I finished two chapters last night, because I had a long period trapped under a sleeping baby and they were short chapters. I will keep this commentary restricted to chapter 17.
Chapter summary: Francisco shows up in Woodstock, apparently to convince Dagny to come to Atlantis. His conversation is interrupted by radio news of the crash on the line, with one survivor. Dagny returns to New York to fix Taggert Transcontinental.
Rand’s radio news story of the crash is quite possibly the worst and least realistic breaking news story in the history of literature. It serves the obvious and ham-fisted purpose of expositing to Dagny (and Francisco, although he appears to know everything already anyway) what the reader already knows, and would have been done far better by simply writing the first few lines in a more convincing way and then filling in with “Dagny listened as the announcer explained….”
Francisco, meanwhile, needs to get out of the business of convincing people to come to Atlantis. He’s two-for-two on speechification leading to catastrophe. The next time, he’ll get Hank and Dagny together and try to convince them at once and cause a nuclear holocaust or something.
Meanwhile, in more serious commentary….
Francisco gives voice to what’s been the lingering theme: It is better to deny technology to the ingrates, at the risk of destroying your own life work, than to allow the heathens to exploit your work. Geniuses should only give the results of their efforts to people who deserve it. The chapter title itself refers to Dagny’s realization that the corrupt system is keeping her and Hank in figurative chains through her passion for trains and his for metallurgy.
I understand Rand’s point, but I think she’s pompous and goes too far. It is disturbing to see one’s creative endeavors polluted and even stolen from you, so you have to be subservient in order to use your own work. On the other hand, the amount of social collapse, and the number of truly innocent people (ah yes, Rand’s dyslogy indicates that there are no innocent people except for the hand-selected Atlanteans) who suffer as a result, in my view far outweighs the self-righteousness of Francisco, Ragnar, and (presumably eventually) John Galt.