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The Fountainhead | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead | Plot Summary

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Ayn Rand places her novel in relation to the literary genre of Romanticism, by way of describing The Fountainhead as an indicative ideal of what is possible. She credits her husband with the support needed to see the book through. She declares that it is intended to feed the few others who need a glimpse of this moral ideal set in a realistic condition. The usual connotations of the words religion and mysticism are to be suspended. Rand brings forward the words of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that she had removed from her manuscript prior to its first publication.

Part 1: Peter Keating

Architectural student Howard Roark has been dismissed from the Stanton Institute of Technology. He is summoned to a meeting with the dean, but in looking through his own design drawings, Roark forgets the dean is waiting. The interview astonishes the dean. Howard shows no sign of acquiescing to any requirement to cooperate, nor is he at all perturbed at his dismissal. When he leaves the dean's office, Roark notices a stone in the wall of the building and can only think about what he could have done with it.

Keating sits at the front of a large classroom, well aware that his classmates watch him with admiring envy. After his graduation ceremony, Keating asks Roark about two options open to him. Roark tells Keating he should decide for himself, but Keating's mother skillfully directs her son to sign up with a mediocre and highly successful firm. Keating finds out Roark's plans to work with a "has-been" architect named Henry Cameron. Keating offers to pull strings to get him a better position, but Roark declines.

Keating begins work at Francon & Heyer and despite his initial nervousness, manages to make some friends. The place is beautifully decorated. But when Keating submits work to Francon and takes a chance on suggesting alterations, Francon rather easily agrees to them. Roark meets with the testy Cameron to ask him for a job as a draftsman, bringing some of his drawings with him. Cameron tells him to show up for work the next day and not be late.

Some time has passed, and Keating has learned all he needs to know about Francon and is popular at the firm. He meets up with his girlfriend Catherine and finds out her uncle is Ellsworth Toohey. He is a tremendously influential writer and dictator of public taste able to make or break any architect. Roark has continued to work for Cameron, but is not liked by his coworkers. Cameron admits Roark's work is excellent but lays out a bleak future for him.

Keating has been a year on the job, and Francon discovers that clients like seeing the handsome young man in the office. Keating's willingness to complete projects for his coworkers make him indispensable. Francon hands Keating a small job, which Keating calculates will help him climb up the next rung in his ladder to success. But unsure of himself, he takes his drawings for it to Roark and gets his help in altering them into a daring design. When things go very badly for Cameron and Roark goes unpaid, Peter gives him money.

Critic and taste-maker Ellsworth Toohey has published his new book, Sermons in Stone. It has received such enthusiastic acclaim that it firmly establishes Toohey as an expert on architecture. Cameron retires, asking Roark to close the office and burn all the paper in it except for one blueprint of a building that never was built. Keating's mother moves in with him.

Peter tells Francon that he wants Roark, who is now unemployed, to come to work for him. Roark agrees but has no illusions as to why Keating wants him close at hand. Roark proves his practical building skills on-site to a welder named Mike, and the two become friends.

Francon hands Roark an assignment to design an office building for a difficult client. When Roark learns that anything he does will be "improved" upon, Roark refuses and Francon fires him. Roark attempts to find work with Gordon L. Prescott. But the prestigious and respected architect cites only past examples of classic structures like the Parthenon. He wants current and successful architects to copy these designs into their blueprints for modern buildings. Roark refuses to create these kinds of designs, and Prescott dismisses Roark as an immature crank.

Roark is hired by one of Francon's competitors, John Erik Snyte. Snyte's firm employs a variety of architects capable of executing different styles. He holds a competition among them to please a comparable variety of clients. A building trades union strike is opposed by the highly influential Wynand empire. This makes the architectural firms nervous as they scramble to grasp commissions to build as soon as the strike ends. Keating meets Catherine by chance at the site of a union meeting where Toohey gives a stirring speech. After the strike has been settled, Keating finds himself intrigued by the sight of Francon's daughter Dominique.

President of the Architect's Guild of America, Ralston Holcombe and his wife "Kiki" throw a glittering party to celebrate the completion of a building he has designed. Although he has attended many such gatherings and is bored by them, Keating shows up and formally meets Dominique. Francon takes note of Keating's interest in his daughter. Snyte takes designs for the Austen Heller house from his five draftsmen. He chooses Roark's plan but has added ornamentations. When Heller sees the rendering, he says it's close but not quite right, whereupon Roark redraws it with his original lines. Furious, Snyte fires Roark, but Heller hires him to design the house, paying him enough to open his own office.

Snyte makes an appeal to Roark to get him back and fails. Keating visits Roark in his new office, unable to understand how Roark could have the self-confidence to work alone. The Heller house is built with the help of Mike as Roark designed it, but it is entirely ignored by the press. Even Toohey has nothing to say about it.

