The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead suffers from many of the weaknesses of pulp fiction. Rand’s characters are for the most part one-dimensional. On one side are the strong and independent-minded and thus by definition the virtuous; on the other side are the villainous and, equally bad or even worse, the weak. Rand leaves no question about where any character falls. She has Peter Keating, for example, frankly admit, “I am a parasite.” The physical features of the characters typically indicate their personalities. Roark is accordingly described as gray-eyed, with striking orange hair, a contemptuous mouth, and a sure and self-sufficient air. Even names are often a similar indicator. Ellsworth Toohey sounds like “all’s worth hooey,” while Keating rhymes with “cheating” and “bleating.” Furthermore, making Roark an architect has its own special symbolic significance: Rand identifies skyscrapers with the human conquest of nature.

Roark is widely believed to have been modeled upon Frank Lloyd Wright. Rand was a Wright admirer; she even had him draw up preliminary plans of a house for her. Yet The Fountainhead was consciously written as a novel of ideas—a defense of what Rand termed the principle of “supreme egoism” as the source of all progress. All of her major fictional works follow the same plot line: a protagonist of extraordinary ability and determination resisting the forces of collectivism. That clash is equated with the struggle of the productive against the parasitic. An accompanying corollary is that most people not only lack any creativity or originality but also are bitterly jealous of the talented few. “The ‘common good’ of a collective—a race, a class, a state—was the claim and justification of every tyranny ever established over men,” Rand underlines in The Fountainhead. “Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive. . . . The most dreadful butchers were the most sincere. They believed in the perfect society reached through the guillotine and the firing squad.”

Rand’s philosophy is summed up in Roark’s successful defense of selfishness at his trial. The source of all progress, he explains, is the creative individual. The resulting benefits to humanity have been by-products of individual egoism. “No creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers, for his brothers rejected the gift he offered and that gift destroyed the slothful routine of their lives.” The creator works for the joy of creation, the work being the end in itself. Only by living for oneself can one attain the heights of achievement. “There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought.” Roark spells out as his guiding credo, “I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my time. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need . . . I recognize no obligation toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society.”

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Critical Evaluation