Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Howard Roark is the novel’s embodiment of the perfect man. Rand wants us to admire his talent and courage, and his struggle to resist society’s sway and remain true to himself. The Fountainhead revolves around Roark’s struggle to retain his individuality in the face of forces bent on bringing him to heel. At his second trial, Roark argues that individuals, not societies, propel history. He says that individual creators are the fountainhead of civilization. Roark’s speech is passionate and lyrical, and the audience receives it with awed silence. The struggle for individuality is not confined to Roark. Every one of the novel’s sympathetic characters struggles to act independently from society, and the desire to assert one’s self becomes the single greatest virtue a character can possess. The novel ends triumphantly not because Roark defeats or converts his enemies, but because he has won the right to act according to his own principles. The thesis at the heart of The Fountainhead is that society has a herd mentality, and individuals must act selfishly in order to be free.
The Fountainhead disapproves of sentimentalism, and argues that everything worth thinking or feeling should be the product of reason and logic, not emotion. Whenever Roark, Dominique, or Wynand expound on the supremacy of the individual, they justify their positions with logical arguments rather than with emotional appeals. The novel respects logic and reason so much that everything it applauds is scientific, factual, and pure. The novel’s mathematicians, engineers, builders, and businessmen are inevitably more intelligent than its sentimental writers and journalists. Roark bases all of his designs on the simplest geometrical shapes, such as triangles or squares. Rand condemns sentimentality and compassion as the enemies of reason because they confuse the mind and compromise individualism. The arch-villain Toohey controls the weak by advocating such values as selflessness. Collectivism, altruism, and mysticism are depicted as illogical beliefs that manipulate the heart rather than engage the mind. In order to justify the novel’s tough attitude, Rand argues that even the best intentions lead to imprisonment, while cold, unflinching reason sets man free.
In The Fountainhead, love, like integrity and invention, is a principle worth fighting for and defending. The protagonists constantly hone and improve their relationships. Even Roark and Dominique forego some of their fierce devotion to independence and eventually allow themselves to surrender to one another. The emotion of love might seem to contradict the novel’s devotion to reason, but the characters demand relationships so perfect that they come to seem logical and mathematical. Roark stands by while Dominique marries first Keating and then Wynand as if watching her enact an algebraic equation. He calculates that she will emerge from the marriages more suited to him, so he bears the pain of losing her to other men. Even in their passionate encounters, Roark and Dominique refuse to yield to emotion. Instead, they make love with a violent and calculating fury in scenes that Rand writes in prose more technical than romantic. The novel extols the virtues of science and logic and argues personal relationships can exist within these virtues. As long as relationships help people maximize their potential, then the novel sees love as a version of logic, and therefore approves of it.
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