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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas
explored in a literary work.
Howard Roark is the novel’s embodiment of the perfect
man. Rand wants us to admire his talent and courage, and his struggle
to resist society’s sway and remain true to himself. The
Fountainhead revolves around Roark’s struggle to retain
his individuality in the face of forces bent on bringing him to
heel. At his second trial, Roark argues that individuals, not societies,
propel history. He says that individual creators are the
fountainhead of civilization. Roark’s speech is passionate
and lyrical, and the audience receives it with awed silence. The
struggle for individuality is not confined to Roark. Every
one of the novel’s sympathetic characters struggles to act independently
from society, and the desire to assert one’s self becomes the single
greatest virtue a character can possess. The novel ends triumphantly
not because Roark defeats or converts his enemies, but because he
has won the right to act according to his own principles. The thesis at
the heart of The Fountainhead is that society has
a herd mentality, and individuals must act selfishly in order to
The Fountainhead disapproves of sentimentalism,
and argues that everything worth thinking or feeling should be the
product of reason and logic, not emotion. Whenever Roark, Dominique,
or Wynand expound on the supremacy of the individual, they justify their
positions with logical arguments rather than with emotional appeals.
The novel respects logic and reason so much that everything it applauds
is scientific, factual, and pure. The novel’s mathematicians, engineers,
builders, and businessmen are inevitably more intelligent than its
sentimental writers and journalists. Roark bases all of his designs
on the simplest geometrical shapes, such as triangles or squares.
Rand condemns sentimentality and compassion as the enemies of reason
because they confuse the mind and compromise individualism. The
arch-villain Toohey controls the weak by advocating such values
as selflessness. Collectivism, altruism, and mysticism are depicted
as illogical beliefs that manipulate the heart rather than engage
the mind. In order to justify the novel’s tough attitude, Rand argues
that even the best intentions lead to imprisonment, while cold,
unflinching reason sets man free.
In The Fountainhead, love, like integrity
and invention, is a principle worth fighting for and defending.
The protagonists constantly hone and improve their relationships.
Even Roark and Dominique forego some of their fierce devotion to
independence and eventually allow themselves to surrender to one
another. The emotion of love might seem to contradict the novel’s
devotion to reason, but the characters demand relationships so perfect
that they come to seem logical and mathematical. Roark stands by
while Dominique marries first Keating and then Wynand as
if watching her enact an algebraic equation. He calculates that
she will emerge from the marriages more suited to him, so he bears
the pain of losing her to other men. Even in their passionate encounters,
Roark and Dominique refuse to yield to emotion. Instead, they make
love with a violent and calculating fury in scenes that Rand writes
in prose more technical than romantic. The novel extols the virtues
of science and logic and argues personal relationships can exist
within these virtues. As long as relationships help people maximize
their potential, then the novel sees love as a version of logic,
and therefore approves of it.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Fountainhead!