In January of 1925, Ellsworth M. Toohey publishes his history of architecture, Sermons in Stone. The book is an overnight success. A month later, Henry Cameron collapses in his office, overwhelmed by the loss of an important commission. Cameron’s sister takes him back to New Jersey. At Cameron’s request, Roark closes the office and burns every sketch. Meanwhile, Peter Keating, who still works at Francon & Heyer, has become very successful. He lives in a modest but stylish apartment off posh Park Avenue. Against his wishes, his controlling mother has come to live with him and help him on his way up. She suggests that Keating get close to Francon’s daughter, but Francon has no interest in introducing them. Keating goes to see Katie and suddenly asks her if they are engaged. Katie understands this question as a proposal and says that they are engaged. Keating asks that they keep their engagement a secret.
Keating asks Francon to hire Roark, and Francon does so. In need of money, Roark accepts Keating’s offer on the condition that he not do any designing work. Keating takes a certain sadistic pleasure in giving Roark orders, but Roark’s quiet obedience frustrates him. In secret, Keating continues to ask Roark for help with his designs. Roark is happiest on the days when he goes to inspect building sites. He surprises the workers with his familiarity with construction. On one job site, Roark befriends a worker named Mike, a tough electrician who appreciates skill of every kind.
One day Francon asks Roark to design a building based on the Dana building, one of Cameron’s most successful projects. Francon suggests a derivative of the Dana building done in Classical Greek style. Roark says it would be more true to Cameron’s spirit to do something innovative. Roark’s pleas offend Francon, who is unused to refusal from subordinates. He promptly fires Roark. Roark begins searching for a new job, but none of the firms he speaks to are interested in him.
Roark finds work at the firm of an architect named John Erik Snyte. Every designer at Snyte’s firm draws each project from a different historical perspective, and Snyte combines their plans for the final drawing. Snyte designates Roark Mr. Modernistic.
The building-trades unions of New York go on strike to demand higher wages. The most vocal antiunion papers are those owned by the media magnate Gail Wynand. Ellsworth Toohey is expected to address the strikers. He supports the striking workers, but has never publicly said so; he has a column in the Banner, one of Wynand’s papers, and to support the strikers would end his career in journalism.
Katie no longer pays exclusive attention to Keating, which upsets Keating. He shows up at the rally and has almost persuaded Katie to leave when Toohey begins to speak hypnotically and powerfully. Even Keating falls under Toohey’s spell as he speaks of unity and selflessness. Nonetheless, Keating still urges Katie to leave as she appears completely enraptured by her uncle’s voice. The day after the big meeting, Wynand gives Toohey a substantial raise, insisting it is not a bribe to keep Toohey quiet. The strike is settled. One day Keating finds Francon in a miserable mood. His daughter, Dominique, has written a biting indictment of one of Francon’s buildings in her column in the Banner.
At an elite New York society party, Francon finally introduces Keating to his daughter. Keating amuses her and they banter, but she eventually snubs him. A man named Austen Heller hires Snyte’s firm to design a house for him. Heller cannot describe exactly what he wants, but no other firm has been able to satisfy his desire for a pure, distinctive building. The project excites Roark, and he shapes his design around the granite cliff on which the house will stand. Snyte gives Heller a plan that is an altered version of Roark’s building. Heller says the plan is close, but he wants more purity in the design. When Roark steps forward and writes all over the final design, Snyte and the other designers are too shocked to interfere. Roark’s original design emerges. Snyte fires him on the spot, but Heller is impressed and privately gives Roark the commission. He makes out the first check to “Howard Roark, Architect.”
Rand labels each new character strong or weak, measuring each against the epitome of strength, Roark. Rand assigns her characters to one group or the other based on their opinions of Roark. Weak people are also those who cannot understand Roark’s refusal to conform, and Rand portrays them as a despicable group. Most of the weak are affable, like Keating and Toohey, but their smiles are dishonest and they simultaneously depend on and loathe Roark for his talent. Strong people, on the other hand, admire and respect Roark. Cameron, Mike, and Heller fall into this category, and each makes an almost instantaneous connection with him. Both Heller and Mike become keenly aware of Roark’s abilities although they hardly interact with him, as if one instant is sufficient time to grasp Roark’s genius. Roark’s profound genius and power blaze forth even in the most insignificant conversations. Every new character in the novel eventually encounters Roark, and each character’s initial reaction to Roark provides a reliable indicator of how Rand values that character.
Roark’s nemesis, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, appears only briefly in these early chapters, but already his talent for persuasion makes him a powerful figure. We see Toohey’s persuasiveness in his hypnotic speech at the union meeting and in his skillfully written history of architecture. In both speaking and writing, Toohey tries not to change people’s minds but to empty them and then plant his own ideas in the vacuum. Toohey presents a friendly surface compared to Roark’s cold genius, but Toohey uses his charm for evil. Toohey voices the theories of socialism and communism, ideologies that Rand hates. His speech about cooperation and unity should appeal to us, but instead it feels manipulative and oppressive. The people come together to hear their leader speak, but Rand presents their unity as slavery, not cooperation, as if the people are prisoners of Toohey’s voice.
Dominique Francon, the first and only strong woman we encounter in The Fountainhead, closely resembles Roark. She contrasts with the other female characters, who are either manipulative and stifling like Mrs. Keating or sweet and weak-willed like Katie. Aside from Dominique, all of the female characters are superficial New York socialites who gossip or shop. Dominique is different. Rand likens her body to one of Roark’s drawings. She has the signature Roark elements of elegance: angles, coldness, and poise. Like Roark’s severe architectural designs, she is stern and masculine, with a severely slim frame and a “vicious mouth.” However, while Dominique shares Roark’s opinions and aesthetics, she does not have his talent or strength, and therefore she is not his equal. Unlike Roark, Dominique has no grand passion or mission. While she recognizes beauty and genius, and writes about it, she does not create it as Roark does. Also, Roark’s frigidity and indifference come from his firm conviction, but Dominique’s come from her neuroses. In her experience the world destroys beauty and purity, and she tries to stay removed from the world by refraining from desire or creativity.
Roark’s work on the house for Austen Heller epitomizes the difference between the pureness of his architectural designs and the forced nature of the architectural designs of those in the corporate world. Whereas Roark envisions buildings from an organic point of view, seeking to let each building express itself naturally and dictate the style in which it should be built, the corporate architects with whom Roark interacts attempt to impose superficial stylistic concerns upon buildings without any regard for each building’s essential aesthetic needs. Just as Francon urges Roark to design a Classical Greek rip-off of the Dana building and discourages him from being innovative, so do the architects at John Erik Snyte’s firm, each of whom must force his designs to fit a specific school of architecture. These architects work from a purely technical point of view, and the principles they apply so rigidly to their designs constrain expression and emotion and thus prevent the buildings from being truly beautiful. Roark, on the other hand, goes into a design without any preconceived notions as to how a particular building should look. Rather, he takes into account the function of the building and the environment around the proposed building site—in the case of the Heller house the granite cliff—and lets these elements organically determine how the building should look.