Study Guide

The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Howard Roark is expelled from architectural school because he has no respect for copying the past. Peter Keating, one of the favorite students at the school, frequently persuades Roark to help him with his assignments. Roark decides to go to New York City to work for Henry Cameron, a once-respected but now renegade architect who shares Roark’s ideals. Keating takes a job with the firm of Guy Francon, a powerful and influential architect who believes in copying classic buildings. After Cameron’s business fails, Keating hires Roark, but the job does not last long. Francon fires Roark for his failure to draft an adaptation of one of Cameron’s buildings; Roark continues to refuse to copy others’ work.

Dominique Francon, Guy’s daughter, visits the office. Her beauty immediately impresses Keating, and he remains interested in her even after discovering that she wrote a newspaper column in Gail Wynand’s Banner in which she criticized one of his building designs. They later begin dating. Keating’s longtime girlfriend, Catherine Halsey, announces that she wants to get married immediately; however, she agrees to wait. Keating knows that Halsey is the niece of Ellsworth Toohey, a Banner columnist who writes about architecture and many other topics. He refuses to use his relationship with Halsey to gain influence with Toohey.

Roark takes a job with another firm but learns that his designs will be combined with those of others. His employer uses most of Roark’s drawing in a draft presented to one client, who says that it is the best of many designs that he saw but that it is somehow wrong. Roark seizes the drawing and marks over it, restoring his original work. The client hires Roark, inspiring Roark to start his own firm.

In an attempt to cement his position, Keating attempts to blackmail Lucius Heyer, Francon’s partner, who does almost no work in the firm and is not respected by the employees. Heyer dies, leaving Keating his share in the firm because Keating once was kind to him. Keating wins a worldwide design contest, after getting Roark’s assistance. He attempts to bribe Roark to remain silent about working on the design, but Roark says that Keating will be doing him a favor by not mentioning his assistance.

Roark’s business fails because he is too selective in accepting commissions; he prefers not to work at all rather than to design buildings he does not believe in. He takes a job in a granite quarry owned by Guy Francon. Dominique sees him working in the quarry and is struck by his beauty and by the way he approaches his work. She purposely damages a piece of marble in her house and has him assess the damage. She then hires him to come back and repair the damage; however, he sends another worker. Later, he returns and rapes her. Soon thereafter, Roark receives a letter of inquiry from Roger Enright about designing a...

(The entire section is 1183 words.)

The Fountainhead Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Fountainhead’s major theme is the need for integrity and independence as exemplified in the career of Howard Roark. Roark is the fountainhead, or productive force, in the novel. To develop this theme, Rand places Roark in contrast with three other men, Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, and Gail Wynand.

The novel begins with a jarring contrast. Howard Roark is expelled from the Stanton Academy on the same day that Peter Keating graduates with honors. Roark is the true architect, making a building’s design fit its purpose, while Keating’s practice of architecture seeks to please other people. In New York, Roark works for Henry Cameron, a brilliant, unconventional architect whose career and body are in decline. Cameron becomes Roark’s mentor, but he is also a foreboding image of how the world may destroy Roark.

After Cameron retires, Roark begins working for a series of architects but keeps getting fired because he will not bend to mediocrity. Roark designs in one style—-his own—-and ignores architectural fashions and traditions. Keating, meanwhile, advances in his career. Every time he has to design a building on his own, however, he turns to Roark for help. In this way Rand dramatizes the nature of the “second-hander.” Keating cannot produce because he worries about how his buildings will be received, while Roark, the fountainhead, can think on his own.

While working at one firm, Roark meets the intellectual Austen Heller, who appreciates the young architect’s work. Heller gives Roark his first commission and the money to open his own architectural firm. A string of commissions comes in but then peters out. Roark eventually closes his offices and finds works cutting stones in a quarry in Connecticut.

There Roark meets...

(The entire section is 733 words.)

The Fountainhead Summary

Part 1 Summary

The novel opens as the Stanton Institute of Technology is graduating its 1922 class. The dean has just informed Howard Roark that he is being...

(The entire section is 366 words.)

Part 2 Summary

When Cameron retires, Roark accepts a job at Francon, but after refusing to work with others on his first design there, he is fired. He is...

(The entire section is 258 words.)

