Literature Study GuidesThe FountainheadPart 1 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Fountainhead | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead | Part 1, Chapters 1–2 : Peter Keating | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 1

Howard Roark stands atop a granite precipice with a lake below him and laughs before diving into the water. His thoughts are not on the many obstacles that lie ahead of him. They are on how the granite rock under his feet can be cut, "waiting for the drill ... the shape my hands will give them." When he walks back into the town of Stanton, people watch him pass with mixed emotions. Roark meets up with his landlady, Mrs. Keating. He barely responds to her attempt to express sympathy that he has been expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology. She tells him the dean has called asking to see Roark. She adds how proud she is of her own son, Peter, who will be graduating that afternoon with honors.

Roark soon becomes absorbed in his own original architectural drawings until Mrs. Keating reminds him the dean is waiting for him. When Roark arrives at his office, the dean finds himself confused by Roark's refusal to beg for reinstatement. Roark makes it clear to the dean that he is as done with the Institute as the Institute is done with him. This is despite the likelihood that Roark will find it extremely difficult to find a job as an architect. The dean asks him who he thinks will let him build his own original designs. Roark responds, "That's not the point. The point is, who will stop me?" The interview concludes with the dean convinced that he has tried his utmost to bring Roark to reason. Roark wonders what it is that makes him different from so many other people.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Guy Francon, a prominent New York architect, makes an uplifting speech to the young architects graduating from the Institute. He calls upon them as "now the custodians of a sacred heritage destined to serve the lofty traditions of Beauty. Among the eager upturned faces of the graduates in his audience is Peter Keating. He attempts to reassure himself that he has beaten out everyone else beyond doubt to graduate at the top of his class. At the same time, Keating feels "something cold and empty ... just the hint of a question asking him whether he was really as great as this day would proclaim him to be." Following his own speech upon receiving highest honors and a scholarship, Keating is congratulated on every side.

Unable to decide between the scholarship and a position at Francon's firm, Keating asks Roark's advice. Roark tells Keating he is making a mistake in asking him, or in asking anyone because Keating should know what he wants to do. This confuses Keating. He asks Roark, "How do you always manage to decide?" Roark counters by asking, "How can you let others decide for you?" Keating's mother comments that if Keating doesn't take the offer at Francon & Heyer, the post will be offered to one of Keating's graduating classmates. This thought seems to persuade Keating that joining Francon's firm will put him on the fast track to success. He asks Roark what his plans for the future are. Roark informs him that he plans to offer his services to a brilliant but "has-been" New York architect named Henry Cameron.

Analysis

It may seem rather odd to title Part 1 of The Fountainhead "Peter Keating," and then open its first chapter with a powerful description of someone else. But Roark is the standard of uncompromised idealism against which Keating is continually measured and found wanting. Roark and Keating have many things in common. They are both young men who have come from humble beginnings. Both are intelligent and have high hopes for the future. They have started out on the same footing with the same education and they are friends.

But with that, the similarities between them end. Roark laughs at his expulsion from the Institute. He makes no response to Mrs. Keating's patronizing suggestion that he will now have no chance to pursue architecture. Roark knows his trajectory into architecture will be filled with opposition, outrage, ridicule, and financial hardship. But he embraces this troublesome future because he knows it will strengthen him to achieve his singular goal to design the best buildings he can. He owns his own education thus far and presses it into the service of his vision. He doesn't mindlessly copy or revise past architectural styles. Both his gains and his failures are his own and no one else's. Roark finds his own way knowing he will have a very hard time of it battling opposition every step of the way. He plans to ask for work with the one lone architect for whom he has any respect.

Keating, by contrast, has pleased his instructors and graduates with honors at the top of his class from the Institute. This will open for him many opportunities. But Keating is never certain of himself in the same way as Roark is. From the very beginning of his career, Keating depends upon all agencies outside himself to define a showy but hollow frame of success. Keating is also susceptible to the influences of his mother. She knows her son. She also knows the strings that control him to do what she thinks will put him on the fast track to easy success by joining Francon's firm. Keating will have all the support he needs to gain a reputation as an architect. But he pays for it by always having to look over his shoulder to watch out for anyone coming up from behind who might shove him aside. He himself finds a way to get rid of others he sees as impediments to his career trajectory. It is this fear that increases Keating's lack of self-determination and confidence. It is the very lack of it that puzzles Roark, who wonders why it is other people find themselves unable to stand up for themselves.

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