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The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

What purpose does the encounter between Roark and the Dean serve? What concepts and beliefs does the Dean represent?

Like many of the characters in the novel, the Dean has no sense of self or integrity, and consequently cannot create his own philosophy or beliefs. When he tells Roark that everything worth building has already been done, the Dean reveals the foolishness that comes from adhering too strongly to tradition. Instead of creating innovative designs, the Dean feeds from the thoughts and beliefs of his predecessors, which he calls “treasure mines”—an image that evokes wealth and forced labor. Because of men like the Dean, everyone at the architectural school has looked only to the past for inspiration and the students have been generating the same designs for years. Roark labels this sort of weakness “second-handedness.” More generally, the Dean represents how a cooperative and collectivist spirit can lead to an individual’s enslavement to the desires of others. When he tells Roark to think of “the Client,” the Dean shows that he believes in prioritizing the buyer over the artist, the other over the self. Whereas Roark does not assign much importance to his clients, the Dean considers them the most important voice, and in doing so surrenders his own will and initiative.

2.

Why does the novel sanction Roark’s egoism but not Toohey’s? Since the novel encourages the single-minded realization of one’s goals, why does Rand disapprove of Toohey’s quest for domination?

By the end of the last section it becomes clear that we are meant to read Toohey not as a leader of men, but a power-hungry villain who uses the notion of “selflessness” to break peoples’ spirits. On the other hand, Toohey can be read as a model for the behavior that The Fountainhead advocates. Like Roark, Toohey is only interested in his own advancement. In his manipulative way, Toohey matches Roark in strength. Although he flatters people and defers to them, he only does so until he gets what he wants, and he never actually lets them get the upper hand. Roark insists on following one’s principles unswervingly; in a sense, Toohey does just that. His principles involve undermining people’s creative drive and becoming powerful himself, and he sticks to these principles unswervingly. Despite their similarities, however, a critical difference separates the two men: Roark creates and Toohey destroys. In The Fountainhead, the creation of something great justifies even the most rampant egoism. Toohey possesses rampant egoism, but no creativity. He seeks to prevent other peoples’ achievements rather than to create his own achievements. Even though Toohey displays many of the virtues touted by the novel, he becomes the villain because he does not act in the name of creativity.

3.

How does Rand justify the use of violence? Specifically, how does she justify Roark’s bombing of the Cortlandt Complex?

The Fountainhead idolizes strength, austerity, and determination above all else, and violence progresses naturally from these virtues. The novel frowns upon pity and compassion and advocates the use of violence to advance human genius. Dominique embodies this viewpoint, constantly battling the world and welcoming the occasionally physical pain this battle inflicts on her. When Roark rapes Dominique, the violence of the incident makes her come alive. Dominique approves of Roark’s destruction of the Cortlandt Complex, and helps him destroy it. Dominique considers violent acts both passionate and assertive. Passion and assertiveness also characterize genius, so violence becomes indicative of genius. Roark does not share Dominique’s great enthusiasm for violence, but he has no qualms about using it in defense of his beliefs or ideas. Roark considers bombing Cortlandt a necessity, an act to accomplish with workmanlike dispassion. Overall, Rand supports Roark’s view of violence as a tool like any other: neither good nor bad, but sometimes necessary.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Does Peter Keating genuinely love Dominique Francon? Why or why not?

2. What similarities do Keating and Roark share? Why does Rand make them somewhat similar?

3. Why does Gail Wynand take so much comfort in the knowledge that both he and Roark “came from nothing”?

4. Dominique admits that she and Wynand are very similar people. How is this true? How are they different?

5. The Fountainhead was written during the rise of totalitarian states in Europe and Russia. How might the events of this period have affected Rand’s novel?

6. How does The Fountainhead portray women? How do Dominique and Catherine measure up to the male characters?

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