Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
The Fountainhead was a surprise popular success that catapulted Ayn (pronounced to rhyme with “mine”) Rand to fame. Rand had been born Alice Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905, to an affluent and assimilated Jewish family. Early in her life, she rebelled against all religion, at age fourteen declaring herself an atheist. She was even more vehemently anti-Communist. In 1926, after her graduation from the University of Petrograd, she managed to leave the Soviet Union for the United States. She worked in Hollywood at a wide range of odd jobs before becoming a screenwriter. She wrote a play that under the title Night of January 16th opened on Broadway in 1935 for a successful half-year’s run. Her first novel, We the Living (1936), was a grim portrayal of the stultifying effects of the Soviet system upon the individual. Her second, Anthem, was a brief parable indicting a collectivist society dominated by a good-of-the-group ideology; it was published in Great Britain in 1938 but could not find an American publisher until 1953.
Rand appears to have begun work on The Fountainhead in 1934 in reaction against what she saw as the collectivist direction in which the New Deal was taking the United States. After she decided to make the hero, Howard Roark, an architect, she undertook intensive study of the field; she even worked, without pay, as a typist in the office of a prominent New York...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
One of the earliest reviews of The Fountainhead praised the work as “the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I can recall.” Yet Rand had no interest in so-called women’s issues, whether defined in traditionally conventional or feminist terms. The “motive and purpose of my writing,” she declared in a 1963 address on “The Goal of My Writing,” was “the projection of an ideal man.” A self-declared antifeminist, she went so far as to say that the “essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to a man.” The line that she drew between masculine and feminine, however, was defined by attitudes and values rather than biology. By all accounts, she was the dominant personality in her marriage, and there is no question that she regarded herself as the personification of the fictional ideal of the “self-sufficient ego.”
The Fountainhead was on the best-seller lists for twenty-six weeks in 1945. The release in 1949 of the Warner Bros. film version, starring Gary Cooper as Roark and Patricia Neal as Dominique, gave a renewed boost to sales. By 1962 the novel had sold a half million copies in hardcover and over a million in paperback. This popularity was attributable partly to Rand’s talents as a storyteller and partly to her success in making her readers feel as if they, too, were among the unappreciated elect. Much of the reason for its success, however, lay in the mood of the time. Rand...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*New York City
*New York City. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, New York City was an exciting place for architecture. Skyscrapers were new to the city and the world at large; the first one had been built in Chicago in 1883. Soon, however, New York was the leader in skyscraper building. Ayn Rand was fascinated by skyscrapers, towering toward the sky, and felt they were among humankind’s greatest achievements. She endowed Roark with this fascination but coupled it with her ideas of Objectivism—an egoist view in which all human actions are self-serving. Throughout the book, Roark thinks only of the things that matter to him—his architecture being paramount—and the only place he can do this is in New York City.
Rand chose New York because real-life skyscrapers were being constructed there, and the chance for conflict would therefore be high. The conflict between Peter Keating and his old-fashioned style and Roark and his modern design methods drives the story. The buildings they design together reveal this conflict.
Cortlandt homes. Low-income housing project that Roark designs with Keating’s support. Even though Keating claims credit for the project, Roark sees it as a way to design something of which he can be proud. Throughout the book Roark finds himself at odds with the established style of design. When Ellsworth Toohey alters Roark’s design while Roark is on vacation, Roark...
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The Great Depression
The Great Depression held America in its grip during the 1930s. The depression was a severe economic crisis that occurred in the United States after the stock market crash of 1929. The impact on Americans was staggering. In 1933, the worst year, unemployment rose to sixteen million, about one third of the available labor force. During the early months, men and women searched eagerly and diligently for any type of work. However, after several months of no sustained employment, they became discouraged and often gave up. President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt's New Deal policies, which offered the country substantial economic relief, helped mitigate the effects of the depression, but the recovery was not complete until the government channeled money into the war effort in the early 1940s.
The Red Decade
During the Great Depression, impoverished Americans began to doubt whether they would ever attain the American dream of success. As a result, the traditional spirit of individualism began to be replaced by communal sentiment. This new zeitgeist (spirit of the age) had important political repercussions: the repeal of Prohibition, the rise of labor organizations, and the institution of social safety nets, most notable after the Social Security Act was passed. Social reformers such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelly, who had helped...
