Excerpt: Chapter 1 – Cliff Notes – Rand’s The Fountainhead

Cliff Notes – Rand’s The Fountainhead
By Andrew Bernstein, Ph.D.

Chapter 1


  • Learn about the Life and Background of the Author
  • Preview an Introduction to the Novel
  • Explore themes, character development, and recurring images in the Critical Commentaries
  • Examine in-depth Character Analyses
  • Acquire an understanding of the novel with Critical Essays
  • Reinforce what you learn with CliffsNotes Review


The Fountainhead serves as an excellent introduction to both Ayn Rand’s writing and her philosophy of Objectivism. All of the major intellectual themes that inform Rand’s fiction and her subsequent philosophy are presented clearly in this novel.
Having grown up in the totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union, holding an impassioned belief in political freedom and the rights of the individual, Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead as a tribute to the creative freethinker. Its hero, Howard Roark, is an innovative architect, a man whose brilliant and radically new designs are not understood and are rejected by the majority of society. Roark, like many inventors and creative thinkers of history, struggles to win acceptance for his ideas against the tradition-bound masses, who follow established norms and are fearful of change. The theme, as Ayn Rand states it, is individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but in men’s souls. The book is about the conflict between those who think for themselves and those who allow others to dominate their lives.
According to Ayn Rand, the goal of her writing is the presentation of an ideal man. Howard Roark is the first such figure in her novels. His independence, his commitment to his own rational thinking, and his integrity mark him as a distinctive Ayn Rand hero. Rand described herself as a “man-worshiper,” as one who revered man at his highest and best. She held man’s creative mind as sacred, and consequently admired the great original thinkers of mankind—the artists, scientists, and inventors, such as Michelangelo, Newton, and Edison. In Rand’s fiction, she illustrates the heroic battles such great individuals have to go through, both to develop their new ideas and methods and to struggle against a conservative society that rejects them. Ayn Rand presents her heroes as ends in themselves, inviting her readers to simply witness and savor the sight of human greatness. “My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark . . . as an end in himself—not as a means to any further end. Which, incidentally, is the greatest value I could ever offer a reader.” Her portrayal of such a character is of great value, because the sight of a dauntless hero performing notable deeds is an uplifting experience, one that requires no further explanation or validation. She points out that, as a benign secondary consequence, a reader witnessing the life of Howard Roark may be inspired to seek his own heroic achievements.
Roark, as a freethinking individual, is opposed by sundry collectivists—some who believe that a person should conform to others, some who believe that a person should rebel against others, and some who believe that, politically, we should have a Fascist or Communist dictatorship in which the individual is utterly subordinate to the will of the people. Regarding this aspect of the book, Rand sets her hero against various collectivist ideas that existed—and to some degree continue to exist—in the United States.
The obvious example of collectivism in The Fountainhead is the political one. Ellsworth Toohey, the novel’s villain, is a Marxist intellectual, preaching socialism to the masses. He holds that an individual has no value in himself but exists solely to serve his brothers. As Ayn Rand wrote the novel, in the 1930s, collectivism was rapidly engulfing the world. First the Communists took over her native Russia, then the Fascists came to power in Italy, then Hitler and the National Socialists took political control of Germany. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, as allies, invaded Poland, plunging mankind into the most destructive war of its history. In the early 1940s, collectivism appeared to be on the threshold of military conquest of large portions of the globe. In the United States, many intellectuals, politicians, labor leaders, and businessmen thought of the Communist and Nazi systems as “noble experiments,” as new attempts to emphasize an individual’s moral responsibilities to his fellow man. Before the war, there was ideological support in the United States for both the Communists and the Nazis; even after the war, support among the intellectuals continued for Communism and does to this day. Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead, at one level, as a fervent warning to her fellow man of the unmitigated horrors of collectivism, whether of the Nazi, Fascist, or Communist variety; the evils that result in concentration camps; the extermination of millions of innocent victims; and the precipitation of world war. Ayn Rand witnessed these horrors firsthand in Europe; she wrote The Fountainhead, in part, to prevent their recurrence in America.
