This is the story about two architects. One, Howard Roark, is a brilliant yet radical artist who wishes to design buildings strictly to satisfy his own desire to create. His uncompromising and unusual designs get him kicked out of school, and he heads to New York to start a career. Roark is pensive man, impossibly confident, proud, and never sees himself or his work in relation to others. He judges himself strictly according to his own values. Truly an independent man. He endeavors to please no one but himself.
The other architect is Peter Keating. Keating is also a brilliant young man, but he lacks Roark's sense of assurance and individuality. Lacking self-confidence, he feeds on the flattery and can only exist on others' opinions. His designs are unoriginal menageries of past architectural conventions, and he must compromise artistic integrity for satisfying everyone else.
The book spends much of its time following these two men and their careers. Keating meets with easy success thanks to his mainstream designs that make everyone happy. Roark often struggles to find work with his atypical designs, and his refusal to accommodate the desires of the client makes things tricky. The Fountainhead's objective is to show why Roark is the hero and Keating is the "bad guy." (There's other "bad guys" that come into the plot later with their own complexities, but let's keep the review simple.)
One problem is already evident. Architecture is largely comparable to any other business...it's about serving the customer. If someone wants a "lame" Greek- or Renaissance-style home, an architect isn't necessarily inferior as a person because he's trying to do good business.
But this book is not about architecture. To me, it's about a heroic artist. Architecture is just the vehicle with which Roark's story is told (Rand could have made Roark a musician, or something). In any case, The Fountainhead makes Rand's case (that man's ego generates the desire to create) in a striking manner. I think the ideas in this novel have tremendous impact, especially today.
You see, The Fountainhead, despite the faults of Ayn Rand's philosophy (more completely explored in Atlas Shrugged, another good book), is a powerful story because of its credo on art and some other themes that can be extrapolated through Roark. And Roark is a fantastic hero. Yes, in standard terms he's a self-absorbed sociopath (although he does get friends later), but he has many great qualities. He's honest, he knows what he wants, he's a genius, he's individualistic, and perfectly happy with himself. Is he the perfect man (as Rand would have it)? Probably not, but in The Fountainhead he's the perfect hero.
Many have faulted The Fountainhead for being a naive projection of ideals, for its unrealistically black and white characters, and didactic writing. The didactic thing bothered me -- later in the book there's parts where Rand loses that narrative objectivity and gets a bit pushy instead of just letting the character convey the ideas and letting the reader see things himself. But as for the romantic and black & white elements, I think those are part of makes the book so much more powerful. The message would have been suffocated by characters possessing a mix of good and bad qualities. With Roark being "white" and Keating and Ellsworth Toohey being unambiguously "black," Rand makes her message remarkably powerful.
And I also think Rand's a great writer. She can get more out of a person's physical description than any author I've read, and the way she captures that lucid sense of greatness in Roark's buildings is pretty magnificent. As for Roark...I wouldn't want to be him, but he is a great hero. One that I'll never forget.
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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's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. The book follows his battle to practice modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. How others in the novel relate to Roark demonstrates Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, the author's ideal man of independent-mindedness and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers." The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allows the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work.
The manuscript 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 early reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word of mouth and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The...