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The Fountainhead


by MSS and Roy Posner


Analysis based on the consciousness approach to life


Plot Information | Commentary


Howard Roark, a brilliant young architect, is expelled from his architecture school for refusing to follow the school's outdated traditions. He goes to New York to work for Henry Cameron, a disgraced architect whom Roark admires. Roark's schoolmate, Peter Keating, moves to New York and goes to work for the prestigious architectural firm Francon & Heyer, run by the famous Guy Francon. Roark and Cameron create beautiful work, but their projects rarely receive recognition, whereas Keating's ability to flatter and please brings him almost instant success. In just a few years, he becomes a partner at the firm after he causes Francon's previous partner to have a stroke. Henry Cameron retires, financially ruined, and Roark opens his own small office. His unwillingness to compromise his designs in order to satisfy clients eventually forces him to close down the office and take a job at a granite quarry in Connecticut.

In Connecticut, Roark feels an immediate, passionate attraction to Dominique Francon, Guy Francon's temperamental and beautiful daughter. Society disgusts Dominique, and she has retreated to her family's estate to escape the mediocre architecture she sees all around her. One night, Roark enters the house and rapes her. Dominique discovers that this is what she had needed, but when she looks for Roark, he has left the quarry to design a building for a prominent New York businessman. Dominique returns to New York and discovers Roark's identity. She realizes that he designed a building she admires. Dominique and Roark begin to meet in secret, but in public she tries to sabotage his career and destroy him. Ellsworth Toohey, an architectural critic and socialist, slowly prepares to rise to power. He seeks to prevent men from excelling by teaching that talent and ability are of no great consequence, and that the greatest virtue is humility. Toohey sees Roark as a great threat and tries to destroy him. Toohey convinces a weak-minded businessman named Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark as the designer for a temple dedicated to the human spirit, then persuades the businessman to sue Roark once the building is completed. At Roark's trial, every prominent architect in New York testifies that Roark's style is unorthodox and illegitimate, but Dominique declares that the world does not deserve the gift Roark has given it. Stoddard wins the case and Roark loses his business again. To punish herself for desiring Roark, Dominique marries Peter Keating.

Enter Gail Wynand, a brilliant publisher, who has lost his early idealism and made his fortune by printing newspapers that say exactly what the public wants to hear. Wynand meets Dominique and falls in love with her, so he buys her from Keating by offering him money and a prestigious contract in exchange for his wife. Dominique agrees to marry Wynand because she thinks he is an even worse person than Keating, but to her surprise, Wynand is a man of principle. Wynand and Roark meet and become fast friends, but Wynand does not know the truth about Roark's relationship with Dominique. Meanwhile Keating, who has fallen from grace, asks Roark for help with the Cortlandt Homes, a public housing project. The idea of economical housing intrigues Roark. He agrees to design the project and let Keating take the credit on the condition that no one makes a single alteration to his plan.

When Roark returns from a summer-long yacht trip with Wynand, he finds that, despite the agreement, the Cortlandt Homes project has been changed. Roark asks Dominique to distract the night watchman one night and then dynamites the building. When the police arrive, he submits without resistance. The entire country condemns Roark, but Wynand finally finds the courage to follow his convictions and orders his newspapers to defend him. The Banner's circulation drops and the workers go on strike, but Wynand keeps printing with Dominique's help. Eventually, Wynand gives in and denounces Roark. At the trial, Roark seems doomed, but he rouses the courtroom with a statement about the value of selfishness and the need to remain true to oneself. Roark describes the triumphant role of creators and the price they pay at the hands of corrupt societies. The jury finds him not guilty. Roark marries Dominique. Wynand asks Roark to design one last building, a skyscraper that will testify to the supremacy of man.

2004 SparkNotes LLC





Commentary of MSS

(Note: Underlined items are links to related Growth Online content.)