But The Fountainhead is not fundamentally about politics. The book warns against a more subtle manifestation of collectivism, one that underlies the political danger and makes that danger possible. Although all human beings have minds, many people choose not to use theirs, looking instead to others for guidance. Many people prefer to be led in their personal lives by an authority figure—be it parents, teachers, clergymen, or others. Those who prefer to be led by authority figures are conformists, refusing the responsibility of thought and self-directed motivation, taking the path of least resistance in life. In the character of Peter Keating, a conventional architect who goes by public taste, Ayn Rand provides an incisive glimpse into the soul of such an abject follower. The picture is frightening. Keating, in many ways an average American status seeker, desires acclaim from others. In exchange for social approval, he is willing to sacrifice any and all of his personal convictions. He becomes a blind follower of the power broker, Ellsworth Toohey, and in so doing reveals the mentality of the millions of “true believers” who blindly follow a Jim Jones, a Sun Myung Moon, or an Adolf Hitler. Ayn Rand shows that conformity, a widespread phenomenon in contemporary American society, is one of the underlying causes of collectivist dictatorship.
In The Fountainhead, Rand also shows that nonconformity, often thought to be the opposite of blind obedience, is merely a variation on the same theme. In a variety of minor characters (Lois Cook, Ike the Genius, Gus Webb), all devotees of Toohey, Rand demonstrates the essence of nonconformity: an unthinking rebellion against the values and convictions of others. The nonconformist, too, places the beliefs of others first, before his own thinking; he merely reacts against them, instead of following them. It is no accident that Ayn Rand shows these rebels as followers of Toohey, because nonconformists, placing others first, always cluster into private enclaves that inevitably demand rigid obedience to their own set of rules. Nonconformists value freethinking no more than does the herd of conformists. The nonconformist characters of the novel are fictional examples of historical movements of the early twentieth century. They are predominantly writers and artists who rebel against grammar, coherent sentences, and representational art in the same way that the surrealists, expressionists, and Dadaists did in actual fact. This band of real-life rebels, not surprisingly, centered in Weimar, Germany, in the 1920s. Outwardly, some opposed Hitler. But at a deeper level, their blind rebelliousness against others and their slavish conformity to their own little subgroup fostered a herd mentality similar to that of the conformists. The nonconformists, too, were part of the culture that spawned the Nazis. This is why, in The Fountainhead, when Toohey is chided for cultivating a circle of “rabid individualists,” he merely laughs and responds: “Do you really think so?” He knows that a thinker like Roark is an individualist; posturing nonconformists like Lois Cook are mere rebels against the crowd.
The issue of conformity in the story relates to another real-life movement of the time. The Fountainhead takes place in America in the 1920s and 1930s. Roark and his mentor, Henry Cameron, are early designers of the modern style. Although the book is not historical fiction, and the lives of Cameron and Roark are not based on the lives of real-life individuals, their struggles parallel the battles waged by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the architectural style that still dominated American building was Classical. American architects largely copied Greek and Roman designs (or those of other historical periods such as the Renaissance). Louis Sullivan (1856 – 1924) was one of the first to build in what became known as the modern style. Generally held to be the father of modern architecture and, in particular, of the skyscraper, Sullivan waged a long battle for his ideas against conventional standards. Ayn Rand scholar David Harriman, editor of The Journals of Ayn Rand, points out that Sullivan’s life serves as a “concrete inspiration” for the character of Henry Cameron. Harriman also notes that Frank Lloyd Wright (1869 – 1959), the greatest of the modern designers, is famous for his “strikingly original designs.” Wright was a fiercely independent individual, who refused to collaborate on his work and who learned early in his career not to compromise. Although the events of Roark’s life are not identical to the events of Wright’s, in the broad sense Wright does serve as the model for Howard Roark. Cameron and Roark, in the novel, struggle against characters like the Dean of Stanton Institute, who believes that all the great ideas in architecture have been discovered already by the designers of the past, and that contemporary architects are simply to copy those ideas. Sullivan and Wright, in real life, battled against similar instances of conformity. Though important similarities between Rand’s fictional characters and Sullivan and Wright do exist, it is important to remember that Roark and Cameron are exemplars of innovativeness and independent thought; they are not fictionalized versions of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
In her previous novels, Ayn Rand had also glorified the heroism of the freethinking human mind, although in different forms. Her first novel, We the Living, published in 1936, tells the story of three individuals who dare to think for themselves in the Communist dictatorship of Soviet Russia. Its heroine, Kira Arguonova, is similar to the author; she is an independently thinking young woman, fiercely opposed to the totalitarian state in which she exists. But Kira desires to be an engineer in a society in which neither her bourgeois background nor her freethinking mind is welcome. Despite being an outstanding student, she is expelled from engineering school. The story focuses on her relationships with two men—Leo Kovalensky, the aristocrat whom she loves, and Andrei Taganov, the Communist who loves her. Leo is a brilliant young scholar, but his aristocratic family and individualistic views leave him no future in the Soviet Union. Andrei, an honest man who believes sincerely in the ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution, witnesses the harsh fate to which Kira is condemned, and must question the virtue of the Communist principles for which he has always stood. We the Living shows the fate of freethinking men and women in a totalitarian state.
