The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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Part 1, Chapters 1-3 Summary

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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,” Roark has been expelled. This does not particularly bother Roark because he feels he has learned all that the Institute is capable of teaching him. As for his career in architecture, Roark does not see himself as a servant of his client. Rather, Roark sees himself as an artist who must teach his client to appreciate his designs.

Peter Keating graduates from the Stanford Institute as the leading scholar of the class of 1922. Guy Francon has offered him a job with his architectural firm, but Keating has also won a scholarship to the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. Keating is torn between the two; he knows what a great honor it is to be selected by Francon. He returns to his home to find Howard Roark sitting on the porch. Keating asks Roark his advice, but Roark refuses to give it. Mrs. Keating intrudes on the conversation, giving her advice that if Keating does not accept Francon’s offer, the job will be given to Keating’s arch rival. Keating reflects that architecture had not been his first choice. He had wanted to be an artist, but his mother had urged him to take a more practical course. Roark announces that he is going to work for Henry Cameron, who is a disgraced architect with shabby offices on the waterfront. He believes that at Cameron’s he will be able to build rather than copy the past. Keating leaves to join some other students for a night on the town in Boston.

On his first day with Francon’s firm, Keating arrives to find himself a small cog in a large machine. He tries to make some connection with the other people in the company, and there is some promise of future friendships. He learns that the buildings are no longer designed by Francon but by Stengel. Stengel himself gives Keating a rendition of a mansion he has designed; Keating is to take it up to Francon. When Keating enters Francon’s office, Francon repeatedly calls him “Kittredge.” When Francon asks for his opinion of Stengel’s model, Keating gives some suggestions with which Francon readily agrees. This gives Keating the confidence to correct Francon when he calls him Kittredge. This boldness impresses Francon, who reveals that he is not as impressed with Stengel as Stengel is with himself. Keating feels that his success at Francon’s firm is assured.

Howard Roark walks into Henry Cameron’s shabby office. Cameron, who has lost his prestige as an architect due to his contempt for the traditional designs, now struggles to support himself. He believes that Roark has come to ask for a job because he is a failure. When Roark shows him some of the drawings that led to his expulsion from Stanford, Cameron changes his mind. Although he berates Roark, he is secretly impressed and gives him a job, starting the next day.

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Part 1, Chapters 4-6 Summary