The Fountainhead

Introduction | Plot Summary | Characters


The Fountainhead's centennial edition based on the original cover.The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It was Rand's first major literary success and its royalties and movie rights brought her fame and financial security. The book's title is a reference to Rand's statement that "man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress".

The Fountainhead examines the life of an idealistic young architect, Howard Roark, who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by pandering to the prevailing taste in building design. The book was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden, at the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house wired to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." Despite generally negative reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word of mouth and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The Fountainhead was made into a Hollywood film in 1949, with Gary Cooper in the lead role of Howard Roark, and a screenplay by Rand herself.

Plot summary

Howard Roark, a brilliant young architect, is expelled from his architecture school for refusing to follow the school's outdated traditions.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 once-famous and lauded, but now 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 owned by Francon.

In Connecticut, Roark feels an immediate, passionate attraction to Dominique Francon, Guy Francon's temperamental and beautiful daughter, who is summering at her father's country house nearby. Society disgusts Dominique, and she has retreated to the country to escape the mediocre architecture and company she finds all around her.

After several meetings, 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 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.


The major characters in the novel all represent different types of people, and essentially exist to contrast Howard Roark, who is Rand's image of the perfect man (and, to a lesser extent, contrast Toohey, who is shown as the absolute evil). Roark is the man who was 'as man should be,' who lives for himself and his own creativity, indifferent to the opinions of others. Dominique Francon is presented as the perfect mistress for Roark. Over the course of the novel she must learn not to fear society and not to let its flaws hinder her integrity. Gail Wynand is the 'man who could have been,' who rises from the poverty of his youth into an extremely rich and powerful position, but uses his superlative talent not to create for himself, but to control others, which leads to his own demise. Peter Keating is 'the man who couldn't be, and doesn't know it,' who wants to achieve as well as make a name for himself, but lives off the support and condolence of others, which is what leads to his demise. Ellsworth Toohey, presented as the complete antithesis of Roark, is 'the man who couldn't be, and knows it,' who, pessimistic about his talent when he was young, sets out to destroy others through guilt and altruism, because he knows that this is the only way he can accomplish anything. The novel is split into four sections, named after Keating, Toohey, Wynand, and Roark; each section (though the plot is completely chronological) is named after the character which fully shows his own nature in each one. The last one, in which Roark achieves his final victory, is named after him.

Howard Roark

Howard Roark is the hero of the novel, whom Rand portrays as a paragon of Objectivist ideals (though, when the novel was published the term Objectivism had not yet been coined). He is an aspiring architect with a unique, uncompromising creative vision, which contrasts sharply with the staid and uninspired conventions of the architectural establishment. Roark takes pleasure in the act of creation, but is constantly opposed by "the hostility of second-hand souls" and those unwilling or afraid to recognize his creative ability. Roark serves as the basic mold from which the protagonists of Rand's other great novel, Atlas Shrugged, are cast. Roark is the paragon of a successful man as visualized by Rand.

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. 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 willing 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, 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.

Roark is in his status of self, attracting all the world to him. He waits on the world like a guru waiting 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.

Dominique Francon

Dominique Francon is the heroine of the novel, described by Rand as "the woman for a man like Howard Roark." And Roark is Rand's ideal human. This is illustrated when Roark says that any man who comes looking for him is his kind of man. Dominique is the daughter of a highly successful but creatively inhibited architect. It is only through Roark that her love of pleasure and autonomy meets a worthy equal. She is the daughter of Guy Francon, Peter Keating's boss, who fears his daughter. Her intelligence, insight and observations are above his. These strengths are also what she initially lets stifle her growth and make her miserable. She begins thinking the world did not deserve her sincerity and smarts, because the people around her did not measure up to her standards. She starts out punishing the world and herself for all the things about man which she despises, through self-defeating behavior. She is held a protagonist, but is not (at least for the bulk of the novel) without flaw. She initially believes that greatness, such as Roark's, is doomed to failure and will be destroyed by the 'collectivist' vultures buzzing around them. She eventually joins Roark romantically, but before she can do this, she must learn to join him in his perspective and purpose.

