In 1943. Ayn Rand published “The Fountainhead”. It is a story of individualism fighting collectivism. Howard Roark is Rand’s idea of the perfect man. His personal values are strong and he will not compromise on his art. As an architect he wants to design buildings that work with the environment and bring him joy. His designs are modern so they are not accepted by the “second-handers.” These are people who want everyone to conform and not to try new and creative things.
The main antagonist of the book, Ellsworth Toohey, is one of those people. He has made it his life’s mission to use subversive techniques to control the second-handers and make them work towards his goals. He steers students and others toward careers he knows will never task them creatively, instead, it will kill their individualism.
Realizing he can’t stop Roark’s creativity he works towards blocking his career. But he is stymied when it still doesn’t break him. In the end, Toohey’s power continues to grow, and Roark must continue to stand strong.
One of the most controversial characters in the book is Dominique. Throughout most of the book she is on a self destructive path, she considers her marriages as punishments to herself and the men she marries. She hopes to punish Roark too, but he cannot be hurt by the world. She doesn’t understand that strength and tries to protect him from the artistic censure of the world by putting roadblocks in his career. She is not a very likable character. In the end she stops trying to block him and is walking up to him while he stands looking out at the scenery from the tower he is building, but never reaches him before the novel ends. She is still not worthy of Roark.
Howard Roark of the Stanton Institute of Technology, class of 1922. Architecture Department is standing nude while looking over the edge of a granite cliff. He is contemplating the many ways he could make the landscape into the design in his head. What he is not doing is thinking about the appointment he has with the Dean about his designs that have led to his expulsion.
After Roark pulls his clothes back on, he goes back to his room. There he sees his landlady, Mrs. Keating. Her son, Peter has told her about what happened to Roark since he is a fellow student. She reminds Roark about his meeting with the Dean, so he calmly goes to his office. The Dean tries to tell Roark that when he is more mature and willing to design within the set rules, then he can go back to class. The Dean and Roark have a long discussion in which the Dean continues to warn Roark that if he won’t be successful. Then he tells Roark that he agrees with the Board. Roark can never become an architect because his ideas would be dangerous. They part ways with the Dean sure Roark has grasped that he needs to choose another field of study and Roark wondering what is wrong with the Dean’s thought process.
Guy Francon, a prominent architect is giving the commencement speech at the graduation of Peter Keating’s class. Peter is thinking about his many accomplishments at the ceremony. He is especially pleased with himself when Francon offers him a position with his architecture firm. Peter is unsure whether to accept the job or take his genius on to further education using the scholarship he has been offered.
After the ceremony is over, Peter goes home and asks Roark his advice. Roark insists that he decide for himself, but Peter’s mother wants him to take the job. Peter finally decides to take the job and asks Roark what his plans are. Roark says he is going to New York so he can work with Henry Cameron, the architect the Dean warned him about. The Dean said that Cameron is an unsuccessful architect because he doesn’t conform but Roark likes his designs.
Peter sends a message to his girlfriend, Katie about the job he is accepting in New York. He is thrilled with the choice he has made and excited about the buildings he will design. The jobs the two men take are different as night and day. Peter is wrapped up in office politics. He is on the fast track in Francon and Heyer. He soon learns Claude Stengel is the best architect and makes friends with him. He also becomes friends with Francon.
Meanwhile, Roark is working with Cameron. They work well together. Both like building better than their clients and they are quiet but hard working. Their office is on the sixth floor of an old building. Cameron pays him fifteen dollars a week.
Two years later Peter has climbed the corporate ladder. Francon is busy reading a review from Ellsworth Toohey. Francon thinks it is a good review and he likes some of the things Toohey said about his work. Francon decides Toohey is a genius. Peter wonders what the reviewer will say about him someday.
Peter is still dating Katie off and on. He shows up at her apartment without calling first. He hasn’t seen her for a few months, but knows she will welcome him. She is obviously poor but he doesn’t notice how thin she is. When he tells her about the article she tells him that Toohey is her uncle. She offers to introduce him. She is living with him, but her uncle doesn’t want her to work. When Peter asks her what she does with her day, she tells him she reads books on architecture since that is what her uncle has.
