Tell man that he must live for others. . . . Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. . . . But don’t you see what you accomplish? . . . He’ll obey.
When most of the work on the Cortlandt project is done, Roark agrees to go on a long yacht voyage with Wynand. As Roark and Wynand sail, they talk about the true definition of selflessness. Roark defines selfless people as “second-handers” who live their lives through others. Roark says the greatest enemy of the second-hander is an independent spirit.
When Roark returns to New York, he visits the Cortlandt construction site and finds that his plans have been altered. His substructure remains unchanged, but new features cover the building’s façade. Toohey’s protégées secretly made these additions. Keating fought desperately to uphold the integrity of the building, but the interlopers overwhelmed him. Roark goes to see Dominique and asks her to drive past Cortlandt Homes the following Monday. She must stop in front of Cortlandt to pretend she is out of gas and send the night watchman to a gas station over a mile away. Dominique agrees, knowing that Roark only includes her so that she will not suffer later.
Dominique follows Roark’s instructions. She parks in front of the Cortlandt building and asks the night watchman to help her get gas. When he leaves, Dominique steps outside and sees the Cortlandt building explode in a brilliant ball of fire. Dominique returns to her car, part of which has been crushed under a piece of machinery. She crawls into the front seat and tries to make it look like she never left the car by slashing her neck, legs, and arms with a splinter of glass. When the police arrive, Dominique is unconscious and nearly dead.
Dominique wakes up in Wynand’s penthouse, where Wynand scolds her, even though he approves of destroying the building. Wynand has not yet guessed the nature of Dominique’s relationship with Roark, and she feels sad when she thinks of the pain this will cause Wynand. Roark has been arrested for destroying the building. After Wynand pays Roark’s bail, Roark comes to visit Dominique. Roark says if he is convicted, he wants Dominique to stay with Wynand, but if he is acquitted, he wants her to leave Wynand for him. The public denounces Roark as the enemy of the poor. Some people speculate that Roark was bitter because Keating and Webb borrowed his ideas. Wynand orders all of his papers to defend Roark, but the support of the Wynand press hurts Roark more than it helps him. Wynand begins to realize how thoroughly Toohey has corrupted his organization.
Toohey goes to see Keating, who is hiding from the media. Toohey asks Keating to admit that Roark designed the Cortlandt home because he thinks this fact will hurt Roark. Keating has become so dependent on Toohey that he cannot bear to think about Toohey’s true nature, but Toohey forces Keating to understand his evil, explaining that he gains power over men by forcing them to join the cult of selflessness. Toohey’s speech devastates Keating. He begs Toohey not to leave him alone. Toohey laughs.
Toohey publishes a column criticizing Roark, and Wynand has Toohey and the editors who approved the column fired. Toohey promises Wynand that when he returns, he will own the paper. The Union of Wynand Employees, which is made up of dedicated Toohey followers, goes on strike to demand the reinstatement of Toohey and the other editors. They also demand a complete reversal of the paper’s pro-Roark policy. Wynand runs the paper with a skeleton crew. The picket lines outside become violent, and a few of the remaining employees are injured when they enter the building in the morning. Wynand works fiercely and Dominique moves into the Banner building to help him in any way she can. Every day, however, they print fewer copies of the Banner, and even those copies go unsold.
Roark’s bombing of the Cortlandt building is the novel’s climax, as the opposing forces in the novel come into all-out conflict. The bombing marks the first gesture of defiance by the talented few against the mediocre majority. Although Roark is the one who actually bombs the building, all of the major figures are involved: Keating officially designs the building, Toohey corrupts it, and Dominique aids and watches Roark’s destruction of it. Roark never before reacts to Toohey’s provocations, but never before does Toohey physically alter Roark’s work. When Roark reacts, he does so in characteristic fashion, taking firm, irrevocable action that leaves no room for counter-arguments. A less ideal man might have filed a lawsuit or even, like Stephen Mallory, made a futile attempt to kill Toohey, but Roark takes final action to destroy the blasphemy against his design.
Roark reacts differently to the Cortlandt building than to the Stoddard Temple because the temple is completed according to his specifications and altered later. He does not care what the world does with his finished buildings but insists on finishing his buildings as he wishes. The Cortlandt complex perverts Roark’s ideas before they have been implemented. Unable to tolerate this kind of compromise, Roark must destroy the mediocrity to maintain his integrity.
The bombing seals Dominique and Roark’s love. Dominique has been unable to abandon the world completely and has been torn between society and Roark. Now she signals her renewed allegiance to Roark by helping him bomb the building. Dominique has always been stimulated by violence, and the bombing sets her free and makes her ready to resume her relationship with Roark. Her lifelessness following the explosion is part of her rebirth; with the annihilation of the Cortlandt comes the annihilation of her resistance to the world. We later learn that when Dominique cuts herself in the car, it is her final act of masochism. The violent destruction of the Cortlandt building heals Dominique and reconciles her with the man she loves.
In the chapters before and after the novel’s climax, Rand sums up the ideology of the novel by giving both Roark and Toohey two lengthy philosophical monologues. These two monologues serve the same role as closing arguments in a courtroom, a last chance for each side to make its point. Rand employs setting and tone to indicate that we should prefer Roark’s monologue. Roark, the novel’s idol and savior, discusses his beliefs on the importance of the ego in the serene setting of a luxury yacht trip. He speaks to Wynand, his close friend, and his speech is calm, amicable, and reassuring. Toohey goes on his tirade in Keating’s claustrophobic, shabby apartment. He expresses his philosophy of selflessness as he terrorizes the pathetic, beaten-down Keating. By giving Roark’s monologue such a serene tone and Toohey’s such a fearful one, Rand does not so much ask us to choose a side as remind us that Roark’s has always been the correct one.