Ayn Rand's the Fountainhead

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  • Topic: Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, Objectivism
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The Fountainhead:
An Individual's Struggle Against Social and Power Structures

Bohjum Bohjum

Consider for a moment if “Achievement of your happiness [was] the only moral purpose of your life” (Rand Atlas 806). Ayn Rand's praise for personal pleasure guiding one's morality is prominent in her novel, The Fountainhead. Many critics claim that this selfish philosophy is responsible for the moral decline of the American dream. As Darryl Schoon writes: “Ayn Rand, America’s premier doyenne of selfishness, is the patron saint of its antagonist, godless capitalism” (Schoon). However, as an ideology, portrayed in a fictional collective society one may argue that it is the only true virtue. In order to prove her point, she writes of a bustling New York of the 1920's, where you have no thoughts of your own, but rather guess at the thoughts of your neighbour, who has no thoughts of his own, but guesses at the thoughts of his neighbour... “like the senseless infinity you get from two mirrors facing each other across a narrow passage” (Rand Fountainhead 426). Art columnist for the popular newspaper, The Banner, Ellsworth Toohey encompasses the spirit of this movement. In order to gain power, he belittles those around him. To quote his mission: “Don't set out to raze all shrines – you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed” (Rand Fountainhead 580). Most of the characters realize that their conformity allows them to gain wealth and influence, but they find that they are never truly happy as they sacrifice their individuality. Exhibit A: Peter Keating. Mediocre, greedy, and spineless, he climbs to the top of the social ladder by doing what makes everyone else happy. He achieves a high social standing, but is depressed by his personal life. Exhibit B: Gail Wynand. A “seismograph of public opinion”, his superficial media enterprise makes him a fortune (Rand Fountainhead 483). However, by catering to the majority, he kills his dignity. And then there's Howard Roark, an entity entirely of his own. His only desire is to be an architect and build in his unique style. Accused of horrid selfishness, he is cast as an outsider and vehemently rejected. His individual struggle against the social and power structures seems like a daunting task; However, one must remember that a building built upon unstable ground shifts easily.

From the beginning, it is apparent that “Peter Keating needs his fellow men” to assert his self-worth (Rand Fountainhead 39). He clearly states: “I'm never sure of myself. I don't know whether I'm as good as they all tell me I am” (Rand Fountainhead 33). Starting off as drafts man, he uses manipulation rather than skill to rise quickly in his company. When Ellsworth Toohey then takes him under his wing, he is granted undeserved fame and praise. Keating's dependance makes him the perfect pawn in Toohey's scheme, but he is too blinded by the superficial benefits to see the consequences of his actions. Although deeply in love with a plain girl named Catherine, he marries his boss' daughter instead. His betrayal of his true desire in lieu of a secure social standing ultimately determines his unhappy fate. Once the firm begins to crumble, Keating's need to retain his so-called success overpowers his morality. He plagiarizes designs, sells-out his friends, and even trades his wife for commissions. When Toohey sees no further use in him, Keating is stripped of his glorious outer shell, and having sacrificed his substance, is left with nothing.

Growing up, Gail Wynand was ambitious and virtuous, somebody who stuck to his guns. When he discovers that his inspiration for moral integrity is a phony, Rand writes that “It had been an obituary on Gail Wynand” (Rand Fountainhead 407). From this moment on, he is replaced by a man bent on destroying any shred of integrity that one may possess. It is with this idea that he starts his newspaper, The Banner:

Gail Wynand delivered his paper, body and soul,...
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