The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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Characters Discussed

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Howard Roark

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

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.

Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand, newspaper publisher who turned the Banner into a crime-and-scandal sheet to appeal to the vulgar masses. A disappointed idealist, he first tries to corrupt Roark to confirm his pessimism about human nature. He is won over by Roark’s spirit and becomes his defender. Toohey, however, has so undermined Wynand’s position that he is forced to backtrack from his support for Roark. Although Wynand regains his wealth and power, his doing so at the expense of his integrity leaves him a tragically broken man.

Dominique Francon

Dominique Francon, the novel’s heroine. The daughter of a financially successful architect who is Peter’s first boss, she despises her father’s mediocrity and is cynical about the possibility of anybody having sufficient backbone to resist the pressures for conformity. She first allies with Toohey to destroy Roark because his work is “too good” for a corrupt society: she later tries to domesticate Roark via sexual seduction. She marries Peter Keating, then Gail Wynand. Her efforts to dominate Roark backfire, and at the novel’s conclusion they are married.

Henry Cameron

Henry Cameron, an embittered and neglected architectural genius apparently modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan. He is the one person whom Roark admires.

Austen Heller

Austen Heller, a popular newspaper columnist. He is Toohey’s opposite in values. He gives Roark his first major commission, is responsible for bringing Roark’s work to public attention, and remains Roark’s friend and defender through the novel.

Steven Mallory

Steven Mallory, a sculptor who becomes one of Roark’s closest friends because of their shared respect for the talented individual. Even more than Roark, he suffers professionally because of his independence. His statue of a nude Dominique is a masterpiece symbolizing the indomitability of the human spirit.

Characters

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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,...

(This entire section contains 266 words.)

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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 decision that Roark represents the highest man she can attain. For Rand, love should be this recognition of an individual's great worth, rather than a biological or emotional response.