Her second book, the novella, Anthem, published in 1938, also takes place in a collectivist dictatorship—but in an unspecified future. The dominance of the group over the individual is so absolute in this society that it has even outlawed the word “I.” Individuals, referring to themselves in the first person, use the word “we.” The story centers around one individual who refuses to obey the all-powerful state, but who, contrary to its wishes, becomes a scientist. With independent thought stifled, this society has lost all technological progress and reverted to a primitive condition. The hero reinvents the electric light, but is condemned to death for the crime of thinking for himself. Further, contrary to the state’s decree, he dares to love a woman of his own choosing. In both love and work, he thinks independently, refusing to obey, unwilling to surrender the things most precious to him. Ayn Rand shows in Anthem that all the values that make human life valuable and joyous come from the individual, not from society.
In both We the Living and Anthem, the independent heroes are pitted against a collectivist dictatorship; in both books the theme is political, emphasizing the necessity of freedom for human progress and happiness. But the theme in The Fountainhead is deeper and more complex. It is psychological and epistemological. It concerns the way in which individuals choose to use their minds—whether they think and value independently or whether they allow their lives to be dominated, in one form or another, by the beliefs of others. The story of innovative architect Howard Roark, and his lifelong battle against a society committed to traditional forms of design, The Fountainhead glorifies the great original thinkers of history. Ayn Rand’s subsequent Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, carries further the same idea. It shows what happens when the thinkers go on strike—when the Howard Roark types, the inventors, scientists, and men of independent judgment—refuse to practice their professions in a world that expects them to comply. Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged shows the role of the mind in man’s existence—not merely in the life of one rational individual, as in The Fountainhead, but in the life of an entire culture. All of her books defend man’s mind, and uphold the need for an uncompromising independence of thought.
The history of The Fountainhead is like an example of its own theme. It was rejected by twelve publishers. Some thought that it was too intellectual, that there was no market for such a book among a reading public that was interested only in stories of physical action. Others rejected it because it glorified individualism and repudiated the collectivist ideals so popular among modern intellectuals. But Ayn Rand refused to alter her story or dilute her theme. Finally, the book was read by Archibald Ogden, an editor at Bobbs-Merrill. Like an independent-minded Ayn Rand hero, Ogden loved the book and fought for it against dissenting thought in the company. Despite the opposition, Ogden staked his career on this book. It was published in 1943 and made history several years later by becoming a best-seller through word of mouth. It was made into a successful film in 1949 with Gary Cooper as Howard Roark and Patricia Neal as Dominique Francon. By the end of the twentieth century, the book that was “too intellectual” had sold over six million copies and touched the lives of countless readers. To this day, it sells well over a hundred thousand copies every year. The Ayn Rand Institute’s high school essay contest on The Fountainhead, initiated in 1986, averages three thousand essays per year. A poll conducted jointly in 1991 by the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club showed that Atlas Shrugged was the second most influential book in the lives of the respondents (behind only the Bible) and showed The Fountainhead among the top twenty.
Today, The Fountainhead has achieved the status of a modern classic. It is taught in college literature and philosophy courses, as well as in high school English classes. The Fountainhead continues to be an example of its own theme: the struggle for acceptance of great new ideas in human society. But, in principle and in the long run, truth wins out. Despite continuing intellectual opposition to Ayn Rand’s ideas, The Fountainhead has gained recognition as one of the great novels of American literature. Its theme of glorifying the independent mind not only captures the essence of the American spirit but, more fundamentally, expresses the deep human yearning for freedom. The Fountainhead is a theme and a novel that will live forever.

A Brief Synopsis
The Fountainhead takes place in the United States, mostly in New York City, during the 1920s and 1930s. It chronicles the struggles of the innovative architect Howard Roark in his effort to achieve success on his own terms.
As the story opens, twenty-one-year-old Roark is expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology for “insubordination.” Most faculty and administration members want him to design in traditional styles, but Roark has his own ideas. On the other hand, Peter Keating, a classmate of Roark’s and the son of the woman whose boardinghouse Roark lives in, though lacking Roark’s brilliance and love of architecture, gives the professors exactly what they want and graduates as valedictorian with high honors.