Roark's Self-Directedness and Non-Reaction are Spiritual-like Qualities
A novel [The Fountainhead] with an architect as a hero was published in 1947 in Britain, written by a Russian immigrant [Ayn Rand] who became an American citizen. It became a success and ran through twenty impressions and still remains a worldwide best seller. Howard Roark is an architect who is devoted to architecture. It is his entire life. He sees a building as a whole gaining an integrity of its own. The society hounds him out of existence. The society does not exist for Roark. He passes through hell, works in a quarry as a day labourer but awaits for Life to Respond. The long awaited Response comes late in life, but when it comes, it comes in all its splendour and richness.


How the fraternity of architects treats him, how the unthinking social mass disowns him, how much he suffers are all in character -- what every pioneer or sage has undergone without exception. What is exceptional is Roark does not react, does not even respond to defend himself. He hardly notices what is being done to him. It was not as if reaction arose in him and he suppressed it. No reaction issues from inside. Even Yudhishthira says that though he does not express his anger, anger does issue from inside. Roark does not react, does not seek any reward for his work and is utterly truthful. All of these are spiritual qualities. The Rishis are known for their curses. How many Rishis can rise to the level of Roark's equality is a question. He who does not react is one who rises above the Mind, as reaction is a characteristic of Mind. Individuality is precious. Non-reacting equality is its hallmark.



Roark as Example of the Emergence of a True Spiritual Individual
The hippy movement originated in the USA as a revolt against the establishment. It was the distance beginning of the emerging individual. Though they were absorbed by the society later, the spirit of their revolt is still alive.

The 20th Century was called the century of the common man. The 21st Century will be the century of the spiritually free individual. The novel Fountainhead was published in 1947 by a Russian emigrant who became an American citizen. The hero of the novel is Howard Roark, an architect. To him architecture is his life. He speaks of the integrity of the buildings because he sees them as a whole integrated with every aspect of the environment. Though architecture is an insignificant part of life, for a civilization that is physical, architecture and the buildings are a major part.

The hero has all the characteristics of a pioneer and society responds to his pioneering effort as of old. What is new in Howard Roark is his detachment, non-reacting equality, ability not to seek anything, even the woman he is passionately in love with. He never wavers from truth. All these are preeminently features of the spirit. How many rishis [Indian spiritual seekers] will past the test of equality [i.e. non-reaction to positive or negative] is a valid question. In that sense, Roark exceeds the rishis. The author portrays him as a supreme egotist. He describes himself as a selfish man. He is obviously without the vital, mental ego. He is not aware of the spiritual character of his endowments.

If such a character is produced in a novel written in 1947, though it is written by a Russian emigrant, it means in the collective -- USA as well as the world -- there must be a readiness to produce many more of his type.


Commentary by Growth Online
(Note: underlined items are links to related Growth Online information)

Howard Roark, a True Individual and Personality
In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead we see one individual, Howard Roark, expressing his true individuality by thinking for himself, not being swayed by the herd. We can say that such a person is in contact with his inner Personality and True Self, as opposed to others who rely on the social imperative. When that inner force is weak though true, relative to the world around him, society tends to crush him and his ideals. If it is strong, as it was in the case of Roark or a Churchill or a Gorbachav, it can change the course of the world around them.

How many of us think for ourselves, instead of being determined by the herd around us, the social view, the collective views expressed by media and popular culture? How many of us seek to know the true truth, the many sided truth, instead of the part and convenient truth that the world presents to us on the surface or that we are attached to within ourselves.

The true Individual in that sense is spiritual because he seeks identity with the full object of knowledge which the limited normal mind of man cannot perceive. Limited, normal mind perceives an exclusive truth, whereas the logical and better-still illumined and intuitive mind are powers of spiritualized mentality that seek the inherent truth in the object of inquiry. There is knowledge by identity with the object. There is no separation between the knower, the knowing, and the known. The influence of the social herd clouds that identity, as does the normally divided mind of man. Only when we seek the deeper consciousness within, do we move to the wider truth by identity.



Howard Roark

  • Roark almost never initiated, a spiritual-like quality which attracted life to him.

  • He used the methods of Silent Will, and soft/reduced speech to attract life towards him.

  • He was willing to wait.

  • The physical consciousness of the individual (as opposed to the vital/emotional or mental) cannot wait, as we see in Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, which is the opposite of Roark. I see my own position as half way in between, even as I value Roark's status as my own personal goal.

