The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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The complexity of Howard Roark's character in "The Fountainhead" regarding his perceived selflessness and the implications of his actions when he refuses a major contract


Howard Roark's complexity in The Fountainhead lies in his paradoxical selflessness, which is rooted in his individualism. His refusal of a major contract underscores his commitment to his architectural principles over personal gain, illustrating that his actions, though seemingly selfless, are driven by a profound dedication to his own ideals and vision.

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In The Fountainhead, why is Howard Roark often called selfless?

To begin let me say that your question is somewhat misleading.  I don't believe "many people" called Howard Roark selfless.  Most of the conflict in the book is brought about by people who believe that Roark is arrogant and selfish.  There is a section in "The Fountainhead" were, if the reader doesn't understand Roark's character, he could appear to be selfless.  In chapter 15 Peter Keating is reaping the rewards for a design he did not create.  He had gotten the design from Roark.  He knows that Roark is about to lose his business.  Peter goes to Roark and tries to give him a check to smooth over the guilt he is feeling for "borrowing" Roark's design.  Roark refuses the money.  This may seem selfless to some, but the reader must understand why Roark refuses help and assistance from others.  It is not because he is "selfless," it is because he is "selfish." 

Howard Roark refuses to bend his value system for anyone or anything.  If it means he can never build a single building, he will not change his designs and won't bow to pressure. 

"In her preliminary notes for the novel, Rand comments that Roark contains an "utter selfishness"— an "iron conviction" to "be himself at any cost—the only thing he really wants of life." He insists, "All that which proceeds from man's independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man's dependence upon men is evil."

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In The Fountainhead, is Howard Roark selfish or selfless when refusing a major contract?

Howard Roark is a static character in that he never "develops" by learning more about himself or conquering his inner obstacles to self realization or fulfillment. His overriding character traits are his unshakable belief in himself and his vision coupled with his rootedness in self-integrity and individualism.

When Roark turns down the lucrative contract, his reason is that the contract would require him to violate his architectural vision, which would be a betrayal of his personal integrity and an abandonment of his individuality. Therefore, his act was one of pure selfishness in that he was thinking only of himself with no thought to the broader picture or to connected concerns. Others could see it as "selfless" from their perspective because they didn't grasp the motivating force behind his actions.

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