” Why, no. I’m too conceited. If you want to call it that. I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist. ” (Part 4, VIII 608)
The Fountainhead is highly controversial because it challenges some of the most inveterate notions ever perpetuated on mankind: altruism and selflessness. It’s based on the outrageous belief in the significance of selfishness, on the provocative idea that man’s ego (and what it entails alone) is the fountainhead of human progress. It is primarily the story of Howard Roark, an architect who operates on a private, personal, selfish (in the sense of exclusiveness and independence), egotistical motivation. Indeed, since his expulsion from architecture school, no opinion except his own either disturbs or influences him. An insufferable egotist, Roark refuses to subordinate himself to the mandatory canons which generations of craftsmen and architects have proved inviolate.
The style of a soul . . . every human soul has a style of its own, also. Its one basic theme. You’ll see it reflected in every thought, every act, every wish of that person. The one absolute, the one imperative in that living creature. (Part 2, VI 270)
Perhaps Roark’s obdurate, uncompromising individualism is why he is hated and feared, because he stands above the need of using others in any manner, and to people who live “second-handedly” (Ayn Rand’s originally proposed title of the novel) on the borrowed vision of others such a man is a challenge, a threat, and a danger. Roark’s originality and creativity, by which Ayn Rand calls selfishness, are testimony of the very mediocrity of his opponents. Peter Keating, fellow classmate and architect, senses his mediocrity but fails to recognize it.
[Keating] thought of how convincingly he could describe this scene to friends and make them envy the fullness of his contentness. Why couldn’t he convince himself? He had everything he’d ever wanted. He had wanted superiority—and for the last year he had been the undisputed leader of his profession. He had wanted fame—and he had five thick albums of clippings. He had wanted wealth—and he had enough to insure luxury for the rest of his life. (Part 3, II 436)
Keating depends on Roak, who ends up ghostwriting his designs that gained him fame. Deprived of his own principle, sway by the collectivistic society, Keating only follows what has been done and hogs publicity. A mob man at heart, he shows that a selfless man cannot be ethical. Roark’s arch enemy is the critic Ellsworth Toohey, who sets his heart on striking down the egotism, the arrogance of unbridled individualism which Roark has fully personified. Toohey studies voraciously, absorbing information like a sponge. But he has nothing new to create, only acquires a prestige and influence by absorbing the works and borrowing achievements of others. He is aware of neither his inconsistencies nor the fallacy of convictions.
A blind mass running amuck, to crush you without sense or purpose . . . They recognize a man who stands alone at once. By instinct. There’s a special, insidious kind of hatred for him . . . They’ve got to force their miserable little personalities on every single person they meet. The independent man kills them—because they don’t exist within him and that’s the only form of existence they know. Notice the malignant kind of resentment against any idea that propounds independence. Notice the malice toward an independent man. Look back at your own life, Howard, and at the people you’ve met. They know. They’re afraid. You’re a reproach. (Part 4, XI 635)
Toohey represents this hegemony of men, whose wishes, efforts, dreams, ambitions, and most unfortunately, the consciousness, are motivated by other men. Roark’s existence simply nullifies theirs. It’s no wonder that Roark, in whom the individual spirit is enshrined, clashes with journalism and religion, which are singularly responsible for imposing collectivism and altruism on mankind. Caught in this difficult is Dominique Francon, whose love for Howard prompts her to destroy him in order to save him, knowing his works have no use for a world that doesn’t exist. The newspaper tyco Gail Wynand also understands Roark’s ideals but only he values his wealth more.
Rand believes that there is only black and white in moral issues; there is no gray. Therefore, giving in a little is not compromise but rather forfeiting one’s values and surrendering to evil. She argues that society, tainted by collectivism, has a herd mentality that corrupts individual mind. One might not meet the living counterparts of her characters in fullness, but one will recognize many a facet of them in people we know. The novel is an American epic because the values and ideals she proclaims can be applied to our world today. She makes a strong case for her extreme philosophy, although it’s difficult to digest and accept in fullness. I personally settle for a middle path, where the call for individualism and acknowledgement for the needs of society are equally important. Following the life of Roark and the insidious orchestrations of his enemies is both fascinating and gripping.
736 pp. Centennial Edition/Soft cover. [Read/
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