Chapter 1: The Theme
The hopeful common man struggling against the puzzling and unjust non-absolutes is represented by Eddie's first confronting of James Taggart regarding the Rio Norte Line. Eddie walks through the crumbling streets of New York uncertain as to what's wrong with the world, a part of him unwilling to accept the truth of it. The sense of an impending doom present through a telltale feeling of unease foreshadows the inevitable fall of the world. But, the common men will still attempt to live in it, to attempt to right its wrongs, however vain, as Eddie attempts to get Taggart to deal with the urgency of the Rio Norte Line's state. He fails in getting Taggart to do anything, and when the heroes leave the world, there would be no one left to maintain it.
Dagny's success in restarting a stalled train (and her refusal to let it stand still) foreshadows the gist of her role in the novel: that of the nervous girl constantly attempting to move things, the action of putting in the extra force to galvanize things after they've been stopped not a barrier.
When Dagny announces to Taggart that she has canceled Boyle's contract for steel for Rearden Metal, Taggart fights back with threats of "lengthy processes" and her inhuman inability to "feel"; through her judgment and absolute decision to action, she momentarily thwarts the common man's antagonist, but she lets Taggart's words sink in, and a trace of the villains' hold over the heroes is revealed--the villains can manipulate the heroes. (But, in the holistic course of things, the villains will not be Dagny's real antagonist; her true nemesis would be Galt: she would attempt to keep the world running despite his draining the world of men, and she would be unaccepting of his ultimatum to leave the world behind.)
Finally, when Owen Kellog leaves stating that it is nothing in the station that had prompted his decision to quit, and that he will not stay no matter what promotions are offered to him, Dagny confronts her first real opponent: "the destroyer," the menace that has drained the world of its life force, the men of ability--the good men. Although Galt, the person, is not mentioned explicitly in the first chapter (perhaps he is the brakeman Dagny meets earlier), he has already taken his toll: he has extracted yet another good man from earth--a problem that will become profound, later on in the novel. When Dagny asks "why," Owen replies with, "Who is John Galt?" Owen knows who Galt is, and he is infinitely bitter that the man has forced him to abandon his love of his job for his love of his life.