Friday, January 28, 2011

The Fountainhead : A Review

The Fountainhead is a classic, written by Ayn Rand in 1943 and it is by and large a philosophical novel. The book's title is a reference to Rand's statement that "man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress".
The purpose of the book is to exemplify Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand classifies herself as a romantic realist. She explains romantic realism as a portrayal of things and people as they ought to be (this implies the romantic approach) placed in real life situations (this implies the realistic approach). It is therefore, that her writing expounds the heroic in man; man as man should be – the ideal, the prime mover, man as an end in himself - and not as a means to a further end.

The Fountainhead is the story of Howard Roark – an architectural genius and egoist. He is a man who solemnly believes that his work is worship and therefore, refuses to compromise on his artistic vision and integrity despite pressures from all ends. As any person of principles does, Howard Roark faces several hurdles and deterrents during the course of his life and career but he stands his ground and doesn’t give in. Howard Roark is not your conventional hero. He is not charitable, benevolent or average. He is ambitious, rational and genius.

Dominique Francon is his mirror ego. She sees Roark as he ought to be seen and recognises the best in him. However, she is cynical and believes that the world does not deserve a genius like Roark; she wants to protect him. As their love story progresses Dominique comes to a valuable realisation which is one of the many important lessons in the book.

The Fountainhead is divided into four parts, each part named after the four pivotal characters of the story – Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand and Howard Roark. The reason for this divide (as I understand) is that each part tells the story of the man, his motivations and methods and how long these help him last.

Peter Keating, who is the anti-hero but not necessarily the antagonist, is the weakest of them all and therefore doesn’t last for every long. He originally wanted to be a painter but never got to pursue his dream because he wanted a career that would promise more money. He has no real talent for architecture but a boyish charm and a willingness to build whatever is already been built. His willingness to conform to the collective brings him temporary success. However, even during instances of this ‘success’, he finds himself feeling lonely and miserable which he does not realise (until it’s too late) is because he did not pursue what he loved. He is therefore a man who could never be, but doesn’t know it.

Ellsworth Toohey is a humanitarian, altruist and socialist; he is also the antagonist. He is a man who is nothing on his own and anything only on the account of the masses which blindly follow him. He sets out to destroy Howard Roark whose individual spirit is the biggest threat to his communal methods. He is therefore a man who could never be and knows it.

Gail Wynand is a newspaper tycoon. His newspapers are ‘what sells’ – yellow journalism. He has many traits which are similar to Howard Roark, however he chases after power and manipulating the public behaviour instead of doing what he loves and enjoying it. He lets another person/s affect his goals and pursuits instead of going after what he wants. He is therefore a man who could have been.

Howard Roark, on the contrary, stands by his ethical principles and values faces numerous impediments but makes it because his work speaks for itself.

Rand’s lucid and in-depth description of everything architectural is proof of her extensive research on the subject before writing the book. The passages which describe the buildings built by Roark cannot possibly be written by a person with a passing knowledge of architecture. She describes architecture as a reflection of the architect who built it. For example, Roark’s buildings embody everything he stands for – rationality, human sprit, logic, independent and individual thinking, and ego.

Any Rand is extremely witty and intelligent; it is this combination that keeps one glued to the book despite the small script and 694 pages. She leaves no doubt about her philosophy in the minds of the readers because she beautifully integrates every part of the Objectivist individuality with fiction; since her philosophy is based on Objective reality – the book is not open to interpretation (it is not subjective) – there is only but one interpretation.

The Fountainhead provides a lot of food for thought, which is why it is not a book that should be read all at once or in a matter of few days. It is a book that should be enjoyed and savoured over a period of time, soaking in every word and imbibing every bit of information and intellect it proffers.

In conclusion, The Fountainhead is an ode to the heroic in man; it is an awe-inspiring story of a man who stands by his principles and his work irrespective of the consequences.

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