The New York Banner newspaper owned by the Wynand empire features a regular front-page column written by Gail Wynand's good friend Alvah Scarret. The column promotes various public campaigns. In response to one regarding the slums, Scarret sends Dominique (who also writes for the Banner) to research conditions. She must live in an East Side tenement for two weeks. This somehow makes her an expert on the subject, but she sidesteps any entanglements Scarret offers her. Keating manages to keep Dominique's interest, and his mother schemes to get him to break off his engagement with Catherine.

Roark receives a commission to build a gas station, but for months after it is built, no more work comes in. Several potential clients contact him and talk about what they want built. But Roark refuses to work for them because he will not compromise the design of the building to any but his own original concepts. He will not work with boards or collectives of any sort. A commission comes through at last on a private house that the husband loves when it is completed. However, his wife refuses to move into it so the house is left empty.

Keating has slowly taken over the work of Francon & Heyer. However, his block to attaining partnership in the firm is that the elder partner, Lucius Heyer, refuses to retire. City architects are invited to compete for the commission for a skyscraper to house a motion picture theater and business offices. It is to be known as the Cosmo-Slotnick Building. Keating runs his blueprints by Roark, who alters them, and Keating submits Roark's design as his own work. Roark follows up leads that might bring in work and stays by the side of the dying Cameron. Keating tells Dominique that he loves her and wants to marry her.

Senior partner Heyer dies of a stroke, leaving a sizable fortune to Peter, who becomes Francon's partner. The commission to build the Cosmo-Slotnick skyscraper comes through for Keating with all attendant publicity. Because he knows Roark actually did the work, his victory is hollow. Unable to understand Roark's ability to remain uncompromising despite certain financial ruin, Keating rails at him. But it is Roark who comforts Keating, closes his office, and takes on a quarry job Mike has gotten for him.

Part 2: Ellsworth M. Toohey

Roark's job at the quarry is drilling granite, and he is at work there on a hot afternoon when Dominique appears on a ledge above. They stare at each other for a time until she inquires about him. She is staying alone at the house nearby, and the quarry is owned by her father.

Dominique breaks a marble slab in her bedroom so that she can ask Roark to come and replace it. When he does, she discovers he knows a great deal about design and marble. He removes the damaged slab and offers to order her a new one to be set in its place. Roark and Dominique spar around the desire that has taken possession of them both and results in a violent intimacy. A week later, Roark quits the quarry job. He returns to New York at the request of Roger Enright, who wants him to design the Enright House.

Keating is annoyed that he has not yet been able to meet the tremendously influential Toohey. However, Toohey writes a glowing review of the Cosmo-Slotnick Building that Roark designed but for which Keating has taken full credit. Toohey invites Keating to meet with him. But before the review is published, the sculptor Steven Mallory shoots at Toohey, narrowly missing him. Mallory offers no reason for the assault and is sent to jail. Keating meets Toohey over tea and acknowledges that he is engaged to marry Toohey's niece Catherine.

Keating learns that Roark is the architect for the Enright House, but his mind is on the invitation to Toohey's home for tea with Catherine. Toohey is immensely reassuring to Keating, but Keating finds himself baffled by Toohey's interest in what he knows about Roark. Toohey has gotten an interview for Keating to discuss designing a house for an eccentric and highly successful author, Lois Cook. She tells Keating she wants him to design the ugliest house he can. When he does, he is hailed as an innovative genius.

Dominique returns to the city feeling trapped by her bond with Roark. Toohey publicly forgives Mallory for shooting at him, and 18 young architects meet at Toohey's house to discuss the future of architecture. Dominique shows up and has a complicated conversation with Keating. He tells her he will wait until she agrees to marry him despite his promises to Catherine.

Roark reopens his office to work on the Enright House, and Heller persuades Roark to attend a party at the Holcombes'. Dominique doesn't know Roark by name, but she is struck by the Enright House. At the party, Keating is basking in a great deal of admiration from everyone. Roark and Dominique are formally introduced to each other, but when given the chance, Toohey refuses to meet Roark. Toohey does, however, imply to Dominique that she will be very useful to him and the lines between them are "drawn in the sand."

Dominique writes a searing criticism of Roark's Enright House in her column, and Toohey is curious about her rancorous attack. He suggests she write about the Cosmo-Slotnick Building. When he hits a little too close to Dominique's feelings for both Keating and Roark, she snaps back. She sets about to do all she can to promote the mediocre Keating to prospective clients. She also makes sure Roark gets no commissions that might compromise his superlative designs. When she explains this to Roark, he agrees.