Although Peter would like to meet Toohey because he has been praised by Francon, he doesn’t want Katie to introduce him. Peter knows he uses people to get ahead and doesn’t want to use her. Then he lets her make him dinner. After he leaves two hours later, feeling lighter, Katie wonders when he will come back.
Meanwhile Cameron is predicting that Roark will never become successful because he has too much integrity. He says that someday Roark will be the designer of the most beautiful building the world has ever seen, but no one will let him build it. Of course Roark will love the design so much that he will find himself begging to be allowed to build but architects that are average will continue to get all the jobs. He predicts that Roark will be unhappy and end up in tears. When he asks Roark if that is the future he wants, Roark says he does.
As time passes, Peter is promoted to Chief Designer since he already took Stengel’s job. But, Peter is not a good designer. He takes the plans to Roark because they are such a mess. Roark reworks the plans, making them functional but graceful. Although Peter is embarrassed, he tells his boss the designs are his.
More time has passed until 1925. Toohey has written a book on architecture called Sermons in Stone. The book is a success. Then Cameron passes out in his office after finding out a they lost a bid on a building that would have made the business flourish. His failing health drives Cameron to retire. He goes to live with his sister in New Jersey. Before he leaves Cameron makes Roark promise to burn all their drawings. Now Roark is out of work.
But, Peter is successful. He has been steadily climbing the ladder at Francon and Heyer. He is living in a nice apartment off Park Avenue. Even though he didn’t want her to, his mother has moved in with him and is trying to control his life. She wants him to become involved with Francon’s daughter, but Francon doesn’t want to introduce him. This makes Peter wonder if he and Katie are engaged, so when he asks her if they are, she thinks he is proposing to her. Peter agrees but asks her to keep the engagement a secret.
Since Roark needs a job, Peter asks Francon to give him one. Roark agrees but doesn’t want to design. He goes to sites on inspections and takes orders from Peter. Peter likes to boss him, but soon becomes frustrated when he can’t get a reaction. Roark still helps Peter with his designs. On one of the inspections Roark meets Mike, an electrician. Mike is impressed with all the knowledge Roark has in construction.
When Roark refuses to help design a building like a famous one Cameron built, the Dana building. Francon fires him. Roark tries to find a job, but none of them want to hire him. Finally he is hired by John Erik Snyte. He has each of his designers come up with a design from different times, historically. He gives Roark a modern time frame and calls him Mr. Modernistic.
Meanwhile, the workers involved in building, go on strike. Their unions are demanding higher wages. Gail Wynand is the owner of the paper Toohey works for and sends him to address the union strikers, hoping he will dissuade them from striking. Katie is at the rally and is enamored with her uncle’s speech. Peter has noticed that he is no longer the center of her world. So he has difficulty getting her to leave. Tooney is so persuasive during the rally that Wynand gives him a raise the next day. Although he says it is not a bribe to get him to stop the influence the strikers to go back to work, the strike is soon settled.
Dominique, Francon’s daughter is a reporter for the Banner. Peter finds Francon upset after she writes a scathing article about one of the buildings he designed. Francon finally introduces his daughter to Peter at a party. At first they hit it off, but she finally snubs him.
Meanwhile, Snyte’s company is hired by Austen Heller who wants a house that is pure and distinct. Roark likes the challenge and designs a house using the granite cliff. When Snyte shows Heller the altered designs, Heller says he likes it, but it is still not quite right. Roark steps forward and draws all over the design, restoring it to his original design. Snyte becomes furious and fires Roark. Heller finds Roark and hires him. He gives him the commission. Heller writes, “Howard Roarke, Architect” With this Roark opens his own office and begins construction. The first person to visit him is Peter with false praise.
Roark visits the job site often and finds his friend, Mike the electrician working. He assures him that he would never miss Roark’s first project. Heller visits often, too. He and Roark become good friends. When the house is finished it doesn’t get a lot of notoriety.
