Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Signet Book
Publishing Date: 1943
Number of Pages: 687 pages
Genre: Romance, Philosophical
This is the story of an intransigent young architect, of his violent battle against the world’s standards and conventions and his explosive love affair with a beautiful woman who loved him passionately yet struggled to defeat him. Brilliantly written and daringly original, here is a novel about a hero – and about those who tried to destroy him.
Architecture, The Arts, Individuality
Even before I took my reading seriously, I have already heard a lot about Ayn Rand. However, I barely had any inkling on who she was or her significance. Through completing must read challenges, I have learned more of her works, but still I had no iota on her philosophies and what drove her to be the woman that she was. It was this curiosity that made me purchase two of her works – Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. It was in late 2016 that I was finally able to dip into the depths of Ayn Rand’s masterpieces through The Fountainhead.
The setting: 1920s New York City. The main player: Howard Roark. Roark, to say the least, is the personification of eccentricity. His unwavering resolve not to conform to the Stanton Institute of Technology’s preference for historical convention vis-à-vis building design, he got expelled from the architecture department. He was undaunted by the norms and conventions that has haunted the profession he took on. Unperturbed by his expulsion, he proceeded to New York City, working for Henry Cameron. Cameron used to be a popular architect but his firm started freefalling into obscurity. What follows is a what can be described as the proverbial battle of good and evil in the world of architecture and artistry.
“Have you felt it too? Have you seen how your best friends love everything about you- except the things that count? And your most important is nothing to them; nothing, not even a sound they can recognize.” ~ Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
The Fountainhead is the story of a rebel. The common notion of a rebel is that he is very vocal of his ideas and beliefs. Roark is the antithesis of this “ideal” picture of a rebel. Rather than showcasing his brilliance outright, his most vocal weapon was his talent; he let his works do the talking on his behalf. But even his amazing talent was not enough to appease the naysayers. Roark was partly inspired by famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (a classic example of his work is the Guggenheim Museum in New York City).
Peter Keating was Roark’s roommate. In a stark dichotomy to Roark’s individualistic personality, Keating is a conformist. A social-climber, he does what is expected of him, even giving up on his dream of becoming a painter just to fulfil his mother’s dream (or request) of him being an architect. Post-college, he “worked” himself up to a partnership in New York’s most prestigious architecture firms by bumping off some of his stiffest competitions.
What is fascinating about the story is that Ayn Rand barely had any iota on architecture (at least when she landed in New York City). Her unrivaled research is commendable as she was able to conjure an authentic piece regarding the subject. She ably navigated through the jargons and the more technical portions. Her grasp of the subject is impeccable; even the nuances were fully depicted. More than that, she was able to dip into the very heart of the subject: individualism and artistry. Art is the best way, I surmise, to express one’s individuality.
“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?” ~ Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
At the heart of it, The Fountainhead presented two schools of thoughts: be individualistic or be conformist. The truth is, it is easier to be a conformist than be individualistic. Standing up for your own ideas (or letting it speak for its own) is very challenging. Our ideas are often met with opposition, especially from the conservative sector, those who adhere to what is “proven” and what is easily “appreciated”. Any marks of individualism is viewed as an abominable act, a disgrace to the arts.
These were the challenges that Roark had to deal with. Nevertheless, he was unperturbed. There were times when he doubted himself but never did he let his ideals be compromised or be influenced by those who surround him. He could have easily bailed out and sold “his soul to the devil” but he never did. Roark is, seemingly, a hero for those who want to stand up on their own.
However, let us be honest, Roark’s beliefs are too idealistic (even though society has become more open). The world is full of Peter Keatings and Ellsworth Tooheys, people who are willing to pull down the most creative of ideas if its means that it is a deviation from the norm. As expected of an Ayn Rand work, the novel partly reeked of Rand’s philosophies, some of which will eventually form part of her own philosophy called “Objectivism”. Rand’s deep take on the subject makes one reflect.
I was troubled by the book’s length. Countless times, while digging through the narrative, I found myself tangled in numerous curves. Yes, the story rarely digressed from the main subject. However, there were times I felt the story could have already ended; however, it just kept flowing, steadily. There were situations that were continuously reiterated, circling to an inevitable loop that goes on and on. It wasn’t that the novel was looking; actually it had a lot. But it was just too verbose.
The way the characters were divided into either black or white, good or evil, conformist or individualist also bothered me as I dug deeper into the narrative. It would have been fine but the story obviously careened more on one side. The characters were rarely ever flexible, some even bordering on caricatural. On the other hand, the characters’ stubbornness can be attributed to the narrative’s other subject – standing up to one’s own beliefs.
“There’s nothing as significant as a human face. Nor as eloquent. We can never really know another person, except by our first glance at him. Because, in that glance, we know everything. Even though we’re not always wise enough to unravel the knowledge.” ~ Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
When Ayn Rand first arrived in New York, she was fascinated by the architectural marvels she witnessed. She was in awe of the new world, inspiring her to write what would be her first successful work. My first experience of Ayn Rand’s also gave me the same emotions: I was in awe. The Fountainhead literally worked me up. However, I admit, it does take some time warming up to the book because of its complexity.
Ayn Rand’s libertarian beliefs and ideals are deeply embedded in the narrative. Similar philosophies can also be found aplenty in the pages of her last masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged. However, of the two Ayn Rand novels I have read, I still prefer The Fountainhead over Atlas Shrugged.
However, it wasn’t Rand’s philosophies that pulled me towards the book. The story’s main subject, architecture, has always been the object of my fascination. Rand showed uncanny ability in describing the nuances of architecture. She made me feel as though I was Roark, passionate, hard working, and ingenious.
Recommended for readers who want to dig into Ayn Rand’s philosophies (libertarian and objectivism), readers who want to read a lengthy book, readers who have impressionable imaginations, and readers who want philosophical books.
Not recommended for readers who dislike philosophical works, readers who disliked Atlas Shrugged, and readers who are looking for pleasurable reads.
About the Author
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