Russian-American writer Ayn Rand found her first widespread fame in the literary arena with her 1943 novel The Fountainhead
. The Fountainhead
tells the story of Howard Roark, a young architect who strives to stay true to his artistic visions in the modernist movement rather than conform to the traditional ways of his profession where other architects reject innovation. In Howard Roark, Ayn Rand exemplifies the notion that individualism is to be valued over collectivism. Roark refers to those who cling to the old ways and conforming as second-handers. To him, they sacrifice their integrity and individuality by refusing to move forward independently.
Rand creates characters who represent views and ways of being that contrast with Roark’s beliefs. Roark’s old friend, Peter Keating, finds success in his professional life by keeping up with styles that are popular, but he needs Roark’s assistance when he encounters issues related to design. Ellsworth Toohey is a socialist architecture critic guided by self-serving interests, who attempts to destroy Roark’s career while advancing his own political agenda. Also hoping to influence public opinion is Gail Wynand, a newspaper publisher who gets to know Roark but ends up betraying him. Roark’s lover, Dominique Francon, at times helps Roark, but since she does not believe it is possible to succeed without conforming, she frequently undermines him as well. At the beginning of their relationship, there is a particularly forceful sexual encounter, which Dominique later refers to as rape. This has led to the novel carrying a pall of controversy, as critics have sometimes used the scene to suggest that Rand had written an endorsement of rape.
The novel opens in 1922 with Howard Roark being expelled from the architecture program at the Stanton Institute of Technology. His losing his place at the school stems from his unwillingness to follow the school’s call for the use of historical conventions in designing new buildings. Roark heads to New York City and secures a position with Henry Cameron. Cameron was at one time a well-known and respected architect, but his services are no longer in wide demand. Peter Keating, Roark’s roommate at Stanton, graduates with honors and also moves to New York. Keating obtains a job with Francon & Heyer, one of the elite firms in the city. Keating puts himself in good standing with Guy Francon, one of the senior partners in the firm, and proceeds to find ways to eliminate those he sees as rivals. Ultimately, Keating becomes a partner. Cameron and Roark work together and develop creative projects, although they continue to have economic difficulties.
Soon Cameron retires, and Roark goes to work for Keating. This arrangement is short lived. Francon fires Roark as he steadfastly refuses to use the classic style to design a building. Roark moves on to another firm, and then opens his own, but it does not last long as he finds clients hard to find. After closing his office, Roark finds work at a granite quarry owned by Francon. Roark meets Dominique, a writer for the New York Banner
and Francon’s daughter. Dominique has been staying at her family’s estate in the area. They are quickly attracted to one another, which leads to the incident Dominique eventually calls rape. Roark hears from a client in New York and returns there to begin work on a new building. Dominique also goes to New York, where she finds out that Roark is an architect. While she attacks his work in public, she continues her physical relationship with him.
Meanwhile, Ellsworth Toohey, using his influential column in the Banner
to manipulate public opinion, mounts a smear campaign against Roark. He gets one of Roark’s clients to sue him, and at a trial, Toohey and some architects, including Keating, paint Roark as an incompetent because of his refusal to work with historical styles. Roark loses the case, although Dominique comes to his defense. Dominique decides that in a world where someone such as Roark is not respected, she will live and use the world the way it is. She rejects Roark and marries Keating. Following his lead, she helps divert clients to Keating and away from Roark.
Gail Wynand, who owns the Banner
, offers to help Keating land a significant account if Dominique will sleep with him. Dominique goes along with this, and Wynand takes it a step further and pays Keating to divorce Dominique. Keating does so, paving the way for the marriage of Wynand and Dominique. Wynand sets out to build a home for Dominique and realizes that Roark designed every building he finds appealing. Wynand hires and befriends Roark, not knowing about Roark’s past with Dominique. Keating, with the help of Toohey, obtains the Cortlandt housing project and turns to Roark for help in designing it. Roark agrees to do so in secret with the condition that Keating not change any of his suggestions. After being away for a while, Roark finds that Keating allowed changes to the project, and to protect his vision, Roark destroys the project with dynamite.
Wynand defends Roark in his newspapers after he is arrested, hurting his own circulation by taking this unpopular position. This leads to a strike and the firing of Toohey. When it reaches the point where the paper might have to close, Wynand reverses his stand, retracting his support for Roark. On trial, Roark speaks of integrity and is found not guilty. This influences Dominique to leave Wynand and return to Roark. Wynand realizes the consequences of misusing the power he had and closes the paper. He hires Roark to design a skyscraper to serve as a tribute to what man can achieve.