The Significance of The Fountainhead

Arsh Tikku

September 8, 2023

In our world, individuality clashes with conformity, innovation battles convention, and the pursuit of excellence is challenged. An unconventional story written by Ayn Rand depicts this, and manifests the reality of Western Society. Rand was a Russian-born author who fled to America to escape the Communist regime. Once in America, Rand developed the philosophy of Objectivism and expressed it through her books. One such book is The Fountainhead. It is about a man named Howard Roark and his struggle against society to modernize and enhance the design of buildings. The significance of this story is due to several ideas. A few of them are that  it illustrates Individualism vs Collectivism, integrity vs conformity, and selflessness vs selfishness.

Individualism and Collectivism is a significant theme in the novel. Individualism is the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. Collectivism is the practice of giving a group priority over each individual in it. The story highlights the pros of Individualism and the cons of Collectivism. When explaining the way in which society functions, the antagonist of the novel Ellsworth Toohey states "The creator's concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite's concern is the conquest of men." His statement describes the individual creator who strives to achieve their goals, caring not of others. In contrast, Toohey uses the term parasites to describe people in favor of collectivism, because their focus is not on innovation or goals but on superficial ideas, such as social status and wealth. Howard Roark has an individualistic mindset. He refuses to work with others, and anything he works on must be done only by himself. Because he is the only contributor to the design of his buildings, he is able to stay true to his idea and vision of the building.

Another theme in the novel is integrity and conformity. Howard defines integrity as “The ability to stand by an idea even when it is not popular or convenient. It is the unwavering commitment to your beliefs, values, and principles, regardless of external pressures, societal norms, or the opinions of others.” Howard exemplified this statement. Even when he was being threatened from expulsion from his university, he refused to conform to the school’s inefficient and meaningless way of designing buildings and continued to follow his vision. When he was offered well paying jobs to work in an architecture firm, he rejected them and instead worked in a granite quarry, because they would have forced him to build with their architectural styles instead of his own.

The final theme to be discussed in this article is selflessness and selfishness. When Howard is talking to his best friend Gail Wynand he states "I could die for you. But I couldn't, and wouldn't, live for you." Howard firmly states that he would never live the way Wynand tells him to. He will always live life according to his own terms and never in the way that even his closest friend tells him to. Roark embodies the philosophy of rational selfishness. Another architect named Peter Keating embodies selflessness, a difference that would change the outcomes of not just their careers, but also their lives. In the start of their career, Keating achieves enormous success, as he builds to please others' desires instead of his own. However as the novel progresses this creates issues in his personal life and leads him to feeling unfulfilled and like a failure. Roark started and went through a large part of his career a massive failure. People did not like the style in which he built buildings as they did not meet societal expectations. However as he progressed through his career a slowly increasing amount of people started to appreciate and prefer his modernist style of building. By the end of the novel he achieves massive success while keeping his integrity, leading to a successful and fulfilled life. 

The Fountainhead shows itself to present a variety of themes and ideas relevant to our world today. However, Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism doesn’t end with The Fountainhead, she has written other books enhancing the philosophy, most notably Atlas Shrugged, which features the great minds of the world gradually disappearing, and independent thinkers trying to rebuild the world according to their principles. As we navigate through a society that challenges innovation and integrity however The Fountainhead serves as a reminder to stay true to our beliefs and to always think for ourselves, and that people who focus on their goals instead of the opinions of others tend to be more successful. It is a great book containing valuable ideas for anyone who wishes to read.