“The Fountainhead,” penned by Ayn Rand in 1943, remains controversial to this day, partly due to occurrences in the novel but more so because of Ayn Rand herself.
The founder of a political movement called objectivism, Ayn Rand has often been viewed as being too extreme, either in a conservative or libertarian sense. She believed reason was the only way to acquire knowledge and argued that altruism was a fantasy and something that did not exist in our world. She was a strong champion of laissez-faire capitalism because she believed in protected individual rights that better reflected her altruism-devoid world.
Rand saw humans as heroic beings whose only objective should be their own happiness. Her critics accused her of being devoid of morality and of degrading those who were not born with both individualism and extreme talent.
Rand used both her objectivist periodicals and her novels as platforms for arguing in favor of her views, particularly in regard to capitalism.
“The Fountainhead” promotes Rand’s political views, though not to the same extent as her other novels, by throwing them in the face of the reader. The reason “The Fountainhead” is so controversial as a work of literature is its rape scene between the two main characters, Roark and Dominique. Rand describes the scene where Roark forcefully engages Dominique in a sexual encounter as a “rape by engraved invitation.” To this day, feminist critics attack the novel because they believe Rand romanticized rape and believed women should be subservient.
Despite the uproar around Ayn Rand and this particular novel, the book has sold 6.5 million copies and has been made into a movie. I personally received this novel as a present during the holidays. Since it is around 800 pages, I considered it a worthwhile endeavor to read during break.
The novel centers on the character of Howard Roark and depicts his life as an architect. Roark is the ideal man, a heroic individual indifferent to anything other than sticking to his ideals and producing wonderful works of architecture despite public opinion. Rand pits him against his rival Peter Keating, a fumbling, unskilled architect who is always concerned with how others view him. Keating eventually marries Dominique, Roark’s female equivalent, a fiercely independent woman, convinced that pain is the price to pay for her ideals.
One thing to note about Rand as an author is that her characters remain very static. While this would normally make the novel terribly uninteresting, I believe Rand makes the characters unique enough to compensate for this. While Roark remains the exact same character from beginning to end even as he transitions from being a college student to a successful, middle-aged architect, I still remained interested in how his mind worked. Both Roark and Dominique are incredibly strong characters. While critics condemn Rand for creating unsympathetic characters, I marveled at how she was able to create characters that were so sure of what they wanted that they were willing to suffer through any amount of pain to reach it. I am aware Rand is advertising her political agenda through this novel with Roark as her model individual, denying altruism altogether. Yet I found I didn’t mind. What is important is that Roark is such a brave character that I came to respect him. This is Rand’s literary genius. Though she eventually gave up being a novelist to simply pursue her political goals, I have never read another author who was able to force me to respect her characters’ decisions in every move they made. Dominique and Roark did not make mistakes. Every action they do has a purpose, and they let no person in society determine what they should or should not do.
So why read Ayn Rand, and why read “The Fountainhead” specifically? Aside from the small perks of looking very intelligent as you carry around an 800-page book and learning quite a lot about the profession of architecture, “The Fountainhead” should be read as a reminder of the importance of being true to oneself. Not a book to be read for pure escapism, “The Fountainhead” is not always easy to stomach since Roark is constantly battered, put down and told his architecture is no good. Yet Roark is remarkably resilient: He knows his work is good and that is all that matters, refusing to reconsider what he believes is right. He struggles constantly but eventually succeeds. It is not the controversy of the novel or the author that should be taken away from reading “The Fountainhead.” It is that if we all struggled a little more and fought for what we believed was right, the world could be a better place.