The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand published The Fountainhead in 1943. The book was made into a movie staring Gary Cooper in 1948. The novel tells an engaging story about a young man, an architect, Howard Roark, who thinks for himself.

Act one sees him thrown out of architectural school. He rejects classical ideas and emphasizes modern design that makes the best use of materials, site, and function. These notions do not sit well with the status quo, and he is kept from working by the stodgy firms in New York, and taken advantage of by his friend Keating (also an architect), who makes use of his genius, but takes all of the credit.

In act two, Roark ends up working in a quarry owned by the same firm Keating works for. Meanwhile, Dominique Francon, the boss's daughter, while on vacation visits her father's quarry and meets Howard Roark. She is irresistibly attracted to the man because of his innate pride and individualism. They have an encounter. She scratches the top of her mantel so that he will have to repair it. Instead, he purposely breaks it with a sledge hammer, and then sends someone else to replace it. The fact that he sends someone else so enrages Dominique that she seeks out Roark and hits him in the face with a riding crop. This results in a sexual liaison that is rather rough and tumble.

Roark is called back to New York to work on a project and is soon heading his own architectural firm. However, the going remains tough as the forces of conventionalism conspire to destroy him. But the independent spirit of the man keeps him fighting and working.

The forces of collectivism are brought to bear with all their terrible force upon Howard Roark. They are embodied in the figure of Toohey who wields their power in an effort to keep Roark from becoming an example of what independent thought can achieve. All aspects of the collectivist vs. the individual are explored, with various characters compromised to varying degrees. The only constant is Roark, who steadfastly maintains his "selfish" integrity. By living for himself, he ultimately creates great things which can be enjoyed by himself and others.

Dominique Francon is an interesting character. She is beautiful, intelligent, volatile, and confused. She knows that she wants Roark. She is attracted to him because of his integrity, because he is true to himself, because he creates value. She represents society as a whole, in a love/hate relationship with the independent man. She goes through several marriages as she goes through stages of understanding. First she is married to the Milquetoast Keating, as she attempts to embrace the conventional and the expedient, but he does not interest her and so she moves on, until she inevitably seeks and finds the best value.

Though the plot of The Fountainhead is intricate, its themes are straightforward, illustrating Objectivist philosophy in an artistic manner. The story is riveting, while teaching the reader how life should be lived. This is literature with a purpose, following Objectivist ideas by imparting maximum value.

An interesting dichotomy between selfishness and selflessness is illustrated. Keating representing "selflessness" is always worried about what other people think. He uses others to achieve conventional success, and in doing so throws away all chance of happiness, he chooses a career that does not interest him; he chooses a wife he does not love; he is incapable of producing value and so becomes a mere shell of a man. Meanwhile Roark's selfishness keeps him true to himself, to his guiding principles that drive him not to compromise in becoming the best he can be, and in doing so he benefits not only himself, but the world around him. This turns conventional ideas of human motivation on their head and is what makes Rand's Objectivism so controversial, even today.

Before publication, The Fountainhead was seen and rejected by twelve publishers. It was finally accepted by Bobbs-Merrill where a young editor, Archie Ogden, placed his job on the line not just by recommending the book, but insisting that if the publisher did not accept it, he would quit.1 The book became an underground, word-of-mouth success. Without advertising or any backing it became a best-seller.

Fountainhead: The Movie

Ayn Rand was in on the writing of the screenplay of a movie version of The Fountainhead, which had to change the plot somewhat in order to keep the playing time to a reasonable level. Even so, the movie does a good job staying true to the original work. Gary Cooper stars as Roark, and Patricia Neal is alluring as Dominique Francon. The movie continues to have a following among movie buffs as well as people interested in Objectivism.

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  1. http://rous.redbarn.org/objectivism/writing/RandBiography.html" - Redbarn Biography of Ayn Rand

Some believe that the heroes and heroines created by Rand exhibit a large amount of hubris.

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