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9/30 Day Book Meme: An Unusual Score

In which I reflect upon a novel that has haunted me since 11th grade and finally got around reading this year.

Day 9: A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving:

Back in 11th grade, the winter-break reading assignment for American Literature were Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. For extra credit, we could finish Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (full review) and turn in an essay. Like in buffet where eyes are bigger than stomach, I was more ambitious than my mind allows me to read all the books. I barely had enough time to finish the two required books, leaving The Fountainhead untouched. Over the years, I have been leery of the book and its daunting size. Rand is known for her outlandish shocking philosophical system she called objectivism. In this so-called philosophy of objectivism, Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected all forms of faith and religion. She supported rational egoism and rejected ethical altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed all forms of collectivism and statism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights.

Ayn Rand plants all her political and philosophical ideals in Howard Roark, the main character of The Fountainhead, whose architectural designs and ideals are rejected by the society at large. An insufferable egotist, Roark refuses to subordinate himself to the mandatory canons which generations of craftsmen and architects have proved inviolate.

The great creators–the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors–stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.

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.

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 do not (and cannot) accept Rand’s objectivistic philosophy in its most raw and complete form, but the book turns out to be unusually readable and gripping. It’s been on of the best novels I’ve read this year.

8 Responses

  1. I really should read this one too, but I am so intimidated by all of it!! My oldest son loved this book. I think you two would have much to discuss while I sat by and watched in wonderment while it all went over my head 😀

  2. Confession time – I’ve never read Ayn Rand. I bought a copy of The Fountainhead a couple years ago when it looked like my book club would be reading it, but it wasn’t selected. If it’s one of the best you’ve read this year, then I MUST read it!

  3. It’s definitely a book I’m convinced I would hate! I think I saw the movie, and hated it, and have always hated what I have known about her philosophy, but then again, there’s something to be said for a thought-provoking book!

  4. This book always sounds so fascinating to me, but I have heard that it is so difficult to read I have never actually attempted it. I definitely wont give it a go now until my pregnant brain lets me read something more complicated than an Agatha Christie novel, but like you one day I hope that this is a novel I will read and hopefully enjoy.

  5. Guess I am not a genius but I guess we’re all the product of different influences. Such philosophies that tend to do away with collectivism and propound such black and white objectives – like you are with us or against us – makes me wonder. In the end, such aficionados become stiff-necked fools. Besides, I believe if each hang onto his own philosophy, stubbornly, without compromise the world would be the worse place to live.

  6. I really enjoyed this book too once I ignored Rand’s politics-if that’s possible. I admired Roark and thought it was a great novel. Most people do once they’ve read it. Thank for your thoughts.

  7. Not only is Rand’s “philosophy” (which ridiculed any motivations but selfishness & materialism) anti-human, it is anti-literature. I think many astute readers are taken in by her because we have a tendency to be intrigued by unusual & extreme ideas, & open-minded to a fault.

  8. […] 9: A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving The Fountainhead by Ayn […]

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