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Rand was a great admirer of Aristotle especially his literary theories. She believed that a novel should exhibit an Aristotelian logic, that all of its parts (plot, characters, and setting) should unite to reveal theme, reflected through and controlled by the imagination of the author. In her The Romantic Manifesto, she insists that these parts, or "attributes" as she calls them "unite into so integrated a sum that no starting point can be discerned." In a letter to Gerald Loeb she declares, "A STORY IS AN END IN ITSELF.... It is written as a man is born—an organic whole, dictated only by its own laws and its own necessity." Stephen Cox writes in his book on The Fountainhead, as noted by scholar Chris Sciabarra, that Rand's fiction reveals this "startling intensity of integration." The Fountainhead exhibits this organic unity as the characters, who reflect Rand's philosophy, come into conflict with each other that results in an ultimate justification of her beliefs in a setting that symbolizes those beliefs.
The title of the novel symbolizes the character of Howard Roark and Rand's insistence that men like him should be considered the source of all human progress, as the fountainhead is the source of a river. She suggests that an independent spirit coupled with a creative imagination will produce an ideal man who...
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Rand's visualizations of society are radically different from the majority of those embodied in most popular fiction. Her Objectivist philosophy encourages nonconformity and the acceptance of no constraints over an individual's reason. Howard Roark, the brilliant architect hero of this work, accepts no precedents for his designs, and has no interest in what society wants from architecture. Rather than studying Greek or Renaissance designs, he leaves the school of architecture and strikes out on his own, designing his unorthodox buildings for those clients who have the worth to see the brilliance and functionality of his buildings.
Rand's works are essentially studies of these few, scattered, brilliant individuals against the whole of society, which is usually depicted as, at best, ignorant and uncaring, and at worst, actively working to destroy those of great ability. Mediocrity, the power of pull, and the ability to repeat what has been done before, without dangerous innovation, often result in elevation in the society found in Rand's works. Peter Keating, merely competent as an architect, is extremely successful, while Roark must scrape along from client to client, often behind on his bills as he waits for those rare clients of vision equal to his own. Keating is "safe," while Roark is brilliant but unstable because he insists on the clarity of his own vision. The Fountainhead is antisocial, in that it extols the virtues of a few far-thinking...
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Compare and Contrast
1930s: Joseph Stalin is the oppressive dictator of the Soviet Union. His reign of terror lasts for two more decades.
Today: In 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev orders the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and a new Commonwealth of Independent States is formed by the countries that formerly made up the U.S.S.R.
1930s: Germany invades Poland in 1939 and World War II begins.
Today: George W. Bush declares a war on terrorism after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in September 2001.
1930s: America and the world is in the grips of a severe economic depression.
Today: America sees one of its strongest economic booms in the 1990s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, that boom is now over, but, even on the brink of a recession, the economy is very stable.
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Topics for Further Study
View the film version of The Fountainhead and critique it. Is Rand's philosophy of objectivism as evident in the film as it is in the novel? Are the characters believable? What changes would you make in the film to improve it?
Compare Rand's political themes in her novel We The Living with the more social focus in The Fountainhead.
Research the development of the skyscraper. Was there as much resistance to this new form of architecture as there is in the novel? Who were the innovative architects during the early part of the century in America? Did they also struggle for recognition and acceptance of their designs?
In the novel, Rand condemns collectivism. Find arguments that support this movement and any examples that you can find of successful versions of it.
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Techniques / Literary Precedents
As a writer, Rand set for herself the unusual task of presenting philosophical theory in a dramatic fashion. Most philosophers have outlined their theories in treatises, and Rand herself concentrated on these nonfictional presentations after Atlas Shrugged (1957). While difficult, philosophy that has been dramatized may be enormously effective, as evidenced by Rand's work. In her fiction, characters espousing pro- or anti-Objectivist ideals speak at length on their philosophies, but additionally, the dramatic action in each work illustrates these speeches and the alternations of idea and action are perfectly intermeshed. The culmination of Rand's work, the radio speech delivered by John Gait in Atlas Shrugged, would be as difficult to understand as a typical philosophical treatise if it were delivered out of context. The reader easily apprehends it in this case because he has followed the book's plot line; he has seen what happened, and Gait's speech, explains why it happened.