After leaving Stanton, Roark goes to work for Henry Cameron, an elderly and cantankerous genius, whose ideas are far ahead of their time. Cameron is a commercial failure, but an uncompromising man of integrity. Though a successful architect in the 1880s, Cameron’s ideas became increasingly revolutionary, resulting finally in the birth of the skyscraper. He is one of the first to design buildings that tower over others, and the first to insist that a tall building should look tall. Where other architects use every device they can to make their tall buildings appear shorter, Cameron openly flaunts his skyscrapers’ height. When American society falls under the sway of the Classical styles highlighted in the Columbian Exposition of 1892, Cameron’s modernist ideas are rejected. Compounding the problem is Cameron’s contemptuous rejection of those not open to change. His hostility only increases the difficulty that a public fearful of progress has in recognizing his genius. Roark works for him for three years (until Cameron’s health fails) and learns to perfect the great and original talent he possesses.
After graduating from Stanton, Keating works for Guy Francon, the most successful and prestigious architect in the country. Francon is a mediocre architect who copies from the designers of the past; but he gives the public what it’s used to, and, with a superb mastery of the social graces, he wines and dines prospective clients at New York’s most exclusive restaurants. Francon is a phony, who teaches Keating only about manipulating and influencing people, not about building honestly and effectively.
Francon has a beautiful young daughter, Dominique, who possesses a mind of her own. Brilliant and outspoken, she is brutally frank in criticizing the buildings of her father and his young protégé. Dominique writes a column devoted to design and interior decorating in The New York Banner, a daily newspaper owned by the powerful publisher, Gail Wynand. Dominique is a passionate idealist who recognizes and reveres the human potential for greatness. But finding little of it in the world—indeed, finding everywhere the triumph of vulgar mediocrity—she becomes disillusioned. Dominique believes that true nobility has no chance to succeed in a world dominated by the mindless and the corrupt. She recognizes and loathes the unscrupulous pandering engaged in by Keating and her father—and states her convictions openly. But Keating, smitten with the way in which her beauty and elegance impress other people, proposes marriage. Dominique replies that if she ever seeks to punish herself for some terrible crime she’s committed, she will accept his offer.
Despite Dominique’s recognition of his fraudulent methods, Keating enjoys great early success. By the manipulation of fellow employees, Keating rises in Francon’s firm until, after only several years, he is the company’s chief designer. Though not adept at design, Keating knows someone who is: Howard Roark, whose love of buildings is so great that he cannot refuse any opportunity to improve one. Roark helps Keating in his design work. But now, Keating has his sights set on becoming Francon’s partner, a position currently held by the sickly Lucius Heyer. At this time comes the announcement for the Cosmo-Slotnick Building, a competition held by a Hollywood company to design the “world’s most beautiful building.” Francon trusts Keating to win; Keating knows he cannot do it, so he turns to Roark for help. Roark designs a brilliant and simple plan for his building, to which Keating adds his customary ostentatious ornamentation. Keating believes his eclectic hodgepodge of conflicting styles has no chance to win; he must get the partnership now, while Francon still trusts him. He berates Heyer, screaming at the old man to retire, causing the stroke the doctors had feared. Heyer dies, having left the charming Keating his money. Keating wins the Cosmo-Slotnick competition. Francon makes him partner. Keating is now wealthy, famous, and a partner in the country’s most prestigious architectural firm.
Roark, meanwhile, struggles to find employment after Cameron’s retirement. His brief tenure at Francon’s firm ends when he refuses to design as Francon wishes him to. For a long period of time, Roark cannot find employment with any architect. Eventually, he is hired by John Erik Snyte, an eclectic builder who is not wedded to any specific school of design. Snyte is content to give the public whatever it desires. He employs specialists in various schools of design—Classical, Gothic, Renaissance—and wants Roark to be his modernist. Snyte allows his designers freedom to design in their specialties, but then combines their ideas into one finished product of clashing principles. Roark can design as he likes at Snyte’s, but he will never see a building erected as he creates it. Eventually, the newspaperman, Austen Heller, recognizes his talent and hires him to build a private home. Roark opens his own office, but his designs are too revolutionary, and he receives very few commissions. When Roark turns down the commission for the important Manhattan Bank Building rather than permit the adulteration of his design, he is destitute. He closes his office temporarily and goes to work in a granite quarry in Connecticut.