However, Dominique Francon must learn the long hard way not to let a flawed society and misled zeitgeist inhibit her creative and emotional expression and drive, nor poison her hope in her own ideals. By the end of the story, Dominique no longer cares what anyone thinks or does. She lives her life for herself and no one else. She learns to love and create freely and passionately, and no longer cares whether or not the world is worthy of her expression. She has a new world now that is hers alone. Finally, it is the act of creating, loving, and living in which she finds happiness, rather than the results of these successes, no matter how good or bad the recognition may be. It no longer matters what might happen or what others think, because the happiness she finds cannot be taken away from her. She learns to be the change she wishes to see in her world. Her new world, that in which she sets the standards by which all will live in regards to any association with Dominique, is worthy of her beautiful mind and heart because it belongs to her and no one else, and is shared on her terms alone. That is, Dominique's terms as well as those with the same individualistic, objectivist and uncompromising ideals.

Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand is a powerful newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York City to control the city's print media. While Wynand shares many of the character qualities of Roark, his success is dependent upon his ability to manipulate public opinion, a flaw which eventually leads to his destruction. Rand describes Wynand as "a man who could have been." It has been speculated that Wynand is partially based on real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, since Hearst himself started by taking over his father's newspaper and spread from there. Furthermore, Hearst was known as the father of the Yellow Papers, which Wynand is known for in the realm of the Fountainhead.

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.

Peter Keating

Peter Keating is also an aspiring architect, but is everything that Roark is not. His original tendency was to become a painter, but his opportunistic mother pushed him toward architecture where he might have greater material success. Keating's creative abilities are somewhat mediocre, but his willingness to build what others wish him leads to temporary success. He went to architecture school with Roark, who helped him with some of his less inspired projects. He is subservient to the wills of others - Dominique Francon's father, the architectural establishment, his mother, even Roark himself. Keating is "a man who never could be, but doesn't know it," according to Rand. The one sincere thing in Keating's life is his love for Catherine, which he expresses by never having sex with her - though she would have been willing and though he had sex with various girls who meant nothing to him, because in Keating's view having sex is equivalent to taking advantage of the partner, which he does not want to do to Catherine. Also, when finding out that Catherine is Ellsworth Toohey's niece, he refuses her suggestion to introduce him to her uncle - though an introduction to the influential architectural critic Toohey would help his career, and though in all other circumstances Keating is absolutely relentless and ruthless in furthering his career, even to the extent of bullying a sick old man and causing his death. Keating's offering to elope with Catherine is the one chance he has to break out of his false life and do what he really wants; Dominique arriving on that precise moment and offering to marry him for her own reasons, and his acceptance of the offer and betrayal of Catherine, seals his doom - and also the betrayed Catherine, who is left exposed to her uncle's machinations, is ultimately turned into a soulless robot.

Ellsworth Toohey

Rand describes Toohey as "a man who never could be, and knows it." Toohey is an architectural critic for Wynand's paper who uses his influence over the masses to hinder Howard Roark. Toohey is an unabashed collectivist, who styles himself as representative of the will of the masses. Having no true genius that such innovators as Roark possess, he makes himself excellent by manipulating the masses to believe that mediocrity is excellent. Toohey serves as the primary villain in the novel, and the gravest enemy of Objectivist ideals. Toohey is also the only character in the novel to have political goals. He is attempting to establish a dictatorship in America by altering people's view of excellence; to destroy that which is great and spread the word that altruism is the ultimate ideal. This is put forward in one of his most memorable quotes: "Don't set out to raze all shrines - you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed."

Power of Equality

Roark's Self-Directedness and Non-Reaction

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 waits 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 an Example

Roark is an 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 pass 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

A True Individual

Howard Roark is a True Individual and Personality

Howard Roark expresses his true individuality by thinking for himself and 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.

Ayn Rand

The author was anti-Communistic. Rand's view is that creative self-vision is greater than self-sacrifice. The story 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. 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 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. 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.

We are overwhelmed by the propaganda of consumerism. 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.