“The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand is one of those few novels which imbue you with an evangelical zeal. Not merely due to their exquisite rendition, scintillating philosophy and out-of-this-world characters, but because they celebrate life as an unique opportunity to create and relish in the creations of the others. They exalt us, transient beings, and accolade the miracle of our existence and conscience. These rare books conjure up the realization that we have the power to shape the world as long as we are consistent with our aspirations.
“The Fountainhead” delineates an utopia. It describes a world where among the corrupted, the based and the promiscuous, there are few individuals with indomitable will and ethereal morals, who have remained untarnished in the mass’s stampede towards authority, public commendation, self-aggrandizement and exultation.
I fell in love with one such marvelous maverick – Howard Roark.
Roark is a brilliant young architect whose audacious, innovative work is denigrated and condemned by society. All the events and somewhat peculiar and irrelevant at first glance situations, recounted in the book, have an impact on Roark’s life and struggle against the current. We trace his development as a character by his conversations, the public opinion of his designs and the contrast between him and the other secondary characters. I enjoyed how the novel was woven in a ceaseless crescendo, leading up to the spellbinding moment when Roark prevails over the conservative and prejudiced mind of society.
“Everything has strings leading to everything else. We’re all so tied together. We’re all in a net, the net is waiting, and we’re pushed into it by one single desire. You want a thing and it’s precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? You can’t know, it may be so involved and so far away, but someone is ready, and you’re afraid of them all. And you cringe and you crawl and you beg and you accept them-just so they’ll let you keep it. And look at whom you come to accept.”
But precisely Howard’s reluctance to accede to collaboration and compromise inaugurates the main motif in the novel – the opposition of individualism to collectivism, and vice versa. Through the exploits of Ellsworth Toohey ( a journalist, connoisseur at architecture and potentate-to-be who is the evil incarnate), Gail Wynand (owner of the most lurid New York newspaper who daily yields his principles to the rancorous mobs), Peter Keating (a third-rate architect who seeks public approval and whose prime driving force is envy) and Dominique Francon (a pulchritudinous young woman who despises mankind for its volatility and servility) Ayn Rand explores the confrontation between people with indefeasible ideals and people who jump in on the bandwagon at the drop of a hat.
In the beginning of the 20th century when North America is reaching its apotheosis, the media and the press have a great influence on the mindset of the ordinary man. Whatever journalists and reporters preach, the readers and the viewers imbibe. As communism and tyranny take over Europe, the citizens of the New World rely mostly on those who have established themselves as intellectuals and philosophers, professing the common good. They absorb others’ opinions not only on political issues but in the fields of art, literature, architecture, theatre and music.
“Ibsen is good”, said Ike.
“Sure he’s good but suppose I didn’t like him. Suppose I wanted to stop people from seeing his plays. It would do me no good whatever to tell them so. But if I sold them the idea that you’re just as great as Ibsen – pretty soon they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference…then it wouldn’t matter what they went to see at all. Then nothing would matter – neither the writers nor those for whom they wrote.”
Ayn Rand proves that deplorable men, such as Toohey, who can easily relegate and debase outstanding playwrights, while promoting awkward authors and left-handed architects, can also brainwash mankind in support of their rise to authority over a vacuous uniform mob.
“The world of the future. The world I want. A world of obedience and of unity. A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of the next neighbour who’ll have no thought – and so on, Peter, around the globe. Since all must agree with all. A world where no man will hold a desire for himself, but will direct all his efforts to satisfy the desires of his neighbour who’ll have no desires except to satisfy the desires of the next neighbour, who’ll have no desires – around the globe, Peter. Since all must serve all. A world in which man will not work for so innocent an incentive as money, but for that headless monster – prestige. The approval of his fellows – their good opinion – the opinion of men who’ll be allowed to hold no opinion. An octopus, all tentacles and no brain.”
These men grow capable of upsetting the meaning of fundamental concepts such as selfishness and selflessness. In its essence egotism is one’s undeniable right to champion their own ideals and to strive for their mental freedom. Whereas selflessness is a loathsome dependence on others to exist, not because of indigence but because of a privation of personality, self. Such selfless people are portrayed in the book as parasites who feed on vicarious ideas and subjugate themselves to the mentality of the masses by begrudging freedom on the whole. But our understanding of those two words is antagonistic.
Self –ish. Self-less.
It is a cunning wordplay in which Howard Roark’s credos gain ebullience. His refusal to be obsequious and to betray himself so as to obviate opposition impressed me tremedously. “I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict—and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard—one can imagine him existing forever.”
Even though the characters in the novel seem impossible, I believe that the embellishment and hyperbole of some of their traits makes them consummate paragons. They could serve as irrefragable role models to anyone who has lost their way or is looking for a meaningful purpose. They express the heroic and the hallowed in all human beings.
In its essence “The Fountainhead” acclaims all selfish, unadulterated human features and emotions such as torrid romance, high expectations, pride, self-belief, intransigence and the unfailing wish to conquer the unfathomable.
It is a read that will undoubtedly inspire you to be you.