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.