Meanwhile, Dominique is at work on an article on the slums in New York. She moves into a tenement for two weeks to immerse herself in the world. The article is well received and well done. Instead of being bias she finds faults equally and vocally on both sides of the problem. She angers big businessmen by describing the horrible living conditions and social workers by complaining about how some of the tenants are lazy and greedy. Peter is trying to get closer to Dominique but she keeps rebuffing him. When Francon helps them meet they have a nice conversation. Peter begins to fall in love with her even though she frightens him. He tries to see her often.
Katie runs to Peter for safety when she becomes afraid of her uncle. She begs him to go ahead and marry her the next day. At first he agrees, but later when his mother convinces him to wait and try to further his relationship with Dominique. Although Katie agrees, they both feel cold and desolate afterwards. They both “missed a chance which would never return.”
Roark begins to get a few potential customers. But he is determined to do the designs according to what works for the space. Whitford Sanborn wants him to design a house, but they can’t agree on the design. Finally Roark draws it the way he wants it, but Sanborn’s wife refuses to live in it. Francon wants Peter to submit a design for a competition for a skyscraper by Cosmo-Slotnick Pictures. Peter knows his drawings would never win so he asks Roark for help. He spends all night fixing Peter’s design.
Roark is running out of money when he has to go to New Jersey to visit Cameron on his deathbed. Cameron tells him to never compromise on his goals. Peter is getting nervous about the competition. He thinks that if he wins he will take Heyer’s place as partner. He also proposes to Dominique. She turns him down. Knowing that Heyer is dying, Peter goes to his house to insist he retire early. When Peter tries to blackmail the man because of some inflated prices on past constructions, Heyer has a stroke and dies. Peter discovers Heyer left him everything in his will, at the same time he wins the Cosmo-Slotnick competition.
The only kinks in Peter’s happiness is Dominique and Roark. She still denies him and Roark’s design is the actual winner of the competition. He tries to give a check to Roark so he won’t tell anyone he had anything to do with the design. Roark turns the check over and signs it to Peter with the stipulation that he not tell anyone he had anything to do with the design. Roark does not want his name on such a boring design. Peter is furious and tells Roark that he always hated him and he will ruin him.
After refusing to compromise on a design for a bank, Roark is forced to close his office down and gets a job through Mike at a granite quarry in Connecticut.
Dominique is living at her father’s estate which is near the quarry Roark works at. They have an instant attraction. After a back and forth, he forces her to have sex which she thinks she needed to overcome her impotence. Roger Enright gives Roark an architectural job so he leaves for New York without saying goodbye to Dominique.
Meanwhile Peter is basking in his successes. He meets with Toohey who is writing an article praising his work. He also asks him to join a group of young architects and wants Peter to be the chairman. Toohey asks him about Roark, and helps him land a job designing a house for Lois Cook. She is a writer who wants the ugliest house in New York.
Toohey visits Dominique at her desk in New York. She is back to work at the Banner. She has a picture of the Enright House. She doesn’t know who made it, but thinks it should never allow it to be built because it was so beautiful. The Council of American Builders is the name of the eighteen members Toohey gathered for his meetings. None of them like modern architecture but doesn’t offer any other ideas. The members are not comfortable with Dominique attending. Especially when she disagrees. Peter tries to kiss her after the meeting, but she isn’t interested. He assumes there is someone else, she confirms that she met a man in Connecticut.
Now that Roark has the Enright commission he reopens his office. He attends a party with Austen Heller that Dominique is also attending. When she is introduced to him they pretend they have never met. Their relationship is a battle. She writes articles that attacks the Enright House but when she is asked by a potential client whether he should hire Roark she tells him that Roark would design a beautiful building. But, when he says he wants something safe, she recommends Peter.
Later she visits Roark professing her desire for him, but she feels she must test his strength. Roark admires her for it. During the day she uses her power to destroy Roark, then sleeps with him at night. Since she has sent so much work Peter’s way, everyone thinks she is in love with him. Toohey has spent his life discouraging individualism in people. He speaks of humility but practices egoism. His selective publishing brings him a celebrity.
