The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

     The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand is a complex philosophical novel about being honest with oneself. A concept expressed by Hamlet in six words took Ayn Rand 700 pages to explain. “To thine own self be true” is read, remembered, and quoted by millions, but few understand the conceptual implications of the phrase to the extent articulated by Ms Rand.

 
    The idea that man becomes great through his or her own powers of accomplishment and capacity to create permeates the book as Howard Roark decidedly stands up to a society that constantly rewards inept ability. Peter Keating, a college acquaintance of Roark’s, is the poster child of social achievement by means of complete and utter inability. After reading one of Toohey’s books Keating “… was certain that it was profound, because he didn’t understand it.” Keating was the perfect victim for Toohey to destroy by means of giving him all he ever wanted without requiring him to earn a bit of it!
 
     As Rand’s designated devil’s advocate, Ellsworth Toohey devotes his live to destroying men of talent. His goal is to gain complete control over society by simply taking away their facility to judge a man by his works. Toohey preaches unselfishness, giving, and altruism but only because he knows that these things will incapacitate society’s ability to make decisions for themselves. In a heated confession to Peter Keating, Toohey explains his motives, “Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within… Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you. Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. Take away from them whatever is dear or important to them. Never let them have what they want. Make them feel that the mere fact of a personal desire is evil.”
 
     The complex character of Gail Wynand proves a very valid point in the discussion of a person’s capabilities and his understanding of himself. Wynand was, without question, a very capable man. He lived the American dream and built an empire from the back steps of a newsroom. As the most successful newspaper owner in the country Wynand was a man of great skill. However; his abilities, unlike Roark’s, were put to use satisfying all the wrong motives. Rather than being true to his own values, desires, and happiness he sought power and revenge over the people who wronged him. His efforts to redeem his behavior were in vain as he failed to save Howard Roark.
 
     One would like to believe there are Howard Roark’s still born today; someone who stands up to his ideals at the cost of everything. Unlike Toohey, Roark never studied philosophy, or politics, or religion but he had a meticulously concrete understanding of the power and effect of the human mind. After refusing to accept Keating’s apology Roark states, “I don’t think a man can hurt another, not in any important way. Neither hurt him nor help him.” As a true individualist Roark never blamed his problems, OR HIS SUCCESSES, on anyone else. He took full responsibility for the direction of his life and the path he decided to follow. He understood the importance of standing by his own abilities rather than copying and stealing ideas from others.  Roark had integrity, (“Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn’t borrow or pawn.”) and he never let it falter.
 
     Unfortunately, Dominique (the only substantial female voice in the book) was a rather failing character. In thousands of well written words about accomplishment, hard work, individualism, happiness, love, and human ability Dominique does nothing, save be in love with Howard Roark, to establish her as a worthy partner for a great man.  Ayn Rand fails to give Dominique a purpose in life, an aspiration, or a real reason for living to be happy. Dominique does nothing but sit back and waste her life looking for something to live for. After finding Roark she decides to live for him, mostly by doing absolutely nothing. For years she lives shut away in Wynands penthouse and later his country estate fulfilling the life of a self proclaimed martyr. Her abilities are not in question here, she was talented, smart, opinionated and influential but she chooses to do nothing but sit and wait. One may argue that her patience was necessary for Roark to achieve his greatness but the entire notion of the book is that people should live for the sake of accomplishing their dreams and developing their talents and abilities. Dominique did none of it.
 
     The Fountainhead was as inspirational and motivating as it was entertaining and enjoyable. I can even forgive the flawed character of Dominique, knowing that Rand redeemed herself with the character of Dagny Taggert in Atlas Shrugged. I closed the book feeling encouraged to analyze my beliefs and my dreams and to decidedly live up to them!
 
Following are some of my favorite quotes and discussions from The Fountainhead:
 
Toohey -  “Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul – and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man.”
 
Lansing (one of Toohey’s cronies) -“when facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most has the least to say.”
 
 “Alvah Scarret had never hated anything, and so was incapable of love.”
 
“As a matter of fact, the person who loves everybody and feels at home everywhere is the true hater of mankind. He expects nothing of men, so no form of depravity can outrage him.”
 
Roark - “Love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance. Not a bandage for dirty sores. But they don’t know it. Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt and general indifference, and they call it love. Once you’ve felt what it means to love as you and I know it – the total passion for the total height – you’re incapable of anything less.”
 
Wynand - “I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.”
 
Roark - “I was thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but for his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. “
 
Toohey - “Unselfishness is the only way to happiness. I would have everybody who refused to be unselfish shot. To put them out of their misery. They can’t be happy anyway.”
 
Roark – “I’m too conceited. If you want to call it that. I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.”
 
Roark – “why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world – to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.”
 
Roark – “If one doesn’t respect oneself one can have neither love nor respect for others.”
 
Roark – “Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution – or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary.”
 
Roark -  “Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive.”

 

 

An older edition of the Fountainhead can be purchased for a fraction of the price!

 

 

The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead

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