Summary: Chapter 16

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.

Summary: Chapter 17

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.

Summary: Chapter 18

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.

Summary: Chapter 19

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.

Summary: Chapter 20

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.

Analysis: Chapters 16–20

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.