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In January of 1925,
Ellsworth M. Toohey publishes his history of architecture, Sermons
in Stone. The book is an overnight success. A month later,
Henry Cameron collapses in his office, overwhelmed by the loss of
an important commission. Cameron’s sister takes him back to New
Jersey. At Cameron’s request, Roark closes the office and burns
every sketch. Meanwhile, Peter Keating, who still works at Francon
& Heyer, has become very successful. He lives in a modest but
stylish apartment off posh Park Avenue. Against his wishes, his
controlling mother has come to live with him and help him on his way
up. She suggests that Keating get close to Francon’s daughter, but
Francon has no interest in introducing them. Keating goes to see Katie
and suddenly asks her if they are engaged. Katie understands this
question as a proposal and says that they are engaged. Keating asks
that they keep their engagement a secret.
Keating asks Francon to hire Roark, and Francon does so.
In need of money, Roark accepts Keating’s offer on the condition
that he not do any designing work. Keating takes a certain sadistic
pleasure in giving Roark orders, but Roark’s quiet obedience frustrates
him. In secret, Keating continues to ask Roark for help with his
designs. Roark is happiest on the days when he goes to inspect building
sites. He surprises the workers with his familiarity with construction.
On one job site, Roark befriends a worker named Mike, a tough electrician
who appreciates skill of every kind.
One day Francon asks Roark to design a building based
on the Dana building, one of Cameron’s most successful projects.
Francon suggests a derivative of the Dana building done
in Classical Greek style. Roark says it would be more true to Cameron’s
spirit to do something innovative. Roark’s pleas offend Francon,
who is unused to refusal from subordinates. He promptly fires Roark.
Roark begins searching for a new job, but none of the firms he speaks
to are interested in him.
Roark finds work at the firm of an architect named John
Erik Snyte. Every designer at Snyte’s firm draws each project from
a different historical perspective, and Snyte combines their plans
for the final drawing. Snyte designates Roark Mr. Modernistic.
The building-trades unions of New York go on strike to
demand higher wages. The most vocal antiunion papers are
those owned by the media magnate Gail Wynand. Ellsworth Toohey is
expected to address the strikers. He supports the striking workers,
but has never publicly said so; he has a column in the Banner, one
of Wynand’s papers, and to support the strikers would end his career
Katie no longer pays exclusive attention to Keating, which
upsets Keating. He shows up at the rally and has almost persuaded
Katie to leave when Toohey begins to speak hypnotically and powerfully. Even
Keating falls under Toohey’s spell as he speaks of unity and selflessness.
Nonetheless, Keating still urges Katie to leave as she appears completely
enraptured by her uncle’s voice. The day after the big meeting,
Wynand gives Toohey a substantial raise, insisting it is not a bribe
to keep Toohey quiet. The strike is settled. One day Keating finds
Francon in a miserable mood. His daughter, Dominique, has written
a biting indictment of one of Francon’s buildings in her column
in the Banner.
At an elite New York society party, Francon finally introduces
Keating to his daughter. Keating amuses her and they banter, but
she eventually snubs him. A man named Austen Heller hires Snyte’s
firm to design a house for him. Heller cannot describe exactly what
he wants, but no other firm has been able to satisfy his desire
for a pure, distinctive building. The project excites Roark, and
he shapes his design around the granite cliff on which the house
will stand. Snyte gives Heller a plan that is an altered version
of Roark’s building. Heller says the plan is close, but he wants
more purity in the design. When Roark steps forward and writes all
over the final design, Snyte and the other designers are too shocked
to interfere. Roark’s original design emerges. Snyte fires him on
the spot, but Heller is impressed and privately gives Roark the
commission. He makes out the first check to “Howard Roark, Architect.”
Rand labels each new character strong or weak, measuring
each against the epitome of strength, Roark. Rand assigns her characters to
one group or the other based on their opinions of Roark. Weak people
are also those who cannot understand Roark’s refusal to conform,
and Rand portrays them as a despicable group. Most of the weak are
affable, like Keating and Toohey, but their smiles are dishonest
and they simultaneously depend on and loathe Roark for his talent.
Strong people, on the other hand, admire and respect Roark. Cameron,
Mike, and Heller fall into this category, and each makes an almost
instantaneous connection with him. Both Heller and Mike become keenly
aware of Roark’s abilities although they hardly interact with him,
as if one instant is sufficient time to grasp Roark’s
genius. Roark’s profound genius and power blaze forth even in the
most insignificant conversations. Every new character in the novel
eventually encounters Roark, and each character’s initial reaction
to Roark provides a reliable indicator of how Rand values that character.
Roark’s nemesis, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, appears only briefly
in these early chapters, but already his talent for persuasion makes
him a powerful figure. We see Toohey’s persuasiveness in his hypnotic
speech at the union meeting and in his skillfully written history
of architecture. In both speaking and writing, Toohey tries not
to change people’s minds but to empty them and then plant his own
ideas in the vacuum. Toohey presents a friendly surface compared
to Roark’s cold genius, but Toohey uses his charm for evil. Toohey
voices the theories of socialism and communism, ideologies that
Rand hates. His speech about cooperation and unity should appeal
to us, but instead it feels manipulative and oppressive. The people
come together to hear their leader speak, but Rand presents their
unity as slavery, not cooperation, as if the people are prisoners
of Toohey’s voice.
Dominique Francon, the first and only strong woman we encounter
in The Fountainhead, closely resembles Roark. She contrasts with
the other female characters, who are either manipulative and stifling
like Mrs. Keating or sweet and weak-willed like Katie. Aside from
Dominique, all of the female characters are superficial New York
socialites who gossip or shop. Dominique is different. Rand likens
her body to one of Roark’s drawings. She has the signature Roark
elements of elegance: angles, coldness, and poise. Like Roark’s
severe architectural designs, she is stern and masculine, with a
severely slim frame and a “vicious mouth.” However, while Dominique
shares Roark’s opinions and aesthetics, she does not have his talent
or strength, and therefore she is not his equal. Unlike Roark, Dominique
has no grand passion or mission. While she recognizes beauty and
genius, and writes about it, she does not create it as Roark does.
Also, Roark’s frigidity and indifference come from his firm conviction,
but Dominique’s come from her neuroses. In her experience the world
destroys beauty and purity, and she tries to stay removed from the
world by refraining from desire or creativity.
Roark’s work on the house for Austen Heller epitomizes
the difference between the pureness of his architectural designs
and the forced nature of the architectural designs of those in the
corporate world. Whereas Roark envisions buildings from an organic
point of view, seeking to let each building express itself naturally
and dictate the style in which it should be built, the corporate
architects with whom Roark interacts attempt to impose superficial
stylistic concerns upon buildings without any regard for each building’s
essential aesthetic needs. Just as Francon urges Roark to design
a Classical Greek rip-off of the Dana building and discourages him from
being innovative, so do the architects at John Erik Snyte’s firm, each
of whom must force his designs to fit a specific school of architecture.
These architects work from a purely technical point of view, and
the principles they apply so rigidly to their designs constrain expression
and emotion and thus prevent the buildings from being truly beautiful.
Roark, on the other hand, goes into a design without any preconceived
notions as to how a particular building should look. Rather, he
takes into account the function of the building and the environment
around the proposed building site—in the case of the Heller house
the granite cliff—and lets these elements organically determine
how the building should look.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Fountainhead!