Though the packed 600-plus pages may be daunting, Ayn Rand is a philosophical, literary force in “The Fountainhead.” With a raw, yet infinitely descriptive style, Rand depicts unconventional characters that forcibly deliver reality, reflecting both the hideous and glorious existent in humanity.
The story primarily revolves around the tenacious Howard Roark, an aspiring architect who, due to his refusal to conform to the standards of tradition, has been expelled from the most respected school of architecture in the country, Stanton Institute of Technology. Roark defies convention in his determination to build, despite the criticism and eventual hatred directed from society. Rand contrasts Roark’s heroic plight to that of Peter Keating, the valedictorian of Stanton, and immediate golden boy of Guy Francon, of the famed Francon and Heyer architecture firm.
The novel is presented in four parts, which alternate between the perspectives of the main characters, granting insight to the ascension and descension of Roark and Keating (respectively) in society. Rand demonstrates the flaw of mankind in elevating self-degradation, granting the highest position to the “second-handers” of society — those who exist solely through the approval of others, thereby eliminating their ego.
Rand’s stance on the self-inflicted loathing of society is mind-blowing. Through the compelling speech delivered by Roark to a court attempting to convict him, Rand identifies the flaw of humanity in condemning pride. Rand forces readers to rethink selfishness as portrayed by society, which equates the ego with evil, a notion which resonates beyond the 1940s setting.
While there certainly are political undertones, they are primarily in service to Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. Her assertions of self, driven by self-interest, do cater to capitalistic ideology. However, there are no points of political preaching in this novel. The focus of the story is on the individual. Though you may ultimately disagree with Rand’s political beliefs, the characters and dynamics of society present infinite perspectives of interconnecting liberal and conservative notions. There is no definitive line, with generous common ground. After all who doesn’t love a good “stick it to the man” story?
The novel is dense but refreshing in its ability to deliver an entire philosophy in a painless package, which will consequently make readers question…everything. For this reason, “The Fountainhead” is an essential read for every rising college student, who is constantly harassed by the idea of practicality in choosing a career. Don’t choose a major because your mom wants a doctor in the family, or some aspiring Nietzsche professor has declared the profession of your dreams dead. Perhaps after reading Rand, students will learn to follow Roark’s example.
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