The Fountainhead | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead | Introduction | Summary

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Summary

Rand characterizes her novel The Fountainhead as belonging to the genre of Romanticism. Her intent in writing it is concerned "not with things as they are, but with things as they might be and ought to be." She credits her husband Frank O'Connor with making it possible for her to write it. She cites an instance in which she felt ready to give up on the novel, but Frank persuaded her to continue. Rand states that the test of her engagement in writing a novel is not the philosophical, religious, or political perspectives. It is: "Would I want to meet these characters and observe these events in real life?" The philosophical underpinnings with which Rand lines her story either block or support the ability of the "ideal man to exist and function." It is for this reason Rand explored "a rational code of ethics" that makes it possible for each man to achieve his best, which Rand asserts is "laissez-faire capitalism."

Rand felt that she had established a firm basis of secular, rather than religious ethics in The Fountainhead. She believed that the reader would not mistake Roark's speech during the Stoddard trial, which is given in Part 2, Chapter 12. She explains here that her use of the word egotist instead of egoist was motivated by dictionary definitions. These definitions assume no religious approbation of ethical behavior. In other words, Rand asserts that ethics and the sense of self that supports ideals are human rather than divine constructs. She further states that the reference to Roark as a religious man made by Stoddard has nothing to do with religion per se. It is Stoddard's recognition that Roark is dedicated to the highest ideal in his work. Ultimately, no mystical or religious orientation has any point of reference for the ideal man. She says that "only direct, introspective knowledge of man anyone possesses is of himself." Rand concludes her Introduction with the belief that The Fountainhead has endured because it supports a concept of what is possible. It is to the few who "give life meaning" that she wishes to address its message.

Analysis

Laissez-faire capitalism literally means a governmental approach to economics designed to "leave it alone." That is, the market for goods and services should be driven by supply and demand only, without any government interference. That way, only those businesses meeting the demands of consumers succeed, and those that do not will naturally and deservedly fail. The idea is simple and straightforward with a sense of Charles Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest embedded in it. This fitness to succeed can be achieved only through a continual state of conflict and struggle. It is an important distinction between the two main characters of The Fountainhead in Roark and Keating. Rand likely believed this system would provide continual vitality to a society because she was a refugee from the oppressions of communism. Communism is a political approach in which the state owns and controls all businesses.

One likely influence on Rand's sociopolitical views was the Austrian American economist philosopher Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973). She was personally acquainted with him. Rand agreed with him on some points and disagreed on others. Mises espoused a political structure that strictly confined government to the protection of the citizens within a country's borders. It leaves the economics of the marketplace entirely to private businesses.

Rand's views on objectivism provide standards by which each of the main characters proves himself in the profession of architecture and as a human being. In particular, it is the idea of an ethic structure based on reason instead of emotions stirred by religious belief. It is the only means by which a person is able to realize the self as responsible for how that person's life turns out. This is not accomplished through the blandishments of religious belief or mysticism.

In her concluding statements, Rand asserts that her book is intended for the few capable of understanding it. Everyone else is not her concern. The statement implies an implacable divide exists between the few who get it and the many who do not.

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