The Fountainhead is unlike any book you would have read before (assuming you do read novels). It takes the basic premise of greed, ambition, treachery, mental confrontations and mind boggling & baffling decisions against the backdrop of an otherwise boring subject, architecture, and makes every letter of the book etched in gold. A well thought of storyline, with excellently carved out characters. This book is surprisingly original and un-clichéd. This story is not just about Howard Roark the architect, who wins through all odds, but of each of the characters have been painted by the author’s brush in such a complete manner that it is everybody’s story. No one character dominates.
The principled & stubborn Howard Roark, for whom principles stand higher than the money and public encomium he can garner by compromising on them. He lives life on his own terms, even though it leads him to near destituteness. He bides his time, and finally recognition from the proper quarters start pouring in. Experience has taught him a lot and he knows what to pursue and what to let go. Comes across as a dispassionate, staid personality but I doubt you would have ever read of such a clearly sketched character – so transparent yet so opaque. “The self sufficient, self confident, the ends of ends, the reason unto himself. The man as man should be. A man who IS what he should be.” That is Howard Roark for you
Ice maiden Dominique Francon, the woman who wishes to destroy all that Roark could ever have, and how! By tarnishing his reputation, by marrying someone she does not love. It’s all a comedy of errors at times, but each step, each plan is carefully sketched out. She loves Howard passionately, but hates to see him being rejected as an architect, and defames him to get him rid of his passion of building. Things turn out otherwise.
Success and appraisal hungry Peter Keating, who abandons his love, sells his soul and in the course of the story, sells his soul, his pride and in the end, his wife as well. A man broken from every quarter & by everything that can break a man.
Gail Wynand, owner of Wynand papers, one of the biggest businesses in town. A person who has, like Ellsworth, taken joy in destroying people. He strikes an instant camaraderie with Howard, and vice versa. They become soul-brothers, and Gail crumbles emotionally I front of Howard Roark, who gives him all the support he can. In Gail’s own words, he feels happier than ever before after finally meeting a person who thinks like him. And that person is Howard. Ironically, when for the first time in his life, he does not speak what the masses want him to, but what he believes in, it brings about his downfall.
Ellsworth Toohey, who takes great pleasure in making or breaking people as per his whim & fancy. . The motive behind his actions lies beyond comprehension if you cast superficial glances at his work, his character & his actions. “A vicious, ingrown vanity coupled with an insane will to power, a lust for superiority that can be expressed only through others, whom therefore, he has to dominate.” An anti-thesis to Howard Roark, and thus, in essence, this story could have easily been the tale of a battle between Howard & Toohey.
The book talks about Objectivism – a controversial philosophy seeded by the author, Ayn Rand. Objectivism is the state of not being influenced by emotions, to be fair and impartial to the goal ahead. It glorifies egotism over altruism. The author preaches living for self & to be the creator rather than be incumbent and live life “second hand”. The entire philosophy might sound too misanthropic & controversial, but in today’s world, we need to practice this to a certain extent. Ayn gives the following reason for have written The Fountainhead.
“This may sound naïve. But – is our life to ever have any reality? Are we ever going to live on a level OR is life always to be something different from what it should be? A real life, simple & sincere, and even naïve, is the only life where all potential grandeur & beauty of human existence can really be found. No one has shown today’s world as it really is, with its real meaning & reasons. I’m going to show it. If it’s not a pretty picture – what is the substitute?”
Here’s what Ellsworth Toohey had to say, the reasons & the means for his machinations & grandiose dreams of world domination – something that also reveals how we might be getting ruled by others, the so-called superiors…He reveals that monster, and that coward that lives in many of us. In essence, he could be considered as the antagonist of the plot
“I’ve always wanted power. I shall rule the world. It is only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleans were fools & did not last. We will. The soul is one which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it & the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he’ll bring it you & asked to be whipped. Want to know how it’s done? Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration & his integrity. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Preach selflessness. Tell men that altruism is the ideal. No man has ever achieved it & never will. Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue – and it gives him the sense of guilt, of his own basic unworthiness. His soul gives up its self-respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul – and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Here’s another one, & the most important. Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self contained & self sufficient. 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 personal desire is evil. Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll come to you for consolation, for support, for escape. Nature allows no vacuum. Empty man’s soul – and the space is yours to fill. Tie happiness to guilt, and you’ve got mankind by the throat. Everything I said is contained in a single word – collectivism. The individual is held as evil, the race - as God. And I have the race, by the throat”
And here is Howard Roark’s statement, where he differentiates between actual egotists & those who are saddled with the title. He shows why it is better to be an egotist than a dependant parasite
“Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably hated & considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fir to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He left them a gift they had not conceived & he had lifted darkness off the earth. The first man who invented the wheel too, was considered a transgressor into forbidden territory. But thereafter, men could travel past any horizon. That man, the unsubmissive & the first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded. Prometheus, Adam, whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory, mankind knew that its glory began with one & that one paid for his courage. No creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers, for they rejected his gift that destroyed the slothful routine of their lives. His truth was his only motive. The creation, not its users. The creation, not the benefits others derived from it. His vision, his strength, his courage came from his own spirit. A man’s spirit, however, is his self. That entity which is his consciousness. To think, to feel, to judge, to act are functions of the ego. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement the great creators – the thinkers, the artists, the scientists – stood alone against the men of their time. They fought, they paid, they suffered, but they won.”
“We inherit the products of thoughts of other men. We inherit the wheel and go on to make carts, automobiles & airplanes. But all through this, what we receive is only the end product of someone else’s thinking. That creative faculty belongs to individual men. Nothing is given to man. Everything he needs has to be produced. And here man faces his basic alternative: he can survive either by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the mind of others. The creator originates. The parasite borrows. The creator faces nature alone. The parasite does so through an intermediary. The creator lives for his work. The parasite lives second hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive.”
“Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet, the need of the creator comes before that of a beneficiary. Yet, we are taught to admire the second hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug an act of achievement. Men have been taught that their first concern is to relieve the sufferings of others. But suffering is a disease. The creator is not concerned with the disease, but with life. Yet, the work of the creator has eliminated one form of disease after another, in man’s body & spirit, and brought more relief from suffering than any altruist could ever conceive. Men have been taught it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees, the one who goes against the current, who stands alone. Men have been taught that ego is the synonym of evil, & selflessness the ideal of virtue. Man was offered two conceptions – egotism – sacrifice of others to self, & altruism – the sacrifice of self to others. This gave nothing but pain to man, not realizing that the choice to be made was not between self sacrifice or domination, but between dependence & independence. All that proceeds from man’s independence ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence on man is evil. The egotist, is the creator”
“The egotist in the absolute sense is not the man who sacrifices others. He is the man who stands above the need for using others. He does not function through them. He does not exist for any other man, and he asks no man to exist for him.
There is philosophy abound, sure to change your outlook & put some skepticism & pessimism in you. It’s not the chirpiest of books. If you are looking for happy endings, this book is not for you, no. this book portrays reality. And we know the world described here is something that slaps us in our faces every single day. We do so many things to nurture escapism in our lives. There is too much misery in the world to constantly harp about it & make yourselves miserable too. But if you have the stomach to face the stinging truisms of life, if you dare to doff your rose tinted glasses & look life in the eye, then this book is for you