Part 3 Summary

In an effort to bolster his own reputation, Keating asks Roark to design a low-cost development called Cortlandt Homes. Roark agrees, with...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

The Fountainhead Chapter Summaries

Part 1, Chapters 1-3 Summary

Howard Roark stands naked at the edge of a cliff, looking down into the lake that has filled the granite quarry. He feels, not that he is one with the earth, but that the earth was made to support him. He thinks of that morning, when he was expelled from the Stanford Institute architectural program. He returns to his boarding house run by Mrs. Keating, whose son, Pete, is graduating that morning. Mrs. Keating tells Roark that the Dean wants to see him immediately. At his own pace, Roark goes to the Institute to talk with the Dean. In their conversation, Roark is at odds with the Dean’s notion that architecture is based on tradition. Roark does not want to follow tradition—he wants to create one. For this “originality,”...

(The entire section is 615 words.)

Part 1, Chapters 4-6 Summary

Guy Francon reads a magazine article to Peter Keating; it is by Ellsworth Toohey and praises Francon for his architectural genius. Keating, who has become the favored boy of the firm, offers to finish the plans by his best friend, Tim Davis, because he knows Davis’s days are numbered. Afterward, Keating visits Catherine Halsey, a homely and dull girl with whom he is inexplicably infatuated. He learns that her uncle is Ellsworth Toohey, but he does not want to use her to meet the famed architectural critic. He does not want his future to be one of manipulation.

Henry Cameron calls Howard Roark into his office to let him know that he is firing him. Cameron says that Roark is too good for his second-rate firm. He urges...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Part 1, Chapters 7-9 Summary

When Peter Keating reads about Henry Cameron’s retirement, he approaches Francon about hiring Roark, and he asks for carte blanche. Francon agrees; he admits that, despite Cameron’s downfall, he trained good architects—including himself. Keating goes to Roark’s home, ostensibly just passing by. Roark immediately knows why Keating has come and accepts the offer with a weekly salary of sixty-five dollars. His only condition is that he be placed in the engineering department, not the aesthetics department.

Roark settles in to his new job and tries to concentrate on the interior structures rather than on the exteriors. He goes down to the construction site of one building and strikes up a conversation with Mike, one...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Part 1, Chapters 10-12 Summary

At a gathering at the home of Mrs. Ralston Holcombe, Keating at last meets Dominique Francon. She is arrogant but Keating finds her appealing. She is dismissive to other guests and eventually to Keating as well.

Roark has worked for Snyte’s firm for several months when he is assigned to collaborate on plans for a home for Austen Heller, whom Keating had heard speak at the union rally. Heller wants something unique built on a rock cliff. Roark designs a home built out of the rock itself, but the final plans show revisions along a more traditional line. Heller, who has gone through several architects to find the design he wants, states that this is the closest anyone has ever come, but it is still not what he wants....

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Part 1, Chapters 13-15 Summary

Howard Roark faces challenges when it comes to finding and keeping commissions. Jimmy Gowan, who had seen the Heller house, commissions him to build a gas station. Gowan is pleased with it, and Roark stays all day at the station on its first day. Mrs. Wayne Wilmot is a fan of Austen Heller’s and so wants Roark to design her home so she can say that she has Heller’s architect. When she will not be budged from building English Tudor, Roark refuses the commission. Robert Mundy asks Roark to build a reproduction of a Southern plantation as a symbol of himself. Roark objects, stating that it is a symbol of other people’s opinions, not of Mundy. Nathaniel Janss hires Roark to design an office building in downtown New York. Although...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary

Howard Roark enjoys his work at the quarry, despite the pain he feels at the end of each day. Dominique Francon enjoys the solitude of her home in the country, and she roams the surrounding area like a “chatelaine” (ruler) of a kingdom. She finds her way to the nearby quarry and is transfixed at the sight of Roark at work. He looks into her eyes, and she immediately feels controlled. Her desire for this unknown stranger causes her to feel an intense hatred for him. She hopes that he feels pain from his work. Her obsession for Roark drives her to come back to the quarry repeatedly. The two always lock eyes but do not speak. Eventually, Dominique confronts Roark about gazing. He boldly tells her he stares at her for the same...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 4-6 Summary

Keating reads Lois Cook’s book and finds it spiritual because he does not understand it. He is meeting Katie at Ellsworth Toohey’s home for a “family tea.” Mrs. Keating still pushes her son along, despite his recent success.