After the Enright House opens, Roark’s business grows. He is picked to build an office building, a hotel, and more. Toohey sends Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark to design a religious temple. Toohey tells him what to say to convince Roark to build it. Peter has finished the Cosmo-Slotnick building and is unhappy with it. Roark finds Stephen Mallory, a sculptor who tried to kill Toohey. He wants him to create a statue of the human spirit for the temple. Roark thinks Dominique should be the model. Roark works diligently on the temple.
The hotel contract is suspended when the corporation falls apart. Then Stoddard stops the opening of his temple and then sues Roark for malpractice. Every paper in the city is bias on Stoddard’s side. Dominique testifies for Stoddard but says the temple is too good for people and should be destroyed. Roark gives the judge photographs of the temple as his defense. He loses the suit. Dominique tries to submit her testimony for an article in the paper. She threatens to quit if they won’t print it, and the owner of the paper insists she be fired.
Katie wants to quit her job as a social worker because she hates the people but her uncle tells her to let go of her ego. Peter is feeling guilty for the things he said at Roark’s trial, and tells Katie he wants to elope the next day. But that night Dominique asks Peter to marry her and they elope to Connecticut. When they get back to New York, Dominique visits Roark and sleeps with him. She tells him she loves him and has married Peter. She tells him that the reason is because she refuses to be happy until the world accepts Roark’s work. He tells her that he loves her but wants to wait until she has grown.
Peter and Dominique are very unhappy, but Peter enjoys the envy of others. The Stoddard house is made into a Home for Subnormal Children. Roark finishes the skyscraper, and then he is out of work. Then Wall Street crashed in 1929.
Gail Wynand is one of the few people who is still wealthy. He is a self made man who grew up poor in Hell’s Kitchen. He is looking for an architect for Stoneridge. Toohey suggests Peter and recommends he speak to Dominique about it. Wynand is unsure but agrees to speak to Dominique after coming across the statue of Dominique in his private collection. Dominique offers to sleep with Wynand if he will give the Stoneridge contract to Peter. At dinner later at an elegant restaurant, Wynand offers the job to Peter in exchange for Dominique.
After Wynand and Dominique spend time together, he falls in love with her and proposes. At first, she thinks to deny him, but then she thinks about how his paper treated Roark and agrees to marry him. He gives Peter two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and the Stoneridge contract for Dominique.
Afterwards Peter feels sad about the deal because he loved her. Toohey is not happy with the arrangement because he thinks Dominique and Wynand are too dangerous to him. When Dominique tells Roark about the marriage, he is saddened because he remembers how Cameron felt about Wynand, but doesn’t reveal his feelings to her. She misses him, but doesn’t tell him.
Toohey has begun a group of young writers called The Council of American Writers and steers them towards his ideas. Then Toohey starts to praise modern architecture which makes Peter unhappy because it is not his style. Francon retires and Peter hires a lazy designer as his partner and the firm begins to fail. Although Wynand wants a quiet ceremony Dominique insists on a huge wedding. She wears black. People flood the offices of the Banner with hate mail about she is divorced.
Wynand loves her but she doesn’t return his feelings but she thinks he is heroic. Dominique thinks he has been trying to control the world and she is trying to escape it. She tries to warn Wynand that Toohey is moving his writers into key places in the paper and is trying to take over the paper so then he can control the world. He laughs it off and tells her that even though she doesn’t love him, but this is the first time in his life he has felt love.
Wynand wants to meet with Roark. The two men learn they have a lot in common. Wynand wants Roark to become his personal architect, but Roark refuses any control even though Wynand threatens to ruin him. He thinks Roark can’t be corrupted and invites him to dinner with him and his wife. When Dominique sees the drawings, she sees them as Roark’s. She sees them as his way of sending his love to her. At dinner, she and Roark act like they have never had a relationship, but she sees the similarities between the two men.
Wynand forbids Toohey to mention Roark’s name in the paper. He and Roark’s relationship grows while Dominique is tortured having Roark so close. Toohey is pleased with the many people he has under his control. Peter sees him with hopes of landing a contract to design a housing project. Toohey tells him the only reason he backed him originally was to stop a more promising architect. Peter has been putting on weight and only finds peace when he goes to his cabin and paints. Toohey tells him that if he can make the housing development cheap and easy to maintain he will recommend him.
