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[378] The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

” 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/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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20 Responses

  1. I really value Atlas Shrugged, so I am anxious to read more Rand. Her books are certainly not easy to digest though!

    • I have an emotional bond with The Fountainhead because I took a copy home to read during winter’s break back in 11th grade—but I never read it. It was an extra credit book essay. I was intimidated by the sheer size. Since then it’s always been on my scruple that I haven’t read it, or anything by Ayn Rand, whether I agree with her philosophy or not.

  2. My oldest son liked this one…me, I’m rather intimidated by its size and content!

    • I enjoy it a lot actually, although I don’t agree with everything Howard Roark does. I can understand the case Rand is making for anti-collectivism. After all, thew news today are representative of some of the worst collectivism. We are fed by news that are biased, and the media that feed us the news are biased themselves.

  3. I love this book but tend to enjoy the story of Atlas, Shrugged a little more. I think as far as her philosphy of objectivism goes, I think it makes great reading and I always find myself agreeing with her protagonists. I don’t think her theory taken to the extreme level works in actuallity.

    • Gosh, that’s what everyone told me after I’m half way through The Fountainhead! I’m glad I have read it because I’ve been meaning to read it since 11th grade. I understand her claim that herd mentality and mediocrity could be a threat to individual thinking, but she is way too extreme in her theory. That is what makes the book a page turner.

  4. I’m glad that you were able to enjoy this. I found it so outrageously different from my own thoughts (were are primarily subjectivist) that it was hard to concentrate on reading the book!

    • Actually the book is a quick read because every chapter is a cliffhanger. I thoroughly enjoy the swiftness of the action and the twists of events.

  5. Where do I begin? I read this when I was fourteen for the first time, and then immediately re-read it on finishing it, so yes, I read this book twice in two weeks. Since then, I’ve read it at least once a year till 2009. I really should re-read it this year.

    Roark was the first fictional character I fell in love with, and I really really did love him. If he manifested in front of me right now, I would commit my life to him. Seriously.

    I loved this book, and am glad you enjoyed it. On reading it though, in all my teenage wisdom, I divided my world into Peter Keatings and Howard Roarks, with the odd Tooheys. Some ten years later, even now, I categorise the world in black and white, which is probably not healthy, but I’d rather live in a world of Roarks than a world of sheep. Middle path – you’re probably right there… it’s most sensible, but… idealism wins over pragmatism and reality.

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  11. […] The Fountainhead Ayn Rand. Finally I conquered the book I meant to read for extra credit in 11th grade. 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. Whether you buy her outlandish ideals, the book itself is gripping and riveting. […]

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