Katie is anxious that her uncle approve of her marriage to Keating. Toohey implies that it is not important enough to disapprove. Keating and Toohey discuss Roark’s design for the Enright House, which Toohey finds unremarkable. At Lois Cook’s home, Keating discusses with her the plans for her house. She wants it lighted by kerosene, absent of windows in the living room, and an appearance of the ugliest house imaginable. She finds beauty too commonplace. She speaks of a youth group of...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 7-9 Summary

Dominique writes a condemnatory article about the Enright House. Toohey warns her that he can read between the lines that she feels bitterness toward Roark as a person. When Joel Sutton reads it, he visits her and asks her opinion of Roark. The result is that he calls Roark and cancels his commission; he says he is hiring Peter Keating on Dominique’s suggestion. Roark’s response is a laugh.

Dominique comes to visit Roark. She says she wants to sleep with him even though she intends to destroy him. Roark commands her to take off her clothes, and they make love. Dominique tells him that her feelings have not changed and that she still wants to destroy him. Roark tells her that he would not want her if she did not want...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 10-12 Summary

When the Enright House opens, there is little fanfare. Most find it hideous, but Roark nevertheless begins to get commissions. Kent Lansing hires him to design a luxury hotel, The Aquitania. Dominique tells Toohey that she is glad Roark got it, which causes Toohey to question her partnership with him in Roark’s destruction. This she denies. 
Hopton Stoddard is a millionaire who finds solace in religion in the way of a bribe. He wants to build a temple to religion, but Toohey advises him against it. When he rethinks the plan, he tells Stoddard that he will back him as long as he hires Howard Roark to draw the designs. Stoddard is concerned when he learns that Roark is an atheist, but Toohey assures him that Roark believes in God...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 13-15 Summary

Stoddard wins the lawsuit, and Roark refuses to appeal. Dominique writes an article that quotes most of her testimony from the trial. Her boss refuses to publish it, and Dominique threatens to quit if he does not. Unsure of what to do, her boss wires Gail Wynand in the Caribbean for directions. Wynand wires back, “Fire the bitch.” Toohey obtains a copy of the telegram and gives it to Dominique. She confronts her boss with it, packs up her things, and leaves.

Katie talks with her Uncle Ellsworth; she tells him how unhappy she is in her job as a social worker. She is becoming mean, hating the very people she is trying to help. Toohey tells her that she must give up her ego; only when she has shed herself of that will...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

Part 3, Chapters 1-3 Summary

Gail Wynand considers suicide but decides against it because he is indifferent whether he lives or dies. He reflects on his life. He was born in the poorest section of New York, but he worked his way up in the newspaper business. He became the editor of the Gazette, which he renamed the Banner. Once he sought help from a respected journalist in trying to save an honest man from being framed, but the journalist was refused. He thus gave up on men of integrity. He ran two articles seeking help for two people: one was a scientist on the verge of a great invention, and the other was the pregnant girlfriend of a convict. The contributions to the pregnant girlfriend vastly outnumbered those to the scientist. This...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Part 3, Chapters 4-6 Summary

Wynand and Dominique depart on their cruise aboard Wynand’s ship, the I Do. Wynand gave his ship this name in response to the many times in his life when people told him he did not run things. Dominique realizes that this is a question Wynand never answered for other people, but he readily gave the answer to her. On the deck, Wynand tells Dominique that he loves her and wants to marry her. He will take care of her divorce from Keating and marry her when she gets a divorce in Reno. Dominique remembers Wynand’s role in the Stoddard Temple as well as other things in the Banner that played a part in her attempt to destroy Roark. She agrees to marry him.

When he returns from the cruise, Wynand goes to...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Part 3, Chapters 7-9 Summary

Wynand meets Dominique at the train station when she returns to New York. He tells her that he is taking her to the judge so they can be married immediately. She objects, stating that she wants to have an elaborate wedding in a hotel with a large guest list, as is fitting for one such as Gail Wynand. Wynand reluctantly agrees, and they are married the following week, with Dominique wearing a long black wedding dress. Alvah Scarret, Dominique’s former boss at The Banner, asks her why The Banner was blocked from reporting the wedding. Dominique is surprised and learns that this was Wynand’s request. Later, at their penthouse, Dominique thanks him. She finds herself attracted to Wynand not as a man but as a...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 1-3 Summary

A young man bicycles along a country road, wondering if life is really worth living. He comes to a valley in which homes have been built into the nature of the environment. He sees Howard Roark sitting there. Roark explains that this is Monadnock Valley, a community of vacation homes for people of limited means. The young man is so overtaken that he feels he has been given hope for a lifetime.