The quarry is owned by Guy Francon. That summer, Dominique vacations at the family estate bordering the property. Upon meeting Roark, Dominique notices immediately the taut lines of his body and the scornful look of his eyes. Though at a conscious level, Dominique believes he may be an ex-convict like others of the work gang, at some deeper level she knows better. The way he holds himself and moves, his posture and mannerisms, his countenance and the look in his eyes all convey a proud dignity that would not stoop to the commission of crimes. She is deeply drawn to him and initiates a pursuit that results in their passionate lovemaking. But despite her profound attraction and aggressive pursuit, she is afraid of a love relationship with him. She ardently desires their sexual relationship, but almost as intensely fears it. She both physically resists Roark when he finally comes to her and experiences their lovemaking—“the thing she had thought about, had expected”—as the most powerful experience of her life. Dominique’s inner conflict torments her, and, despite the love between them, it is years before they can happily be together. Before their relationship fully gets under way at the quarry, Roark’s whereabouts are discovered by Roger Enright, an innovative businessman who wants Roark to design a new type of apartment building. Roark leaves the quarry and returns to New York. Even then, he finds himself thinking of Dominique.
The construction of the Enright House brings Roark recognition and further commissions. Anthony Cord, a successful Wall Street businessman, hires him to build his first office building, a fifty-story skyscraper in the center of Manhattan. Kent Lansing, a member of the board formed to build a luxury hotel on Central Park South, wants Roark and fights for him. Eventually, he wins, and Roark signs a contract to build the Aquitania Hotel. Although construction of the Aquitania is eventually stopped due to legal wrangles, Kent Lansing vows to win control of the project and complete it. Roark’s growing fame attracts the attention of architectural critic Ellsworth Toohey, who is threatened by his unbending independence of spirit. Toohey, who seeks power over the architectural profession, attempts to end the career of this individualist who will not obey. He influences a wealthy lackey, Hopton Stoddard, to hire Roark to build a temple. Knowing that Roark’s design will be breathtakingly original, Toohey plots to attack it as contrary to all established religious principles, thereby turning Roark into an enemy of religion. Because Roark is an atheist, Toohey coaches Stoddard regarding the best means to approach Roark to build a religious structure. He has Stoddard say, “But you’re a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark—in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.” Roark accepts the commission to build a temple to the heroic human spirit.
At this point, Roark’s career is on an upswing. He designs a masterpiece for the Stoddard Temple, as Toohey knew he would. He hires Steven Mallory to do the sculpture for the Temple. Mallory is a brilliant young talent, who sculpts in the Classic Greek style, emphasizing the nobility and grandeur of man. Dominique poses nude for the Temple’s central piece of sculpture, and Mallory captures both the beauty of her body and the independence of her spirit in his work. Mallory, though young, has already suffered rejection because of the striking originality of his pieces, and is beginning to grow cynical regarding an innovative thinker’s chances of gaining practical success. His relationship with Roark, however, inspires him. After his work on the Stoddard Temple, although still suffering from moments of despair, Mallory never again reaches the depths of torment he is in when Roark meets him. But Toohey, as was his plan, manipulates both Stoddard and the public. He denounces Roark’s Temple as heretical, and society follows his lead, sending up a chorus of protests. The Stoddard Temple is torn down, and Roark is condemned as an apostate. Roark’s career is now in a downturn in which he receives only a few very minor commissions.
Dominique, in agony at the attack on the hero she loves, marries Keating—the most despicable individual she can find—in an attempt to kill off in herself that greatness of soul that enables her to love only man at his highest and best. The destruction of the Stoddard Temple confirms Dominique’s worst fears. It convinces her that she was right in wanting to avoid entanglement in a romantic relationship with Roark. His creative work and uncompromising character have no chance in a world that merely follows the beliefs it has been taught. He will be destroyed, just as Cameron was. This was, and remains, her deepest belief. Given her values, Dominique must love Roark and everything about the human potential that he represents. She loves man the noble hero. But society, in her view, leaves no place for such a hero’s triumph. Therefore, the only choice, as Dominique sees it, is to kill off in herself her capacity for hero worship. In so doing, she can escape her agony when presented with the destruction of greatness. She believes that the way to kill in herself her capacity to respond to Roark is to thoroughly immerse herself in the life of Keating. The love of virtue and beauty, she hopes, cannot survive absorption into a life filled with corruption and ugliness. With full conscious intent, she marries Peter Keating.
