Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Fountainhead was a surprise popular success that catapulted Ayn (pronounced to rhyme with “mine”) Rand to fame. Rand had been born Alice Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905, to an affluent and assimilated Jewish family. Early in her life, she rebelled against all religion, at age fourteen declaring herself an atheist. She was even more vehemently anti-Communist. In 1926, after her graduation from the University of Petrograd, she managed to leave the Soviet Union for the United States. She worked in Hollywood at a wide range of odd jobs before becoming a screenwriter. She wrote a play that under the title Night of January 16th opened on Broadway in 1935 for a successful half-year’s run. Her first novel, We the Living (1936), was a grim portrayal of the stultifying effects of the Soviet system upon the individual. Her second, Anthem, was a brief parable indicting a collectivist society dominated by a good-of-the-group ideology; it was published in Great Britain in 1938 but could not find an American publisher until 1953.

Rand appears to have begun work on The Fountainhead in 1934 in reaction against what she saw as the collectivist direction in which the New Deal was taking the United States. After she decided to make the hero, Howard Roark, an architect, she undertook intensive study of the field; she even worked, without pay, as a typist in the office of a prominent New York architect. One publisher after another turned down the manuscript before an editor at the Indianapolis-based firm of Bobbs-Merrill took a chance on it. Although the first reviews—including those in such influential periodicals as Saturday Review of...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

One of the earliest reviews of The Fountainhead praised the work as “the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I can recall.” Yet Rand had no interest in so-called women’s issues, whether defined in traditionally conventional or feminist terms. The “motive and purpose of my writing,” she declared in a 1963 address on “The Goal of My Writing,” was “the projection of an ideal man.” A self-declared antifeminist, she went so far as to say that the “essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to a man.” The line that she drew between masculine and feminine, however, was defined by attitudes and values rather than biology. By all accounts, she was the dominant personality in her marriage, and there is no question that she regarded herself as the personification of the fictional ideal of the “self-sufficient ego.”

The Fountainhead was on the best-seller lists for twenty-six weeks in 1945. The release in 1949 of the Warner Bros. film version, starring Gary Cooper as Roark and Patricia Neal as Dominique, gave a renewed boost to sales. By 1962 the novel had sold a half million copies in hardcover and over a million in paperback. This popularity was attributable partly to Rand’s talents as a storyteller and partly to her success in making her readers feel as if they, too, were among the unappreciated elect. Much of the reason for its success, however, lay in the mood of the time. Rand...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, New York City was an exciting place for architecture. Skyscrapers were new to the city and the world at large; the first one had been built in Chicago in 1883. Soon, however, New York was the leader in skyscraper building. Ayn Rand was fascinated by skyscrapers, towering toward the sky, and felt they were among humankind’s greatest achievements. She endowed Roark with this fascination but coupled it with her ideas of Objectivism—an egoist view in which all human actions are self-serving. Throughout the book, Roark thinks only of the things that matter to him—his architecture being paramount—and the only place he can do this is in New York City.

Rand chose New York because real-life skyscrapers were being constructed there, and the chance for conflict would therefore be high. The conflict between Peter Keating and his old-fashioned style and Roark and his modern design methods drives the story. The buildings they design together reveal this conflict.

Cortlandt homes

Cortlandt homes. Low-income housing project that Roark designs with Keating’s support. Even though Keating claims credit for the project, Roark sees it as a way to design something of which he can be proud. Throughout the book Roark finds himself at odds with the established style of design. When Ellsworth Toohey alters Roark’s design while Roark is on vacation, Roark...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Gary Coper as Howard Roark in the 1948 film version of the novel Published by Gale Cengage

The Great Depression
The Great Depression held America in its grip during the 1930s. The depression was a severe...

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Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Rand was a great admirer of Aristotle especially his literary theories. She...

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Rand's visualizations of society are radically different from the majority of those embodied in most popular fiction. Her Objectivist...

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Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1930s: Joseph Stalin is the oppressive dictator of the Soviet Union. His reign of terror lasts for two more decades.


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Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

View the film version of The Fountainhead and critique it. Is Rand's philosophy of objectivism as evident in the film as it is in the...

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Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As a writer, Rand set for herself the unusual task of presenting philosophical theory in a dramatic fashion. Most philosophers have outlined...

(The entire section is 436 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Rand adapted two of her novels for other media, only one of which is available for comparison. (The Unconquered, an adaptation of...

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Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Fountainhead, the film version of the novel, was released by Warner Brothers in 1949 and directed by King Vidor. The film stars...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z (1990), edited by Harry Binswanger, is a collection of her writings that expresses her...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)


Berliner, Michael S., Letters of Ayn Rand, Plume, 1997.

Deane, Paul, "Ayn Rand's...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Baker, James T. Ayn Rand. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An objective study of Rand’s career. Includes brief descriptions and analyses of her major works of fiction and drama. One chapter succinctly describes the main themes and ideas expressed in her written work.

Branden, Barbara. The Passion of Ayn Rand. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1986. Branden’s biography of Rand is based partly on her own association with Rand (including the extensive interviews she had with Rand while preparing the biographical sketch published in Who Is Ayn Rand?) and partly on interviews with more than two hundred people about their relations with...

(The entire section is 459 words.)