Peter knows he will need Roark’s help. Roark agrees to design it because of the challenge, but Peter must put his name on it and change nothing. He finally understands that Roark just wants to create beautiful buildings, he doesn’t need the world to praise him. Everyone thinks the designs are amazing. Then Wynand wants Roark to design a skyscraper in Hell’s Kitchen.
Peter runs into Katie and they have lunch. She has changed. Her spirit is gone and she has let go of her ego. She works for charities. She tells him that he broke her heart but she is okay now. Roark checks out the Cortlandt site and sees the changes to his design. Peter had been overwhelmed by Toohey’s men. Roark tells Dominique to stop in front of the Cortlandt building and pretend to run out of gas. She asks the night watchman to go for gas and while the site is empty it explodes. Her car has been damaged so she gets back in it and cuts her arms and legs so it will look like she was in her car during the explosion. By the time the ambulance takes her she has almost bled to death.
After Roark is arrested for destroying the building, Wynand pays his bail and orders his papers to defend him. But as the articles do more damage than help, Wynand begins to realize the control Toohey has on his paper. Roark tells Dominique that if he is found guilty she must stay with Wynand but if he is freed he wants her to go with him.
Toohey wants Peter to admit that Roark designed Cortlandt because he thinks it will damage Roark. Peter is devastated when he realizes how evil Toohey is. Toohey tells him about the power he wields over people by getting them to join his cult of “Collectivism.” He lets people think they are being selfless, but they are not thinking for themselves, just thinking what he tells them to.
After publishing a column that criticizes Roark, Wynand fires Toohey and his men. Toohey warns Wynand that he will own the paper. Toohey and his men picket the paper. They become violent. Wynand works nonstop and Dominique moves into the paper so she can help. But, sales drop. Finally Wynand is forced to give in to the picketers and prints an apology for supporting Roark.
The sales pick up and Roark sends a letter to Wynand forgiving him. But, Wynand sends the letter back without opening it. Dominique goes to Roark’s house and they sleep together. She thinks she has grown enough to love him. The next morning she calls the police to report a stolen ring and brings the press to see her in Roark’s pajamas. She thinks this will make the united against the world. Wynand sees the papers and agrees to divorce Dominique. She explains to him that she has always loved Roark. Wynand agrees to allow an article to say that he was coerced to defend Roark by his wife. The public feels pity for him and forgives him. Sales rise.
Roark defends himself at the trial. His impassioned speech turns the jury to his side against all odds. He tells them about the dangers of losing individualism. And that he destroyed the building because he couldn’t stand to see his art ruined. They find him not guilty. Enright buys the Cortlandt site and hires Roark to build the houses he designed. Wynand is forced to rehire Toohey, but ten minutes after he reports for work, Wynand shuts the presses down and informs Toohey the Banner is finished and Toohey is out of a job. Toohey gets a job with a more upscale paper and starts to quiz the editor about his beliefs. Wynand wants Roark to design a building for him. He wants the building to be a monument to Roark’s spirit.
Eighteen months have passed. Dominique finds Roark at the Wynand Building under construction. She joins him at the top of the building to enjoy the view.
Howard Roark – orange hair, tall, angular, strong, and stubborn. Roark is written to be self sufficient and self confident to a fault. He cannot be bribed and refuses to compromise on his art. Roark is from a poor family and works part time jobs in construction to support himself and attend college. But when he chooses expulsion from college instead of compromising his designs. Roark designs modern buildings that are joyful, smooth and work with the natural environment. He has no feelings for his fellow humans, but he falls in love with Dominique passionately, furiously. Rand wrote him to be her idea of the perfect man. The noble soul.
