Howard Roark opens his own office. As soon as he signs his contract with Austen Heller, Roark goes to see Henry Cameron. Cameron feels vindicated when he sees a snapshot of Roark’s office. The first visitor to Roark’s new office is Peter Keating, who loudly praises Roark for his courage and inwardly resents Roark. One day, Roark sees his old friend Mike, the electrician, at work on the Heller job site. It surprises Roark that Mike is working on such a small project, but Mike says he would never miss Roark’s first building. Roark constantly visits the building site, as does Austen Heller, and the two become close friends. When the Heller house is completed, it receives little notice.
Alvah Scarret, the editor-in-chief of the Banner, assigns Dominique Francon to investigate living conditions in the New York slums. Dominique lives in a tenement for two weeks and writes a brilliant article. Back in affluent environs, she insults wealthy landowners by describing the brutal conditions of the tenements they own. She also shocks a group of social workers by describing the laziness and greed of the tenement people she encountered. Alvah is baffled by Dominique’s disregard for propriety and her fiercely neutral nature. Keating tries and fails to see Dominique again. Francon arranges for them to meet, and they converse pleasantly. Although he fears Dominique, Keating starts falling in love with her and sees her often. Late one night, a frightened Katie comes to see Keating. She has suddenly become terrified of her uncle Toohey, with whom she shares a home. Katie asks Peter to marry her the next day. Keating agrees, but as soon as Katie leaves, Mrs. Keating starts scolding and manipulating Keating, arguing that he should marry Dominique and solidify his place at Francon’s firm. Keating finally agrees to put off his marriage and tells Katie of his decision the following morning. Katie loyally accepts his decision, but after their conversation they both have a strange feeling that they have missed an important chance that will not come again.
A young entrepreneur who admires Heller’s house hires Roark to design a gas station. Every subsequent customer who approaches Roark wants things done in some past style, but Roark patiently explains that he only builds according to his beliefs. He believes that the building’s context should determine its form. Roark receives a commission from Whitford Sanborn, a former customer of Henry Cameron’s who wants a new country home. Sanborn originally wanted Cameron to design the house, but the retired Cameron recommended Roark. Although Roark’s preliminary sketches please Sanborn, his wife raises objections. Whitford Sanborn tries to compromise with Roark, but Roark refuses. Roark ultimately designs the house the way he wants, but Mrs. Sanborn refuses to live in it.
Both Roark and Keating face a number of crucial career choices in these and subsequent chapters. Rand uses such choices or trials to fine-tune her characters and reveal their true nature. Rand does not stop at stating that Roark is a determined, independent individual. She illustrates and proves his strength step-by-step by showing us how he interacts with his circumstances. When Roark must decide between compromising the design of Whitford Sanborn’s country home and losing the commission, he courageously opts to preserve the integrity of his work. Similarly Roark never asks his friends to do anything for him. Mike respects Roark enough to work for him without being asked and Cameron recommends Roark to his clients blindly. All of Roark’s clients approach him because they recognize the beauty of his work. Their interest is a response to his creative capacity, not to social connections or popular influence. Roark knows immediately the kind of men that will hire him: hardworking, uncompromising men who treasure their lives and business. Through all the ups and downs, Roark remains constant, focused and calm. At no point does he regret his actions or fear failure.
Keating, on the other hand, is motivated by a desperate need for approval. He wants Francon, Dominique, and his mother to think well of him and frequently plans his actions around their opinions. In Chapter 12, Keating abandons Katie in an effort to please his mother. Weak as he is himself, Keating cannot save the weak young Katie from her powerful uncle. We now see that Keating is not just spiteful and bumbling but also hurtful. His weakness leads to heartbreak. In contrast, Roark cares nothing for the opinions of others. Roark does not mind that others ignore his design of the Heller house. His insistence on doing his own work for Heller has already cost him his job at the Snyte firm, and now his own work goes unnoticed, but to Roark the loss of a job and the lack of recognition mean nothing. He cares only for the purity of the work.
Like Roark, Dominique speaks her mind with no regard for the opinion of her audience. After writing her report on the slums, her uncompromising attitude and refusal to identify herself with one camp or another parallels Roark’s self-possessed withdrawal from society. Dominique presents her view of the tenement situation as matter-of-factly as Roark shows customers his sketches, even though her frankness means that she offends both the landlords and the social workers. She could please the landlords by telling them what she tells the social workers, and vice versa, but it amuses her to annoy people with unpleasant truths.
Katie’s sudden fear of Toohey may seem at first to be tangential to the concerns of this section, for the important outcome of her fear is the revelation of Keating’s heartlessness. Her fear is not irrelevant, however, but an expression of Rand’s carefully designed plot, in which every detail has a purpose and each small incident points to future events. Katie’s sudden panic about her uncle points to events that unfold only much later in the novel. Rand uses this kind of foreshadowing to ensure that we immediately understand the consequences of cowardly and selfless behavior. She wants us to understand that bad things will happen because Keating the coward refuses to heed Katie’s cry for help, and because Katie the selfless goes along with Keating’s decision not to marry her right away. Even though punishment does not always happen immediately, Rand drops dark hints that it will come eventually.