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The Fountainhead: Summary, Characters & Analysis

Instructor: Emily Russell

Emily has taught writing and literature at the college level and is currently pursuing a PhD (ABD) in medieval and early modern literature.

In her novel, ''The Fountainhead'', Ayn Rand explores the struggle between the individual and society. This lesson will introduce characters, provide a summary, and give an analysis of the book.

Peer Pressure

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressured to do something you didn't want to do? How did you react? Did you decide to compromise and follow the crowd? Or did you disregard the social pressures and do what you wanted? If you've had to make these kind of difficult choices, you've experienced the struggle between society and the individual. That struggle is what Ayn Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead is all about.

The Main Characters

Howard Roark and Peter Keating are both architects who are recognized as leaders in their field. Roark is championed by those who value innovation and practicality in design. He refuses to work to please anyone but himself and is nearly run out of the business several times for this attitude.

Keating is respected for his ability to imitate classical architectural styles. For the majority of the novel, he enjoys more financial and social success than Roark, but it is clear that Keating is only successful because he does not think for himself.

Dominique Francon works for The Banner, the newspaper of the franchise owned by Gail Wynand. She believes that most people are driven by a desire to maintain the status quo and so are easily manipulated. She recognizes Roark's talent and integrity and is afraid that people will seek to destroy him because he is an individual. She falls in love with him but refuses to let herself marry him because she thinks she will not be able to bear watching society destroy him.

Dominique and Roark as portrayed in the 1949 film.
Dominique and Roark

Dominique's Marriages

Instead, Dominique marries Peter Keating. She despises Peter because he is invested only in what people think of him. By marrying him, she hopes to destroy her own individualist and idealist nature. The marriage ends when Gail Wynand offers Keating a large architectural contract in exchange for his wife.

Initially, Dominique hates Wynand as much as she hated Keating, but then she realizes that, like herself, Gail is a self-destructive individualist and idealist who believes that he is doomed. They bond over this realization.

Gail and Dominique get married as Keating's career begins to dwindle and Roark becomes more successful. Then the twist - Gail learns about Roark's talent and hires him to build his house and Roark and Dominique are reunited. Gail and Roark quickly become close and, for a short time, the three are happy.

Toohey's Villainy

Meanwhile, Ellsworth Toohey, who also works for the newspaper, spreads his ideas about personal sacrifice, manipulates popular opinion, and champions mediocrity. He uses his social power to attack Howard Roark because he is an individualist.

Peter Keating re-enters the picture and things go downhill quickly. He is desperate for work and asks Ellsworth to use his influence to get Keating a government project building affordable houses. Toohey agrees. Keating goes to Roark for help and Roark agrees on one condition - he must have full control of the project. Keating promises in writing. But Toohey uses his influences to take over the project and Roark's designs are changed. Believing that he should have sole control over the success or failure of the project, Roark burns the buildings down. He is taken to court.

Toohey then applies his powers of manipulation to Gail Wynand. He nearly shuts down Wynand's newspaper franchise and agrees to stop his attack only if Wynand publicly denounces Roark in his paper. Wynand agrees but is devastated. He feels he has lost everything and his spirit is crushed by this betrayal. Roark, who cares deeply for Wynand, tries to tell him that he is forgiven. Wynand refuses to forgive himself and cuts all ties with Howard Roark and Dominique.

The Skyscraper

The novel ends as Wynand asks Roark to build Wynand Towers, a skyscraper that is to be the greatest in New York. Roark hopes this means that they can be friends again but Wynand sees himself as unworthy of Roark's friendship. He remains self-destructive.

Dominique, on the other hand, learns not to let her despair over the state of humanity rule her. She allows herself to be with Roark and to be happy. In the final scene, Dominique visits Roark at the site of Wynand Towers. It is the largest skyscraper in the city, towering far above anything else. Roark is working on the roof and Dominique takes a lift to see him. She rises closer to the sky and the sun. She can see everything. And then, she can see Roark above it all.

Skyscrapers represent the epitome of human creation and power over nature
New York skyscraper

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