The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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Part 4, Chapters 7-9 Summary

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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 can come up with some decent designs. He warns him that Cortland Homes must be affordable and easy to maintain: they need a “millionaire’s kitchen for a sharecropper’s income.” Keating gratefully accepts and goes back to his office. When he receives the specifications from Toohey, he realizes that this project is more than he can adequately accomplish. He calls to make an appointment with Howard Roark; he hopes Roark will refuse to see him, but he does not. An appointment is scheduled for the following day.

Roark and Keating discuss the plans for the Cortland housing project. Roark is frustrated that, because it is a government project and under strict controls, people who make fifteen dollars a week will have nicer homes than will those who make forty dollars a week. This is rewarding the incompetent at the expense of the competent. Roark accepts the deal—but not for any sense of humanitarianism nor from kindness in doing Keating a favor. He agrees to draw the designs simply for the love of designing. He will not accept any money from Keating, only Keating’s promise that the project will be constructed strictly according to his plans. Roark is pleased when he sees that the joy of designing is the greatest reward. Keating shows Roark some of his paintings. Roark tells him that it is too late. For the first time in his life, Roark feels pity for another human being as Keating leaves his office, crushed at the lost opportunities of his life.

Roark designs the Cortland Homes in such an economical way that the rent for each unit will go for ten dollars a month. When Ellsworth Toohey sees the designs, he says Keating is a genius. Wynand sees the designs in the paper and argues with Roark. Wynand threatens to publish the information in his paper that Roark is the true designer of the Cortland project, but Roark says he will sue if this happens. Wynand orders his papers to promote Roark, but this backfires because the Wynand papers have lost credibility. Wynand takes Roark to Hell’s Kitchen, his birthplace, to show him the spot where he wants Roark to build a skyscraper that will change the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood. This is the building for which both of them have been born.

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