Keating and Dominique are married for twenty months. Through Toohey’s manipulation, Dominique is introduced to newspaper publisher Gail Wynand, for whose paper Dominique formerly worked as a columnist. The powerful Wynand is a man of mixed premises. Like Dominique, he worships man the noble hero, but, unlike her, he has sold his soul, publishing The Banner, a yellow-press scandal sheet, gaining him wealth and influence. Wynand, taken with Dominique’s intelligence and idealism, as well as with her beauty, proposes marriage. Dominique, thinking she’s found a man even lower than Keating, accepts; she divorces Keating and marries Wynand. The powerful publisher buys Keating’s consent with a hefty check and the commission for Stoneridge Homes, a housing development he is building. But on her way to Reno to obtain the divorce, Dominique stops in the small town of Clayton, Ohio, where Roark is building a small department store. She has not seen him since her marriage to Keating. Roark notices from her questions that she is still concerned with other people and their ability to hurt—or even observe—him. She tells him that she wishes to remain with him in this small town. She says they can marry, that she will wash his clothes and cook his meals, and that he will give up architecture and work in a store. Out of consideration for her, he tries not to laugh. He tells her if he were cruel, he would accept her offer just to see how long it would take her to beg him to return to architecture. She understands. Roark knows that Dominique is not ready to stay with him. She boards the train for Reno and, after her divorce, marries Gail Wynand.
Wynand, though a man who panders to the masses in his professional life, privately worships only man’s noblest achievements. Holding the same basic premises as Dominique, it is logical that he loves her. He becomes fanatically jealous of sharing Dominique with others. Wynand wishes to build a home in the country as an isolated fortress, so he will not have to see Dominique among the people of the city. Every time Wynand has seen a building he’s admired, the architect has always been Howard Roark. So Wynand hires Roark to build his home. Wynand greatly admires both Roark’s integrity and his genius, and he uses his great influence to bring to Roark a number of commissions. Roark’s prominent buildings in New York City slowly begin to attract a growing number of individuals who understand the revolutionary nature of his designs. Roark receives more commissions and becomes better known.
One of the more prominent commissions he receives prior to his relationship with Wynand is for the Monadnock Valley Resort. The owners of the resort conceive it as a swindle. They sell two hundred percent of it. They are certain it will fail. They want it to fail. They choose Roark as the worst architect they can find. They believe that Roark’s plan for separate houses where people can enjoy privacy, rather than be clustered together in one huge ant colony of a hotel, is an antisocial scheme bound to fail. They hire him because of it. But Roark’s idea satisfies a need for a resort that was not currently met—and his design is spectacularly beautiful. People come, and the resort is successful. The owners are arrested for fraud, but Roark is not involved in the legal case. The simple fact, however, that Roark made money for people who did not want to make money impresses businessmen, and Roark receives commissions. Additionally, at the time of Monadnock’s completion, Roark receives a telegram from Kent Lansing, now the legal owner of the Aquitania Hotel. Although Roark’s original intent was to spend the first summer of Monadnock’s existence at the resort, he now returns to New York City to complete the hotel.
The climax of The Fountainhead begins when Keating, whose career is slipping because he’s been replaced by a newer trend, begs Roark to design for him plans for the new low-income housing project called Cortlandt Homes. Keating knows he cannot solve the problems of design, and does not attempt to. Instead, he brings the specifications to Roark. Keating requests that Roark design it and allow Keating to take the credit for it. Roark knows that he can do it and is eager to. He also knows that he could never get approved by Toohey, who is the behind-the-scenes power on the project. Roark agrees only on the condition that the buildings be erected exactly as he designs them; Keating agrees. Keating will receive the recognition, the money, and whatever other benefits society may confer on a man—but Roark will build Cortlandt. Roark designs a masterpiece, Keating submits it as his, and Toohey accepts it. But when Roark is away on a cruise with Wynand, two of Toohey’s lackeys alter Roark’s design. When Roark returns, he dynamites the defaced masterpiece and allows himself to be arrested. Significantly, he enlists Dominique’s aid in the dynamiting. Whereas years earlier, she had been afraid that society would reject him, now she is not afraid to help Roark in an act for which society may imprison him. Roark knows that Dominique is now ready for their relationship.
Wynand embarks on a crusade to save Roark. Believing that his papers mold public opinion, Wynand defends Roark vociferously in The Banner. But Wynand’s public does not care if a great genius has been wronged; they stop reading the paper in protest of Wynand’s stance. When Wynand is out of town in a desperate attempt to save an advertising contract, Toohey strikes. Toohey, who writes a column for The Banner, has schemed for years to take over the paper. Gradually, he has maneuvered his followers into key editorial positions, and they all come out against Roark. When Wynand fires them, the union, controlled by Toohey, goes on strike. Wynand, with Dominique’s help, struggles to get out the paper, but it comes back unread. To save the paper, Wynand is forced to reverse his stand on the Cortlandt dynamiting.
