Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
In The Fountainhead, technical progress indicates the forward movement of society. The novel measures the progress of mankind by the number of buildings and scientific innovations it produces, rather than by its art and philosophy. All of the most crucial industrial developments come from the minds of individuals and entrepreneurs rather than from the masses. Therefore, the period of greatest industrial development also marks the period of greatest individualism. Rand’s adoring treatment of the New York skyline signals her glorification of industry and technology. Wynand, Dominique, and Roark all gaze admiringly at the skyline, which serves as a reminder of their ambitions and goals. Beautiful, inspired skyscrapers represent human conquest over nature and symbolize modernity. In contrast to this glorification of architecture, the novel scoffs at other forms of art. Every time a new play or work of literature crops up in the narrative, the work in question is made to appear ridiculous and self-indulgent.
The novel holds up architecture as the ideal art form, and journalism as all that is banal and corrupt. The villainous Toohey works his ill will as a sneaky, manipulative journalist, and Wynand builds his empire on a chain of exploitative and sensationalist papers that cater to the most depraved emotions of the masses. Rand constantly suggests the impossibility of reasoned, intelligent journalism. The one time Wynand tries to use his paper for good, he fails. According to Rand, newspapers are fundamentally weak because they have to cater to the public. The idiocy of the public becomes clear when Wynand holds a contest. He tests the public by trying to raise money simultaneously for a brilliant scientist and for the pregnant girlfriend of a convicted murderer. When the public overwhelmingly supports the girl, it suggests that the public is incapable of the rationality necessary to accomplish great things. Rand suggests that any medium that relies on the public is doomed to mediocrity.
The novel exhibits mixed views on manual labor, regarding it as both one of the few authentic occupations and as a den of collectivist activity. Roark works at many construction sites, which allows him to preserve his integrity by earning wages when he cannot find clients. Roark has good friends who work as laborers, such as Mike the electrician. The novel presents physical labor as a pure, productive activity and thus something admirable. On the other hand, labor breeds unions, groups that the novel violently condemns. Nefarious Toohey makes his first appearance in the novel when he addresses a crowd of discontented laborers and easily manipulates their cooperative spirit to make them his spiritual captives. Rand was a virulent anti-communist and saw socialism, which grew out of the labor movement, as the greatest threat to the United States. The novel admires laborers and workmen as individuals, but it fears and mistrusts them as a group.