The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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Rand's self-stated theme in this work is "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man's soul." More specifically, the work rebukes the collectivization of art and the lack of respect for the innovator, the true genius. In some cases, new developments in art (specifically modern architecture in this novel) are simply unfamiliar and are shunned for that reason. Some people, however, the truly depraved, recognize the brilliance of new developments but set out to destroy them because they are incapable of duplicating them. Keating hates Roark because he knows that Roark is the superior architect; Ellsworth Toohey, a newspaper columnist, fights Roark by supporting Keating's mediocrity and attacking Roark's brilliantly designed buildings.

Roark ultimately is victorious against all of the odds against him, and Rand affirms that every man has the spark of brilliance within himself. By the conclusion of the work, Roark has triumphed over Keating and Toohey, and has converted society to his point of view. The true innovator, Rand seems to say, may be sure of the inevitability of his work and can wait patiently for the recognition he deserves.


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Rand believed that "reason is man's only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action." She called her philosophy "objectivism" because she wanted to promote a sense of objective reality based on the power to reason. In the novel, Roark exhibits reason as he determines what nourishes his ego and thus sustains his life. The main quality that accomplishes these ends is his individualism. Throughout the novel, he continually refuses to allow others to alter his vision or to dictate the terms of his success.

Rand suggested that those who choose not to think rationally and look to others for guidance become second-handers as they refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. Peter Keating is the prime example of this type of individual. His insecurity prompts his lapses in reason as he tries to pass off Roark's work as his own. His inability to determine proper values and proper action results in his destruction.

Individualism versus Collectivism
Rand presents her philosophy of the merits of individualism and collectivism through two of her main characters: Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey. She champions individualism in her depiction of Roark, whose nobility rests in large part on his determination not to be influenced by others, especially in regards to his creative vision. Roark emphasizes that individuality fosters self-sufficiency, which enables him to successfully produce artistic architectural structures. Rand insisted in a 1934 letter to H. L. Mencken (as published in the Letters of Ayn Rand, edited by Michael S. Berliner), "I believe that man will always be an individualist, whether he knows it or not, and I want to make it my duty to make him know it" (Berliner, ed.).

Collectivism, which depends on self-sacrifice to the good of the group, becomes destructive in the characterization of Toohey and his followers. Toohey promotes this philosophy only to gain control of his followers who he has convinced to give up their individuality in their devotion to the welfare of others. This exploitative system requires followers to subordinate themselves to the will of other people. The resulting self-abnegation undermines the honesty of the self and the human spirit.

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Chapter Summaries