Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Howard Roark, the hero, a maverick architect apparently modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright. He refuses to compromise with mediocrity and conventional fashion, insisting on pursuing his personal vision whatever the cost. The story follows Roark from his architectural school days to the novel’s climax, his trial for dynamiting a public housing project whose builder had compromised his design. Roark’s credo is, “I don’t build to have clients; I have clients so I can build.”
Peter Keating, Roark’s classmate in architectural school. The two are antithetical personalities. Keating rises in the architectural profession through manipulating people rather than through creative design. His yearning for commercial success leads him to play up to anyone who can assist his career, and several times he begs for Roark’s assistance. The result is the atrophy of what talent he had to begin with. By the novel’s end, he has become an empty shell.
Ellsworth M. Toohey
Ellsworth M. Toohey, the influential columnist on architecture for the Banner newspaper and the novel’s villain. Toohey’s ambition is to advance his power by exploiting the weaknesses of others. Without any talent of his own, he exploits his position to stir up popular hostility against the superior few in the name of “selflessness.” Accordingly, Roark becomes his number one target....
(The entire section is 525 words.)
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The major character of The Fountainhead is Howard Roark, an architect who has a vision of buildings that have never been built but should have been, and who is determined that he is the man to build them. Roark has often been compared to modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who also built unorthodox structures, although Rand denied any similarities between the two in anything other than their architectural beliefs; like all of Rand's other characters, Roark is an idealized creation, not a depiction of any real person. A review of the book noted that the "characters are romanticized, larger than life as representations of good and evil." Rand herself wrote, "My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings." Because of this focus, the characters are well-drawn and the reader knows them intimately.
Roark's adversaries include Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, and the tragic figure of newspaper magnate Gail Wynand. Wynand is one of the few people who appreciates Roark's work for its innovation, but he caves in to societal pressure and disregards his vision, the worst of sins in Rand's work. Wynand's denial of Roark marks his destruction as a human being.
The love interest in the work, Dominique Francon, is typical of the Rand heroine: strong, self-reliant, successful; drawn to the man she loves, not through any sort of physical passion, but through the rational...
(The entire section is 266 words.)
Roark seeks out Henry Cameron when he first comes to New York because of the architect's reputation as a man of independent vision. Unfortunately, Cameron's individualism has cost him a successful career. When Roark convinces Cameron to take him on as his assistant, the older man helps him develop his own style. Cameron is the first to recognize and help promote Roark's genius. At one point he tests Roark's resolve, suggesting that he sell out and give the public what it wants in order to gain approval and success. Roark's response, that he would rather starve, pleases Cameron and proves the older man's faith in him. Eventually, Roark must strike out on his own when Cameron cannot get enough contracts to keep his business going. Cameron's integrity represents the devotion to the individualistic spirit for its own sake, even in the face of social and economic failure, which is an important tenet of objectivism.
(The entire section is 156 words.)
Guy Francon's daughter, Dominique, is a troubled pessimist throughout most of the novel. She recognizes both the genius of men like Roark and the mediocrity of her father and Keating but is certain that the mediocrity will win out, especially under the influence of destructive men like Toohey. She falls in love with Roark, who represents to her the ideal man, yet she is convinced that he will ultimately be destroyed by a society that refuses to recognize and value his superiority. As a result, she tries to interfere with Roark's work before he is brought down by others.
Her feelings for Roark are further complicated by her determination that such a man will make too many demands on her. Thus she tries to protect herself by entering into relationships with inferior men. The characterization of Dominique turns troubling as she begins to exhibit masochistic tendencies. Rand suggests that Dominique punishes herself through degrading sexual experiences with men like Keating and Wynand because of her conflicted feelings about Roark. Yet her initial sexual encounter with Roark, which she thoroughly enjoys, also requires her submission.
(The entire section is 186 words.)
Keating arrives in New York at the same time as Roark, but the two architects take very different paths. Keating achieves success rather quickly by learning, under Guy Francon's tutelage, how to manipulate others. Harboring no illusions about his lack of creativity, Keating easily accepts the help of others; in some cases he actually puts his name on others' work.
His lack of a clear vision of self is evident in his difficulty in making decisions, as he shows when he cannot decide at the beginning of the novel whether to continue his studies or to join Francon's firm. As a result of this insecurity and his desire for approval, he surrounds himself with things he thinks will help define him: expensive clothes, important friends like Ellsworth Toohey, and Dominique, his trophy wife. He subordinates any sense of self to his drive to succeed, evident as he discards Catherine Halsey, the woman he loves, for Dominique because of her beauty and stature in society. His refusal to develop his own identity results in his downfall when the public discovers that he has been claiming others' work as his own.
(The entire section is 191 words.)
As his friend Roark notes, Steven Mallory's sculptures are "not what men are, but what men could be—and should be." Mallory's talents enable him to create "the heroic in man," similar to what Roark achieves in the construction of his skyscrapers. Mallory, like Cameron and Roark, has been unappreciated for his innovative vision and as a result, when Roark first meets him, he is bitter and cynical about ever achieving recognition. Unlike Roark, pubic opinion affects him. After continual rejections he turns to alcohol for escape. When Roark hires him to create a sculpture for the Stoddard temple, the architect helps him have confidence in his abilities without regard to others' judgments. As a result, he creates an exquisite sculpture of Dominique.
