Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1183
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 house, whereupon he leaves the quarry job.
Toohey writes a favorable column about Keating’s work and asks to meet him, and then he suggests that Keating head a group of young architects. He also acknowledges Keating’s engagement to Halsey. Dominique tells Keating that she no longer wants to see him because he is the best of what there is, and she does not approve of perfection. She sees plans for the Enright house, not knowing it is Roark’s work or even that Roark is an architect, and tells Toohey that the man who designed it should not allow it to be built because it will not be appreciated. Roark agrees to go to a party because he knows that Dominique will be there and will not expect to see him. They pretend not to know each other. Afterward, she writes a column disparaging the Enright house, having found out that it is his design. She also persuades a potential client not to hire him. She goes to Roark’s office and tells him that she will continue to try to destroy him. She wants him to own her, however, and she tells him that she will come to him every time she beats him. She continues to denigrate his work in her newspaper columns, and she persuades clients to use Keating instead.
Toohey convinces multimillionaire Hopton Stoddard to let Roark design an interdenominational temple for him and to give Roark a completely free hand in the design. Stoddard, a traditionalist, does not see the building until it is completed; he then refuses to open it. Stoddard sees it as inappropriate for a temple, in part because of the nude statue of Dominique that Roark commissions for it. Toohey persuades Stoddard to sue Roark; Toohey’s plan all along was to destroy Roark’s reputation. Stoddard wins the lawsuit, and Dominique is fired for testifying at the trial that the building should be destroyed, not because it is faulty but because it is too good.
Keating proposes marriage to Halsey, but Dominique proposes to him later that day and he accepts. Dominique tells Roark that she believes that he will be destroyed because he is too near perfection and that she will destroy herself before she is destroyed by others. About a year later, she agrees to sleep with the newspaper publisher Gail Wynand to get a commission for her husband, Keating. She and Wynand take a trip to Wynand’s yacht, but they begin talking before they sleep together. They discover that they have similar ideas and agree to be married.
Toohey assembles mediocre workers in various professions and promotes their work because he believes in the value of the average. Keating’s business declines. When he complains that Toohey promoted another architect, Toohey claims that Keating and the others are interchangeable. Desperate for work, Keating hires Roark to design a low-income housing project so that Keating can submit the plans to the government. Roark undertakes the project for the challenge; he knows that with his reputation he can never land a government contract. He makes Keating agree to construct the buildings exactly as designed.
Wynand and Dominique recognize the new project as Roark’s work. Wynand and Roark become friends, and they take a trip on Wynand’s yacht. When they return, Roark sees that other architects have been brought onto the housing project. When he sees that the buildings are different from his plans, he dynamites them, with Dominique’s help. Wynand does everything he can to help Roark at his criminal trial, even though he knows that Roark’s victory will cost him Dominique. Toohey manages to get a column opposing Roark into print. Wynand fires him, prompting a strike at the paper.
Dominique arranges for news of the affair between her and Roark to become public, and Wynand agrees to file for divorce. Roark wins his acquittal. Wynand closes the newspaper and then hires Roark to design a building for him; Wynand does this to symbolize his new freedom from trying to please people with his publications. Roark and Dominique marry.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 733
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 Dominique Francon, a beautiful, intelligent woman, who despises the world for its worship of mediocrity. Rand once described Dominique as “myself in a bad mood.” Dominique destroys the beautiful art objects she loves in order to keep the world from ruining them. Roark and Dominique come to love each other deeply, but their acts of love are savage. In New York Roark and Dominique develop a unique romance. Dominique believes that the world will destroy Roark as it destroys every person or thing of integrity. Rather than see him end up like Cameron, she tries to ruin his career before it starts. Her charm and wit, as well as the newspaper column she writes, turn potential clients away from Roark.
Dominique’s campaign against Roark brings him to the attention of architectural critic Ellsworth M. Toohey, a selfless humanitarian. As one would expect from Rand, Toohey is the novel’s villain. He and Dominique collaborate against Roark but for different reasons. Toohey hates Roark because he is great, and greatness is an affront to the average man.
Despairing of any personal happiness, Dominique enters into two loveless marriages, one to Peter Keating and the other to newspaper publisher Gail Wynand. Wynand is a might-have-been Rand hero—a slum boy who became a self-made millionaire. Wynand has Roark’s brains and drive but not his independence. Wynand’s tabloid newspapers control mass opinion by selling news to the lowest common denominator. Despite their differences, Wynand and Roark eventually become friends.
Peter Keating receives a commission for the Cortland Building, a public housing project. Roark actually designs it, demanding only that Keating ensure that the building follows Roark’s plans exactly. Keating fails in this, and the resulting building travesties Roark’s design. Roark, having no legal recourse, dynamites the Cortland building.
Following Roark’s arrest, Wynand puts all his power behind Roark, and his power evaporates. Wynand’s control over public opinion is a sham—the public listened to him only when his papers preached what they wanted to hear. Wynand thought he had the world on a leash, but “a leash is a rope with a noose at both ends.”
At his trial, Roark defends himself with a speech expressing the novel’s intellectual core. The man who invented fire, it begins, “was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light.” Civilization was built by a few creative minds—always facing public disapproval. Roark argues that he blew up a housing project which only he could have created. The jurors acquit Roark, who marries Dominique at last. Wynand gives him a commission to design the greatest skyscraper in the world.