The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead is, and I suspect always will be, another one of those books by Ayn Rand.  Her violently individualistic nature is presented in this book with absolutely no niceties being made, subtleties non-existent and her absolute hatred of socialism permeating every facet.  And, still, it’s an impressive read and one a person should not miss.

It is a story “about a hero-and about those who try to destroy him.” (from the back of the book)  The hero, in this case, is a redheaded architect named Howard Roark.  Kicked out of college for refusing to design buildings in a nondescript classic way he pursues a career in architecture and to make buildings his way.  The world is against him it would seem and that is mostly due to a newspaperman- Elsworth Toohey.

As the writer of a humble column titled “One Small Voice”, Toohey feigns subservience to people.  Not some people but ALL people and thus propagates this image of him as one who stands up for everyone at the expense of himself.  He never does anything for himself, is what he tells people, but rather for others until those individuals reach such a place in society which enables Toohey to pursue his ultimate goal. [I am not going to tell you what it is for that would be a spoiler of epic proportions.]

The story is about an individual who has no need to assert himself anywhere as anything other than who he is.  Roark repeatedly says he doesn’t feel anger from being cast as a pariah in his field of expertise, not in that deep down embittered manner- it only goes “so deep”.  He is self-contained, self-possessed and quite lacking in self-righteousness until the end of the book.

Even when he is confronted by his lover, Dominique Francon, and informed she has married someone else Roark holds steadfastly to his individualist ideals.  As she declares it, while also telling Roark she would divorce her husband and instead marry him, he holds to his principles and philosophy.  It is, perhaps, one of the most wonderful cases made for selfishness I’ve ever read and in a manner which shows value to both individuals.

…We never need to say anything when we’re together.  This is-for the time when we won’t be together.  I love you, Dominique.  As selfishly as the fact that I exist.  As selfishly as my lungs breathe air.  I breathe for my own necessity, for the fuel of my body, for my survival.  I’ve given you, not my sacrifice or my pity, but my ego and my naked need.  This is the only way you can wish to be loved.  This is the only way I can want you to love me.  If you married me now, I would become your whole existence.  But I would not want you then.  You would not want yourself-and so you would not love me long.  To say ‘I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘I.’…”

While the book focuses upon Roark’s career and the difficulties he is forced to endure, the above paragraph is ultimately what the book is about.  The courage to stand up and say “this is who I am and these are MY accomplishments” in a world where “two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two”.  It is about self ownership and the trials one might go through in order to maintain that.

In some ways it’s a more difficult read than Atlas Shrugged for Rand’s ideas hadn’t yet become fully formed, nor her anger and resentment over what occurred in the country of her birth gone yet from her heart.  It is still an excellent book which leads the reader to ask many questions of themselves and, perhaps, create within them the desire to always evaluate how they come to the opinions they do.  I close this review rather uncharacteristically with a quote from Nietzsche as it sums up the character of Roark.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

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