(The entire section is 125 words.)
Howard Roark is a brilliant architect whose innovative designs reflect his stanch individualism. At the beginning of the novel, he is expelled from school for his inability to conform to tradition. In her preliminary notes for the novel, Rand comments that Roark contains an "utter selfishness"— an "iron conviction" to "be himself at any cost—the only thing he really wants of life." He insists, "All that which proceeds from man's independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man's dependence upon men is evil." What he wants is to be able to create his vision of the perfect building. He tells his mentor Cameron that he decided to be an architect because he does not believe in God. He builds, he claims, "Because I love this earth. That's all I love. I don't like the shape of things on this earth. I want to change them." He is willing to face criminal charges to maintain his integrity and his right to achieve his architectural vision.
His inability to compromise his ideals results in a difficult struggle to realize this vision. Society's rejection bothers him only in that it prevents him from this task, for he is never shaken in his confidence in himself and his abilities. In that sense, he is a static character in the novel. He learns a great deal about architecture during the course of the novel but nothing about himself, since he is fully formed when we first meet him after he is expelled from Stanton. Roark...
(The entire section is 283 words.)
Ellsworth Toohey, the architectural critic for The Banner, promotes collectivism and so condemns Roark's display of individualism, insisting that the architect's sensibility is inherently selfish. As a result, he attacks Roark in his column called "One Small Voice." Toohey claims humanitarian motives for his criticism of men like Roark. Yet his jealousy of their talent is the real cause of his efforts to destroy them. The narrator notes that when he was seven, Toohey had attacked a child who gained the attention he craved.
Toohey also tries to destroy Roark because the architect threatens the powerful position he enjoys. He has successfully passed himself off as a Marxist intellectual and has, as a result, developed a cult-like following. Toohey requires his disciples' blind obedience as he promotes his destructive form of communism, which requires a complete surrender of the self. Men like Roark whose success depends only on their own personal strength and vision point out the hollowness inherent in Toohey's philosophy.
(The entire section is 164 words.)
Another one of Toohey's followers, Gus Webb is, like Lois Cook, a shallow nonconformist architect. Unlike Roark, however, architect Webb has no creative spirit. He breaks the rules because he can, not because his vision compels him to. Devoted to the "international Style," he designs buildings that become a mere jumble of boxes without any structure or aesthetic value. He follows the rules of nonconformity as slavishly as traditionalists do. He does not wash regularly and breaks other accepted rules of behavior because that is what is expected of nonconformists. The shallowness of his devotion to "the workers' revolution" becomes apparent in his response to Roark's bombing of Cortlandt, when he comments, "I wish he'd blasted it when it was full of people—a few children blown to pieces—then you'd have something. Then I'd love it. The movement could use it."
(The entire section is 144 words.)
Wynand is a powerful newspaper mogul who, like Dominique, has a pessimistic view of the world, even though he was able to successfully escape New York's Hell's Kitchen. He has built up his financial empire by "giv[ing] people what they want," with little regard for integrity. When he discovers that quality in Roark, Wynand determines to help him succeed. Wynand is convinced that he can manipulate public opinion, and so supports Roark when he is tried for the Cortlandt bombing. When the public subsequently turns against him, he tells himself, "You were a ruler of men. You held a leash. A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends." Recognizing that his position is in jeopardy, he writes an editorial condemning Roark, which salvages his career but breaks his spirit. Wynand is a truly tragic figure in the novel. He recognizes greatness but does not have the strength of character to become what he admires in Roark.
(The entire section is 163 words.)
Keating works for Guy Francon, who heads the most successful architectural firm in the city. Francon has risen to the top not because of his talents, which are decidedly mediocre, but through the manipulation of others' abilities and through the development of keen sense of taste and style. Attuned to the latest trends, he gives the public what it wants, which is, when the novel opens, a reversion to the heavy ornamentation and flourishes of the classical era. His success has depended on his ability to copy that design. Although Francon is a second-hander, he does reflect positive social qualities: a sense of style and an appreciation of beauty, as his devotion to the classical age reflects. He also appreciates his daughter's independence and individuality. His ability to recognize the merit of these qualities prompts him to refuse to testify against Roark at his trial.
(The entire section is 147 words.)
Presenting herself as a nonconformist, Lois Cook breaks the rules of a society that she believes is trapped in conventionality. She does not try to fit standards of beauty or respectability. Yet her rebellion is shallow at heart. Instead of railing against social corruption or shoddy journalism, she instead chooses not to bathe regularly. She passes herself off as an intellectual but her writing, which breaks all the rules of grammar and form, ultimately is unintelligible.
Working class electrician Mike Donnigan refuses to be swayed by public opinion. Though possessing only an average intelligence, he recognizes the quality of Roark's work and the mediocrity of Francon's and Keating's. His friendship with Roark develops through their mutual appreciation of well-constructed buildings.
Peter Keating becomes engaged to Catherine Halsey, Toohey's niece. When Keating drops her for Dominique she turns to a life of altruism under her uncle's direction, submerging herself completely in her duty to others. As a result of giving up a sense of selfhood, she becomes a bitter old woman. By the end of the novel, she is a mean-spirited Washington bureaucrat, barking orders— "not big orders or cruel orders; just mean little ones—about plumbing and disinfectants."
Roark's benefactor, newspaper...
(The entire section is 300 words.)