  • As a result of waiting, he got the commission he wanted to build the first building, and in the same way attracted from life the woman who would become his wife

  • He attracted her when he took the quarry job. She came to him.

  • He was wiling to go to the depths of poverty to fulfill his ideal. There he attracted her.

  • They both instantly fell in love with one another on site from a distance, because the power of self does not require any courting. It is instantaneous.

  • She was the suffering side of Roark who saw that his ideal was too pure for this world. His strength of ideal even overcame her suffering for him.

  • He stood up for the integrity of self.

  • He was not influenced by the collective will.

  • He had the strength to stand up to the greatest pressure through the strength of his ideal of self, which was real to him almost at the physical level. That's why he was never intimidated.

  • That strength was built on an utter conviction of his individual self.

  • At one point in the film, full individuality of self was equated with Spirit.

  • He never expressed his philosophical view in full till the court case.

  • The architect critic railed about the social need publicly before hand. However, Roark had the final word, in court.

  • There he expressed in full his view.

  • He was expressing the author's view.

  • The author was anti-Communistic, having flown from it, which supported her anti-collectivist view.

  • It was not that alone made her idealize the individual; she saw its value in action in America, her adopted home; perhaps seeing its as the cause of its greatness.

  • The settlers had the idea of Europe in mind, and so they recreated it. But they also had to execute it collectively. The US is also the story of organization (again an idea in mind), as well as people from varying cultures (i.e. immigrants) working together, which is a collective influence of the whole and the multiplicity of the whole..

  • In Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine in the chapter on "The Eternal and the Individual" that individuality is great, but a truer individuality occurs when we open to the higher consciousness, the Purusha, with its myriad of multiplicity. Then we are armed with a greater type of Individuality.

  • Wynand, the owner of the paper committed suicide in the film because he saw Roark stand up in court, hold to his ideals perfectly, and then win, whereas Wynand gave in to the pressures of his board of directors and allowed compromise on the housing development. As a result, he saw himself less of a man than Roark, losing all self-respect.

  • The blowing up of the building was one action I seriously questioned as an extension of self. Maybe he should have accepted the condition and moved on. But then there would have been no case in which he could have expressed his opinions. It was almost a device of the author, but maybe it's true to life. [MSS Comments: The problem can be suffered in silence or overcome by violence. These are two ways of meeting a problem.]

  • Rand's view is that creative self-vision is greater than self-sacrifice.

  • The film powerfully expresses the notion that the Idea in the minds of true individuals alone has moved the world. One man's idea has enabled all progress in the world. (This is a BIG point. I enjoyed this.)

  • Roark IS in his status of self, attracting all the world to him. He waits on the world like a guru awaiting for disciples to come to him so that he can dispense the wisdom that the Divine wishes to impart. The Divine waits for man through the Guru's waiting.

  • Rand was an atheist, though it was probably a reaction to religion than to spirituality, where one can find the True Self, Individual, Personality. Perhaps she was not exposed in her life to the latter.

  • In a 50th anniversary essay, written around a decade ago, a writer said Rand would be against today's pious conservative politicians in the US preaching self-righteous morality and religion on the one hand, and the ivory tower intellectuals who in the US teach multi-centralism to point out the victimhood of other cultures at the hands of Western oppressors (read colonialism) on the other. I agree on the former and somewhat on the latter. In the latter, people also turn to multi-culturalism because there are truths in other cultures that are not mere truths of victimization. E.g. In Indian culture there is The Gita that knows great truths (including that of True Self, ironically!) found nowhere in western culture.

  • Perhaps people in science are attracted to the rationality of Rand.

  • Sri Aurobindo says that science overcame the earlier superstition only to become the new superstition that is intolerant of the unmeasurable and the provable fact.

  • We are overwhelmed by the propaganda of consumerisms. We do not think for ourselves. Rand says we must think for ourselves in the extreme to get away from the collective view of the herd. In Roark's non-initiating, reacting character we see the true basis that will prevent the outer from ever determining our lives. Perhaps that is Rand's greatest contribution; that the inner ultimately should, and does determine.

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