The developers of Monadnock Valley had awarded the contract to Roark, but Caleb Bradley, the chairman, always seems to be dealing with a small child when he talks to Roark. Bradley expresses little interest in promoting the community, but all the homes are leased within a month of the opening. Monadnock Valley (and Roark) becomes...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 4-6 Summary

Wynand shows Dominique the designs for their country home. She can tell immediately that Howard Roark has made them. Wynand tells her that Roark will be coming for dinner. When Roark arrives, Dominique numbly acts as if she has never met him. Roark is excessively polite to her. Dominique catches herself referring to Wynand in the past tense. When Wynand and Roark look of the designs, she is amazed that they act as if she will ever live in the house.

Wynand drops in on Roark a few days later. They discuss the similarities in their modes of thinking, and again Wynand reveals his innermost thoughts to Roark as though they were best friends. When Wynand returns to his office, he orders Scarret never to refer to Roark in...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 7-9 Summary

Peter Keating is thirty-nine years old, gaining weight, and spiraling downward. The Keating architectural firm has shrunk considerably since Guy Francon’s retirement; the offices are now confined to only one floor. He is deemed “old-fashioned” and is known as the lead designer of the flop “March of the Centuries.” He visits Ellsworth Toohey in hopes of gaining an inside track to becoming designer of a new housing project, Cortland Homes. Toohey has distanced himself from Keating; he prefers to write about August Webb as the pre-eminent designer of the age. When Keating begs for his aid, Toohey tells him that he has no official role in the selection of the designer of Cortland Homes, but he will speak up for him if Keating...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 10-12 Summary

Peter Keating walks home in the rain one March afternoon. He notices someone looking in a shop window and realizes it is Katie Halsey. He greets her with trepidation, but she is warm and friendly. She suggests that they go somewhere to get some tea. She notices that he looks unhealthy and has gained weight, so she changes his food order to something more nutritional, stating that Americans never know how to have a balanced diet. She has lived in Washington for two years, working as a social worker. Keating wants to talk about the past and to express his shame and regret, but Katie believes in letting the past go. He tells her that he truly loved her at the time. He did not do what he really wanted; he says that doing what one wants...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 13-15 Summary

Dominique barely survives that first night. She is in the hospital for several days before she is finally allowed to go home. Wynand tells her that she went too far, that she should have known what glass can do. He knows she cut herself and had a part in Roark’s destruction of the Cortlandt housing project. He had personally paid the bail for Roark. He approves of the destruction but is concerned about his and Dominique’s part in it. He teases Dominique, calling Roark her lover. She knows then that he has not guessed her true relationship with Roark. Roark comes to see Dominique. He tells her that, should he be convicted, she must stay with Wynand. However, if he is acquitted, she must come finally to be with him. Dominique...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 16-18 Summary

The board of directors demands that Wynand relent and rehire those he fired. Mitchell Layton, who has more invested in The Banner than anyone but Wynand himself, warns that he will take over the paper and run it the way it should be run. Wynand will not hear Toohey’s name, but in the end he relents in order to save the paper. Scarret will take over. Wynand agrees to write a front-page article in which he states that he was too lenient with Roark and that, if found guilty, Roark must pay the price of his crime. Wynand walks the streets of the city, equating himself with the refuse crushed into the pavement. He remembers holding the gun to his head so long ago. He feels that he might as well have pulled the trigger then....

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Part 4, Chapters 19-20 Summary

Roger Enright buys the site of the Cortlandt housing project and clears it. He hires Roark to build his own project, which will be economical but open to anyone, regardless of their income. Wynand is granted his divorce; Dominique is publicly branded as an adulteress.

Ellsworth Toohey sues Wynand to get his job back and wins. Wynand calls Toohey and tells him to show up for work by 9:00 at night. Toohey arrives at ten minutes until nine, though only he and Wynand are in the office. He sits at his desk, and Wynand watches him. Toohey is not sure how to start, but he likes being back with the sound of the presses in the background. At nine o’clock, that sound stops and Wynand informs him that The Banner has...

(The entire section is 467 words.)