Ellsworth Toohey – since he is not capable of creativity he makes it his life’s work to destroy it in others. He makes people think he is a good man who is teaching selflessness and charity, when actually he is making people depend on him and follow his lead. He becomes more and more powerful as the novel proceeds. Although he appears to be a small and weak older man, he uses his powers of persuasion to manipulate the weaker minds. There are only a few who can stand against him. When he tries to direct them to jobs that squelch their creativity they don’t listen to him, so he uses those who do listen to bring them to conform. Toohey is subversive and controlling.
Peter Keating – Peter is handsome and popular. He yearns to be admired by all, but lacks the creativity needed to stand out in architecture. Although he realizes his mistakes and feels a modicum of remorse, he still uses people to feed his ego. Without any original ideas he leans on his roommate in college, Roark to help him, but doesn’t grasp the reasons why Roark doesn’t want any praise when the designs win awards. Peter steps on the heads of people who help him on his trip up the ladder of success. After signing on with a major firm he toadies his way into a position of partner and marries the bosses daughter. In the end he tries to make amends with Roark, but it’s too late. He even tries painting, but falls flat in that art, too. He comes across as a pathetic character.
Dominique Francon – a reporter for the newspaper. She is beautiful but cold. Throughout most of the book she is bent on a self-destructive path and thinks she can shield Roark from the censure of the world by destroying his career. She is cynical and hates everyone. Dominique marries Peter as a self punishment and as a way to punish him as well for testifying against Roark. She also uses it as a way to punish Roark for not succumbing to her will.
Later she marries Wynand so she can control the newspapers he owns. Eventually, she decides she has paid enough dues to make herself worthy of loving Roark. She is a complex and not very likable character.
Ayn Rand Biography
Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982) was born in Russia where she attended school then immigrated to the United States in 1926. Rand began writing at a young age and was writing screen plays at the age of nine. Her father was a successful businessman and pharmacist. He owned the pharmacy and the building it was located in.
Rand attended school with the younger sister of Vladimir Nabokov, Olga. As children the two girls argued politics with Rand on the side of Republican ideas. The October Revolution changed the life of Rand’s family. Her father’s business was destroyed and they were homeless. The family fled to the Crimean Peninsula. She graduated high school at sixteen while living in the Crimea. After the Russian Civil War was over, they moved back to Russia.
Rand was among the first women to be allowed to attend college in Russia. She enrolled in at Petrograd State where she studied social pedagogy and philosophy. There she was introduced to the works of Plato and Aristotle. She also studied Nietzsche. Rand was multi lingual, able to read in French, German and Russian so she absorbed the works of many other great authors such as Hugo and Rostand. Just before graduating Rand was purged from the college with a group of “bourgeois” students and was reinstated and allowed to graduate due to complaints from some foreign scientists that were visiting the college at the time.
After graduating college in 1924 with a degree in history, Rand went on to study at The State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. While there she wrote her first published work, an essay on a Russian actress and found her nomenclature to write with. She chose Rand which may be a nod to her birth name, Rosenbaum and the first name of Ayn which would be Hebrew (she was Jewish) for eye.
In 1925, Rand came to America to visit relatives and fell in love with the country. She wanted to pursue her dream to become a screen writer and was lucky enough to have relatives in Chicago that set her career in motion. She moved to Hollywood where she took odd jobs and was discovered by Cecil B. DeMille. He gave her a job as an extra in his film, “The King of Kings”. That is where she met her husband, Frank O’Connor, an aspiring young actor. They married in 1929. Rand obtained citizenship in the United States in 1931. She was never able to get immigration papers for her mother and sisters to emigrate, too.
In 1932 she made her first sale of a screenplay to Universal Studios. The screenplay was “Red Pawn”, a spy thriller. Her first success as a novelist was with “The Fountainhead”, a dystopian novel. Rand’s next major novel was “Atlas Shrugged”. A novel about moral philosophy. It promoted Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. A tenet that believes that reality exists independently of consciousness, and that people can use logic and moral purpose to find happiness. The idea is to deal with external things and not lay stress on emotions. She believed that reason was the best way to acquire knowledge.
Since Rand’s death interest in her work continues to increase. In 1987 the Ayn Rand Society was formed to discuss her ideas. Her work lives on in colleges and universities around the world.