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The board of investors of the Banner calls
an emergency meeting. Many of the paper’s advertisers have left
and the paper is inching toward ruin. Wynand knows he will have
to shut down the Banner if he does not compromise.
He walks the streets of New York in torment. In the end, Wynand
gives in. As he does so, he has the distinct sensation of putting
a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. The next day, the Banner prints
a formal apology for defending Roark, signed by Wynand.
People all over the city see the headline and buy the
paper. Roark forgives Wynand in a letter, but Wynand returns the
letter unopened. Dominique goes to Roark’s house in Monadnock Valley. Roark
almost rejects her for Wynand’s sake, but realizes that she is right
in thinking that Wynand will never recover his lost principles. Dominique
finally feels complete enough to love Roark forever and they make
love to consummate their renewed relationship. The next morning,
Dominique calls the local police to report a stolen ring. The police
arrive with two reporters, and when Dominique greets them in Roark’s
pajamas, she makes it obvious that she and Roark are sleeping together.
Dominique explains to Roark that she wants the scandal to unite
them against the world.
The story about Dominique and Roark appears in every
newspaper in New York. Alvah Scarret advises Wynand to divorce Dominique
and Wynand agrees. When Wynand returns home, he finds Dominique
waiting. She tells him that Roark is the man she has always loved.
Later, Guy Francon calls. Dominique expects him to be angry, but
he is glad because he knows Roark is the right man for her. Scarret wants
to use the Dominique scandal to bolster the paper’s poor circulation.
Wynand agrees, and the Banner runs an article saying
that Dominique forced Wynand to defend her lover. Thousands of letters
of condolence pour in and the public forgives Wynand.
Roark represents himself at his trial. He deliberately
chooses the least sympathetic jury possible. When Keating is called
to the witness stand, he lifelessly states that Roark designed Cortlandt
and that he began to fear Roark after the project changed. Roark
does not call any witnesses. He declares his principles in a moving
speech, describing creators as great men who feed the world with
their genius. They do this because it is man’s nature to seek truth
and to create, not to serve their fellow man. Roark condemns “second-handers,”
men who feed on the souls of creators. He warns that altruism has
even corrupted the great nation of the United States, a country
built by brilliant men. Roark says he gave the Cortlandt to his
fellow men, but he destroyed it because he could not stand to see it
corrupted. The jury leaves the room briefly and then finds Roark not
guilty. Roark looks at Wynand, who leaves without a word.
The millionaire Roger Enright purchases the Cortlandt
site from the government and hires Roark to rebuild the project.
The new housing complex will charge reasonable rents for tenants
of all incomes while still making a profit for Enright. The city’s
labor board orders Wynand to rehire Toohey. Toohey returns to his
office and tries to ignore Wynand. After ten minutes, the
presses stop and Wynand informs Toohey that the Banner no
longer exists and that Toohey is out of a job. Toohey goes to work
for an upscale New York paper and immediately begins making inquiries
about the publisher’s beliefs. A few months later, Roark visits
Wynand in Wynand’s office. Wynand asks Roark to design a structure
to be called the Wynand Building as an act of defiance against the
world. Wynand tells Roark to design the building as a monument to
the spirit that Roark possesses.
Eighteen months later, Dominique walks to the construction
site of the Wynand Building. She steps onto an outside hoist that
lifts her up past the finished masonry line and into the naked steel
and space of the building. At the very top of the building, so high
that he is the only thing visible besides the ocean and the sky,
stands her husband, Howard Roark.
When Wynand must choose between his paper and his principles,
he finds himself in a situation Roark has faced many times. Roark always
does the right, principled thing, and Wynand does not. Both men
have to choose between closing their offices and compromising their
principles, but whereas Roark chose to become a physical laborer
rather than compromise, Wynand cannot bring himself to throw away
his life’s work. Instead, he chooses to save his paper, even though
this decision robs his life of meaning. Wynand becomes a tragic
figure because he does not act with weak ignorance, as does someone
like Keating. He has the capacity to succeed, and fails despite
it. When Wynand first sacrifices himself for the sake of power,
the failure seems understandable, because his cynicism comes from
deep disillusionment. Wynand finds a chance for redemption after
meeting with Roark, and Wynand’s fall seems all the more tragic
because it happens as he stands on the verge of redemption. Wynand
does not even gain fame or fortune at the expense of his self-respect,
for in the end he closes the paper down rather than rehiring Toohey.
Not only does Wynand commit emotional suicide, he does so for the
sake of a paper he will destroy.
The novel’s final images evoke the first scene in the
novel. When Dominique climbs the unfinished Wynand building to see
Roark, she rises up past a cityscape full of the same hard, beautiful,
and natural elements that surround Roark when he stands naked over
the cliffs in the first chapter. In the final chapter, Roark stands
on a skyscraper he has created, as if he has seized the elements
in the first chapter and made them even more beautiful with his
genius. Just as Roark laughs at the beginning of the novel, scorning
convention and reveling in his independence, so now, at the end
of the novel, does he stand apart from the mediocrity of the world
below him. The novel closes with the statement that “there was only
the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.” This elevation
of Roark by comparing him to such profound bodies as the ocean and sky
is a virtual deification of Roark, a declaration that his spirit alone
matters. The end of the novel feels triumphant because Roark has
survived unchanged, not because the rest of the world has changed.
Collectivism and altruism thrive, and Toohey already schemes again,
planning another rise to power. The only thing that matters, however,
is that these forces have not succeeded in destroying Roark. Rand’s
philosophy does not seek to affect the whole world. She does not
want to change people’s minds, but to reach and encourage the people
who already think like she does. Roark does not succeed in winning
over the whole world, but he does manage to defend his own ideas
and inspire others, and this is the only triumph the novel requires.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Fountainhead!