Rand described herself as one of the last practitioners of the Romantic school of fiction, a school typified by writers such as Victor Hugo and Feodor Dostoevski. The Romantic conception of life is quite different from later literary phases such as Realism (exemplified by Gustave Flaubert) and Naturalism (as written by Emile Zola or Stephen Crane). Where the two latter schools depict people as they are typically found, Romanticism depicts the ideal; where Realism and...
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Rand adapted two of her novels for other media, only one of which is available for comparison. (The Unconquered, an adaptation of We the Living, was produced on Broadway in 1940, but is unpublished.) In 1949, The Fountainhead, for which Rand had done the film script, was released by Warner Brothers. Directed by King Vidor and starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey, the movie represents a triumph of sorts for Rand, who battled the studio, the stars, and the censor (the Johnson Office) to present her ideas without dilution. It may also represent a common pitfall: An author is often too close to a work to successfully adapt it for the screen. Reviews on the film are mixed, ranging from those condemning it as high-flown nonsense to those who describe it as ambitious but not completely successful.
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The Fountainhead, the film version of the novel, was released by Warner Brothers in 1949 and directed by King Vidor. The film stars Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.
An audio version of The Fountainhead was released by Blackstone Audio Books in 1995 and read by Christopher Hurt.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z (1990), edited by Harry Binswanger, is a collection of her writings that expresses her philosophy of objectivism.
Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1957) presents another independent hero that lives by the author's objectivist philosophy.
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) offers a compelling argument for collectivism, a movement Rand condemns in The Fountainhead.
Rand's We the Living, her most autobiographical novel, presents her philosophy from a more political point of view.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Berliner, Michael S., Letters of Ayn Rand, Plume, 1997.
Deane, Paul, "Ayn Rand's Neurotic Personalities of Our Times", in Revue des langues vivantes, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, 1970, pp. 125-29.
Gladstein, Mimi Reisel, The Ayn Rand Companion, Greenwood Press, 1984, pp. 26, 36, 46, 56.
Gordon, Philip, “The Extroflective Hero: A Look at Ayn Rand," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 10, No. 4, Spring 1977, pp. 701-10.
Miller, Laurence, "Ayn Rand," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 227: American Novelists Since World War II, Sixth Series, The Gale Group, 2000, pp. 251-60.
Peikoff, Leonard, Afterword, in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, Signet, 1993.
Pruette, Lorine, "Battle against Evil," in New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1943.
Rand, Ayn, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, New American Library, 1966.
Rand, Ayn, “The Objectivist Ethics," in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, 1964.
Rothman, N. L., "H. Roark, Architect," in Saturday Review, May 29, 1943.
Sciabarra, Chris Matthew, "Ayn Rand," in American Writers Supplement 4, Scribners, 1966, pp. 517-35.
Sobran, Joseph, "Mussolini Shrugged," in National Review, Vol. XLI,...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Baker, James T. Ayn Rand. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An objective study of Rand’s career. Includes brief descriptions and analyses of her major works of fiction and drama. One chapter succinctly describes the main themes and ideas expressed in her written work.
Branden, Barbara. The Passion of Ayn Rand. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1986. Branden’s biography of Rand is based partly on her own association with Rand (including the extensive interviews she had with Rand while preparing the biographical sketch published in Who Is Ayn Rand?) and partly on interviews with more than two hundred people about their relations with Rand. Branden appears to have done substantial research in available documentary materials, but the absence of footnotes makes it impossible to pinpoint her sources of information.
Branden, Nathaniel, and Barbara Branden. Who Is Ayn Rand? New York: Random House, 1962. The Brandens were Rand’s closest associates in the Objectivist movement until she broke with them in 1968. Barbara Branden’s biographical essay is based upon information provided by Rand herself and thus reflects the version of her life that she wanted to present to the world. Nathaniel Branden’s contributions include an examination of Rand’s literary methodology, as analysis of the significance of her ideas for psychology, and “The...
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