feels an immense sexual attraction for Dagny, he uses his guilt to punish her: “I wanted you as one wants a whore- for the same reason and purpose. I thought you were above a desire of this kind. You’re not. You’re as vile an animal as I am” (254). While he did not mean those words towards Dagny, they were a tool for him to lash himself for his broken vow to Lillian. Dagny knows this, and continues to be Rearden’s mistress.
Rearden hated having to be a liar. In his mind, he had given up his good character in order to be with Dagny. He would come home in the middle of the night so he’d know Lillian was sleeping. “The sight of his family had become unbearable to him; he could not tell why. Don’t hate them for your own guilt; he had told himself, but he knew dimly that this was not the root of his hatred” (303). Being with Lillian became more agonizing the more time he spent with Dagny. He began spending months at a time with Dagny in New York. It was the only time he felt peace and happiness within himself.
One evening, Lillian came to Rearden’s bedroom to talk about nothing in particular, and she had never done that before. This got Rearden to question himself about Lillian’s true intentions. He had thought prior; that her words were meant to wound and torture him. Suddenly, he began to wonder if her vicious words were the only way to plea for his love. He thought that possibly, she was expressing her pain for being unloved throughout their marriage. “It made his guilt greater than he had ever contemplated” (306). Throughout the years of their marriage, Rearden could never quite understand Lillian’s venom toward him. Even now he couldn’t quite accept that a person could be so hateful and vicious. Instead, he attributed her behavior to love, which only enhanced his guilt.
On the night of Jim’s wedding, Rearden witnessed Lillian and Dagny having an argument about the Rearden Metal bracelet he’d originally given to his wife. Even though Lillian had voluntarily traded the bracelet for Dagny’s diamonds, she decided she wanted it back. Dagny refused. Rearden stood next to his wife; he felt obligated to do so. He was oblivious to the fact that he was defending a woman, whose judgment he did not respect. Yet, he was willing to stand against the one woman he loved, and the one woman who always defended his work. “Dagny stood still, her eyes closed; she was thinking of the night when Lillian had given her the bracelet. He had taken his wife’s side, then; he had taken hers now. Of the three of them, she was the only one who understood what that meant” (403). Although Rearden feels a great fault for what happened, he does not know that in that moment, he loses Dagny. She has come to realize that she deserves better- she deserves a man not hopelessly torn between two worlds.
When Lillian finds out Rearden is having an affair, she refuses to grant him a divorce. Assuming the mistress is a common whore, she says to him, “Make no mistake about it: I shall never give you a divorce. Whether you like it or not, you’re married and you’ll stay married” (430). She does, however, allow him to continue his affair. Rearden agrees to these terms, but can’t understand why she’d still want to be married to him. While Rearden has come far enough to tell his wife of the affair, he has still not completely rectified the battle in his soul.
Later in the novel, Rearden and Francisco d’ Anconia, have a discussion about sexual preferences and how it reflects how people truly view themselves. Francisco says, “He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience-or to fake- a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer- because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut” (490). Rearden finally starts to realize why his attraction to Dagny is so powerful. They both defied people who were against their businesses, as they proved everyone wrong with the “John Galt Line.” They’re both risk takers for their businesses and their profits. He also begins to understand why he feels no attraction to Lillian. She is never supportive of him and makes him hold guilt that is undeserved. She mooches off of his soul. His dichotomy started to alleviate itself even further.
When Lillian discovered that Dagny was Rearden’s mistress, she wanted it to end. She knew that Dagny was a threat to her attempts to ruin Rearden and his business. She knew this because if his mistress would have been a common whore, then it would degrade his character to the public. But because it was Dagny, Lillian knew that it would elevate the public’s view of Rearden. Rearden refused to end the affair. He would not give up the only thing other than his business that made him content with his life.
Lillian decided to secretly go to Dr. Ferris, one of the looters, and told him everything about the affair. Lillian was trying to ruin Rearden’s business. Dr. Ferris showed up at Rearden’s mills to have him sign what was called, the “Gift Certificate.” It was for the rights to Rearden Metal, to be given to the government. Dr. Ferris told Rearden, that they knew everything about his affair with Dagny and that if he didn’t sign it, the looters would ruin Dagny’s career. Rearden thought to himself, “I should have lived it openly, as of our right- or made her my wife, as in truth she was. But I branded my happiness as evil and made her bear it with disgrace. What they want to do to her now, I did it first. I made it possible” (564). In that moment, he accepts the guilt he did earn. He realized that the self-imposed guilt he had put towards Dagny, put both of them in a position to be threatened. He knew that if he would have divorced his wife long ago, then Dagny’s career wouldn’t have been jeopardized. He signed the “Gift Certificate” and then called his lawyer to get a divorce.
Rearden had finally decided, he would no longer submit himself to the anguish Lillian had thrust upon him. He understood, at last, that Dagny had been the only one he truly wanted. She did not define happiness as evil, as Lillian did. Dagny elevated him, while Lillian tried to destroy him.
The last time he saw Lillian, he understood everything he had ever questioned about her. He finally realized why she had married him, and what had been her motive the entire time. “It was for the best of his virtues that Lillian had chosen him, for his strength, his confidence, his pride- she had chosen him as one chooses an object of love, as the symbol of man’s living power, but the destruction of that power had been her goal” (974). Lillian had always known that she would never be able to reach Rearden’s level. He was a man of character, while she was not. The only way to be at his level, was to bring him down to her level.
By this time, Rearden knew his relationship with Dagny had ended. Even though he knew she had found someone else, he still wanted to apologize for the things he had done to her. “I rebelled against the creed that virtue is some disembodies unknowable of the spirit- but I damned you, you, my dearest one, for the desire of your body and mine. But if the body is evil, then so are those who provide the means of survival, so is the material wealth and those who produce it…” (858). Saying this to Dagny, he proved that his perception on life had changed. He no longer allowed people, such as Lillian, to control his desires and happiness, only to tell him they were evil. He had mended the split in his soul that caused him grief throughout the story.
Rearden had finally uncovered his soul-body dichotomy. Not only had he yielded to Lillian, he granted her control of his personal life. She set standards that were unachievable to anyone. Her control of Rearden’s life ended his relationship with Dagny, and also gave her access to exterminate Rearden’s business. “I had cut myself in two, as the mystics preached, and I ran my business by one code of rules, but I set my own life by another. I rebelled against the looters’ attempt to set the price and value of my steel- but I let them set the moral values of my life” (859). Rearden had become a different person. His perception of his personal life changed drastically. He knew that his soul-body dichotomy had cost him Dagny, and almost his life. He had finally reached a point where his happiness was now the priority in his life. Rearden was finally and rightfully an integrated man.