A Deeper Look at “Fountainhead”

In class, we have read a portion of The Fountainhead, especially in relation to Libertarianism and Civic Republicanism. As we’ve discussed in class, Roarke’s speech was an insightful counterargument to Kemis’s take on government, especially in how it illustrates the belief that an effective government places emphasis on the individual rather then the community.

I’m very happy this course has incorporated some of Ayn Rand’s work, but I think it’s regrettable that we’ve discussed so much of its message from such a small portion of the book… The Fountainhead is a novel of 720 pages that has sold more then 6.5 million copies worldwide. It was published in 1943, and to this day remains on of the most endearing pieces of work in American Literature.

Its much like trying to understand the entire message from Lord of the Rings , simply by watching the final scene in which the ring is destroyed; true, one can grasp essence of the movie and the gist of its meaning. But the message does not nearly resonate with the audience as compared to if they had followed the characters from the very beginning, witnessing them grow, understanding their motives, seeing their conflict, and feeling their pain.

As we extrapolated from Rourke’s grand speech, The Fountainhead is about individualism. But who exactly is Howard Rourke? How does he help illuminate Rand’s message of individualism throughout the novel?

Howard Rourke is an architect by profession, but his designs strive to break free of conventional architecture and he does not base his work on the more conforming classical style of his peers. As an individual, he stands for integrity, and seeks to impress no one but himself. The juxtaposition of his work and his creed lead to many conflicts for Rourke as he tries to battle obscurity and poverty, as well as a few other characters in the novel that are constantly trying to rob him of his individuality.

Perhaps the greatest of these nemeses for Rourke is Gail Wynand. On the surface, Wynand is an accomplished boss in the newspaper business. Secretly however, he jealously despises Rourke for having the courage and integrity to break free from conformity.  Dominque Francon is another character that, although not an opposing force in Rourke’s life, also lacks the courage to completely break free form conformity. It is not until the end f the novel that she finally overcomes her meekness and take a strong individualistic stand.

Wynand and Francon exist in the novel to portray resistance to Rourke as he tries to maintain his own sense of individualism. Even today, few people can say that they retain such a staunch belief in their own ideals. Everyone conforms to different extents, and Fountainhead truly forces the reader to think about where they stand in the spectrum of individualism. It also forces the reader to think about whether or not they are providing a force of opposition to others that are striving to break free of all conformity. Are you a Wynand, resentful of those who answer only to themselves, a Francon, struggling to find the courage to live by your own creed, or a Rourke, who is completely unapologetic for his beliefs?

Even this blog can only provide a very rudimentary basis for discussion on Fountainhead. If you haven’t done so already, I highly encourage you to incorporate this timeless piece of literature into your own reading list so that you can more fully grasp Rand’s message of individualism. You will also be able to better question yourself on what you truly believe in, and how far you would go to establish yourself against conformity.

For those daunted by the books massive size, there is also the movie, which can be checked out at the library.

The trailer can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swOxKu80JpU

Enjoy!

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One Response to A Deeper Look at “Fountainhead”

  1. jtgilb says:

    I think that this is a very interesting post. I really liked how you went into detail about Rand’s book. I’ve read some of her work, but never “The Fountainhead.” Your post definitely helped in terms of understanding the full context of the excerpt. The excerpt that we read really demonstrates the concept of classic liberalism and somewhat isolates it from the story being told in “The Fountainhead.” Without a background story, it is easy to characterize the man on trial (in the excerpt) as selfish. However, after reading the background information you’ve provided in this post, I have a different view of the architect; one that is less cynical, and more understanding of his situation. I think that this background knowledge is essential to understanding this version of classic liberalism.

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