At his trial, Roark defends the right of the creator to the product of his effort. Roark points out that it was he who designed Cortlandt and that he was not paid for his work. The only price—that it be erected as designed—was not paid. He argues that an individual is not a slave to society, and that society has a claim to a creator’s work only on his own terms. He points out that, down through the ages, creative men have often developed beneficial new ideas and products, only to be rejected by their societies. Despite social opposition, the creators move ahead, carrying the rest of mankind with them. Cortlandt Homes is the product of his mind; it is his creation and belongs to him. If society wants it—as it does—justice requires that his asking price be paid. It must be built as he designed it. The jury understands his position and votes to acquit him. Roger Enright buys Cortlandt Homes from the government and hires Roark to build it; Wynand, as long planned, hires Roark to build the Wynand Building, the tallest skyscraper in the city. Roark has achieved commercial success on his own terms.
The novel’s climax brings to resolution the struggles of all five of the major characters. Roark sees his ideas finally winning in the field of architecture. After decades of the battle that he and Cameron fought, their new methods are ultimately gaining recognition. Dominique, seeing that she was mistaken in believing that a genius like Roark has no chance in a corrupt world, is liberated from her fears and is finally free to marry him. Wynand is psychologically and morally crushed by the realization that success did not require him to sell his soul to the masses, that his professional life was founded on a lie. When Toohey emerges victorious from the strike, prepared to dictate editorial policy on The Banner, Wynand shuts down the paper rather than allow Toohey to control it. Years of Toohey’s scheming are wasted; he has failed both in his attempt to stop Roark and in his attempt to take over the Wynand papers. Toohey must start over at another paper, but time, for him, is running out—as it has for Keating, who is publicly exposed as a fraud at Roark’s trial, as a man who puts his name on another man’s work. Keating, who once enjoyed acclaim, now finds that his career in architecture is finished. He is a rotted-out shell of a man.

List of Characters

  • Howard Roark:The hero of the story. It is his struggle to succeed as an architect on his own terms that forms the essence of the novel’s conflict. His independent functioning serves as a standard by which to judge the other characters—either they are like Roark or they allow others, in one form or another, to control their lives. Roark is the embodiment of the great innovative thinkers who have carried mankind forward but are often opposed by their societies.
  • Henry Cameron: Roark’s mentor. He is an aged, bitter curmudgeon—and a commercial failure—but he is the greatest architect of his day. He is an early modernist, one of the first to design skyscrapers and a man of unbending integrity. Roark admires Cameron as he does no one else in the novel. His life exemplifies the fate of many innovators who have discovered new knowledge or invented a revolutionary product, only to be repudiated by society.
  • Dominique Francon: An impassioned idealist who loves only man the hero. Dominique is Roark’s lover, his greatest admirer, and, simultaneously, an ally of Roark’s most implacable enemy—Ellsworth Toohey—in the attempt to ruin his career. Dominique, though a brilliant woman, holds a pessimistic philosophy throughout much of the novel that prevents her from fulfilling her vast potential.
  • Guy Francon: Dominique’s father. A phony architect, who achieves commercial success by two means: copying from the great classical designers, and wining and dining prospective clients with urbane wit and charm. His great financial success despite his unprincipled methods provides some of the evidence on which Dominique originally bases her conclusion that the world is essentially corrupt. Francon’s tutelage helps Peter Keating develop into an even more unscrupulous manipulator than his boss.
  • Peter Keating: The foil to Roark. He lacks the backbone to ever stand alone, and spends his life forever seeking the approval of others. He even codifies his toadying attitude into a formal principle: “Always be what people want you to be.” Keating is an outstanding example of a status-seeking conformist.
  • Mrs. Louisa Keating: Peter’s mother. She seeks respectability above all. She teaches her son to put the values of others before his own. By encouraging her son to surrender his mind to others, she is indirectly responsible for causing his ultimate self-destruction.
  • Ellsworth Toohey: Architectural critic and spiritual power broker. Toohey is simultaneously a cult leader acquiring a private army of slavish followers and a Marxist intellectual preaching socialism to the masses. Roark’s refusal to obey threatens his hegemony in his own field, so he dedicates himself to Roark’s destruction. The villain of the novel, Toohey represents collectivism in its most undiluted form.
