Review: The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead; Ayn Rand

Word of advice: If you’ve never read Ayn Rand before, don’t start with Atlas Shrugged. Read this one first. The Fountainhead is the prologue. Atlas is the symphony.

I, of course, devoured the symphony first.

But that doesn’t make The Fountainhead any less important. It presents two extremes—Peter Keating, the successful student that weasels his way to the top of the field; and Howard Roark, kicked out of college for his unconventional ideas who doesn’t compromise his beliefs for anyone. It’s really no surprise which man we’re meant to root for.

While Keating is manipulating his way to the top of a successful architectural firm, Roark is forced to work a summer in a granite quarry because no one will hire him. They hardly interact at all, but for some unseen reason Keating detests Roark. Assumably because of his genius—Keating does whatever he can to please everyone, and Roark couldn’t care in the slightest what other people want.

And of course there’s Dominique Francon, beautiful daughter of Keating’s boss, the only powerful female in the story (if Ayn Rand wasn’t a female herself, I would have issues with this). She’s manipulative in her own way, befriending Keating while having a similar personality to Roark. She becomes the rise and fall of various people throughout the story, and most of her victims hardly even know she’s a part of it.

We can’t discuss this book without mentioning Objectivism. ie, what Roark preaches. Don’t let others define you, only work for yourself, you are responsible for your own success and happiness. And this is a fine theory, even if Rand’s characters take it to the extreme. It also takes God out of the equation, but another’s another tale for another time. The Fountainhead bleeds Objectivism. People are either completely selfish (Keating) or… not (Roark). “Selfless” isn’t even the right word; he does things not for glory or charity but because it needs to be done. He must design his unconventional buildings, because they’re the only kind that make sense. There are few people he meets in his life that understand this theory, and it causes a whole slew of controversy and revolt.

In short, The Fountainhead is more preachy than story-driven. Its focus is the success of Objectivism and the decline of everything else. I don’t know if people like Howard Roark actually exist. If they do, I would probably hate them. He has no visible personality, and comes off as cold-hearted and selfish. But he’s not. He’s brilliant. I suppose it would be jealousy.

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