  • Catherine Halsey: Toohey’s niece and Keating’s fiancée. Catherine is an honest girl of only modest intellect and ambition, but she loves Peter sincerely. Keating’s betrayal of her robs her of the only personal goal that she possesses and drives her to become one of her uncle’s obedient followers.
  • Gail Wynand: Powerful publisher of vulgar tabloids. Wynand combines a mixture of independent and dependent methods of functioning. In his personal life, he lives by his own judgment, but he panders shamelessly to the masses in his career. He is Roark’s closest friend, yet the way he has sold his own principles to gain power is in sharp contrast to Roark’s integrity. Wynand’s life shows that it is impossible to attain happiness by embodying mutually exclusive premises.
  • Alvah Scarrett: Wynand’s chief editor. An unthinking “mom and apple pie” type of conservative, he is invaluable to Wynand as a means of gauging public opinion. Though loyal to Wynand, his abject conformity makes him easy prey for Toohey. He embodies the trite conventionality of popular culture.
  • Austen Heller: Newspaper columnist who defends the rights of the individual. That he gives money generously to help political prisoners around the globe shows his respect for the independent mind. He gives Roark his first commission by hiring him to build a private home, then remains a trusted friend.
  • Steven Mallory: Sculptor of significant ability, who portrays man the exalted hero in his figures. He sculpts the statue of Dominique for Roark’s Temple of the Human Spirit. He, too, is a valued and loyal friend of Roark’s.
  • Mike Donnigan: Construction worker. He knows construction, scorns social opinion, and goes by his own judgment. A lifelong friend of Roark’s, Mike’s life shows that a person does not have to be a genius to be independent, but he must be willing to live by his own judgment.
  • Roger Enright: Innovative businessman. He conceives a new idea for an apartment building—the Enright House—and hires Roark to build it. As a man who overturns previous thinking when entering a field, he is naturally attracted to Roark’s revolutionary designs. Enright’s life shows the independence necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.
  • Kent Lansing: Member of the board set up to build the Aquitania Hotel, a luxury establishment on Central Park South. He battles for years, against a variety of obstacles, to get Roark hired and to complete the hotel’s construction. Lansing is an example, as is Roark on a larger scale, of the unswerving dedication that an innovative thinker must possess if he is to reach his goals against a society opposed to change.
  • The Dean of Stanton Institute: A traditionalist in architecture. His commitment to the established rules of design and unwillingness to consider new ideas make him the first of the many conformists with whom Roark comes into conflict. The Dean is more typical of Roark’s antagonists than is the evil Toohey, for he is merely a social conservative, blind to the possibility and value of progress. Important for “the principle behind the Dean” that Roark seeks to understand.
  • Ralston Holcolmbe :Another traditionalist in architecture. Holcolmbe believes Renaissance is the only appropriate style of building for the modern world. He embodies a different type of conformity than Francon, who adheres to the Classical school of design. Both he and Francon are rigid dogmatists unwilling to consider the new ideas of modern architecture.
  • John Erik Snyte: An eclectic in the field of architecture. Snyte refuses to cling slavishly to one school of design; instead, he combines clashing styles into a hodgepodge of contradictory elements. As a man willing to give the public anything it wants, no matter how vulgar or inane, Snyte represents conformity in yet another form. In his own unprincipled way, it is his willingness to let Roark design in his own style that makes possible Roark’s first commission.
  • Gordon L. Prescott: A phony architect who seeks to impress people by spouting the terminology of Hegelian dialectic. He is not concerned with building effectively, but merely with winning adulation from a gaping public. One of an army of nonconformists who conform utterly to Toohey’s circle, Prescott is one of the characters illustrating that rebellious nonconformity is as slavish to the group as is blind conformity.
  • Gus Webb: One of Toohey’s followers. An architect of the so-called “International Style,” which rejects the blind following of traditional schools for barren, flat-topped structures devoid of any logical plan. A virulent nonconformist, rebelling against civility, personal hygiene, and all aspects of a rational life, Webb is a crude and vulgar lout, whose mindless activism on behalf of the “workers’ revolution” contrasts with Toohey’s cultured advocacy of Marxism. Whereas Toohey is representative of the intellectual “Old Left,” Webb embodies the anti-intellectual, physical activism of the New Left.
  • Lois Cook: Another mindless rebel and follower of Toohey. She is an avant-garde writer who dispenses with coherent sentence structure. Lois Cook deliberately builds the “ugliest house” in New York and cultivates a slovenly appearance as means to shock the middle class. She and Gus Webb, in blindly rebelling against the values of society, are as controlled by other people as is an abject conformist like Keating.