Toohey barges in on Dominique. He jabs at her studied indifference to Roark, while she attempts to bring the focus of Toohey's attention onto Keating. Toohey tries to figure out why. He suggests he can do an even better job than she can at undermining Roark's career, while Dominique promotes Keating to everyone she possibly can. Keating's attempt to thank Dominique for the impassioned interest she has shown in his work is a torment to her. It is as much a torment as her success in scaring clients away from Roark.

The reader is given an overview in this chapter on the circumstances of Toohey's growing up and the development of his specific character traits. "His rich and beautiful voice" brings him many admirers among the unfortunate and down-trodden of humanity. They are loyal to him in a way no strong or independent person would be able to be. His self-effacing blandness and humor belie Toohey's ulterior motives and meticulous observational capabilities.

A novice newspaper photographer takes a photo of Roark looking at the newly opened Enright House. While many people discuss the building, very few come to Roark for their building projects based on its unique design. Kent Lansing hires Roark to design the Aquitania Hotel, but progress is halted due to the objections of Lansing's committee. Toohey keeps trying to ignore Roark. That doesn't seem to be doing a good enough job of destroying Roark. Then Toohey decides instead to make him famous by steering Hopton Stoddard to give Roark the commission to design his Stoddard Temple of the Human Spirit.

The Cosmo-Slotnick Building opens to great acclaim. But the praise is for the building more than the presumed architect, Keating, making Keating uneasy. Roark is the only architect who does not attend the costumed Arts Ball. Roark negotiates with the sculptor Mallory to do a statue of Dominique for the temple building. Building halts on the Aquitania Hotel due to financial troubles.

The Stoddard Temple opens as arranged upon the return of Hopton Stoddard to New York. Both it and its architect are viciously condemned on all sides because its orientation is horizontal instead of vertical, as expected for a temple. Angry protesters deface it and the statue of Dominique with graffiti, and Stoddard sues Roark. Dominique issues a statement at the trial that is ambiguous in intent.

Stoddard wins his suit, and Dominique is fired from her post at the Banner. Catherine, who has secured a post as a social worker visits her Uncle Toohey with grave misgivings, and Keating joins them. Keating secures Catherine's promise to be ready to leave her job and marry him at once without fanfare. Toohey merely smiles and observes the pair.

Just as Keating is packing to leave for his wedding with Catherine, Dominique visits him and asks him to marry her. Her offer is a once-only opportunity, and Keating accepts. After they marry, Dominique drops Keating off at his apartment and goes to stay the night with Roark, telling him that she has married Keating. He merely tells her she will come to him once she has learned what she needs to become her own person.

Keating's mother is thrilled beyond words that her son has jilted the colorless and inept Catherine for the much more glamorous Dominique. This is despite the fact that the newlyweds do not love each other. Francon arrives to congratulate the couple and tells Keating he will retire, leaving the firm to Keating. Toohey also visits the newlyweds and tells Keating he has been assigned by Stoddard to redesign the disgraced Temple to the Human Spirit. It will now be known as the Hopton Stoddard Home for Subnormal Children. The statue of Dominique is removed and purchased by Toohey.

Part 3: Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand, one of the richest and most powerfully influential men in New York, contemplates suicide. He is visited by Toohey, who intrigues him with a present that is waiting for him at his apartment. Wynand remembers his life growing up poor in Hell's Kitchen in New York and the times he had to fight for his life. He has educated himself. He has also established his paper the Banner on catering to public taste for the sensational in the news and brutal tactics against competitors. Toohey has sent Wynand a crate containing the statue Mallory created of Dominique.

Keating is married to the most glamorous woman in New York, and Dominique is completely passive to his every wish. Despite this, Keating finds himself in dread of her. His mother moves out. He toys with the idea of building a country home, then quickly turns on Dominique to get a reaction from her. Toohey pays a visit to the Keatings and dangles the commission of the Wynand Stoneridge housing development in front of Keating's nose.

Toohey has arranged for Dominique to meet Wynand face to face based on the knowledge that she was the model for the statue Toohey sent him. They quickly come to an understanding of one another, and Toohey arranges for Wynand to meet Keating and Dominique together at a restaurant. The sparring between Wynand and Dominique leaves Keating safely to himself. Wynand allows Dominique to visit his vault of priceless possessions, which contains the statue Mallory made of her.

Dominique and Wynand get better acquainted aboard his yacht, and it is clear they are a match for one another. Wynand asks her to marry him. She agrees to the plan, and he tells her the steps to take in order to divorce Keating. He is gratified that his brutal honesty compels her to respond to his embrace in a way she has been able to keep in check with Keating.

Keating is summoned to Wynand's home. Wynand informs him that Dominique is divorcing him but Keating will get the commission to design the Stoneridge project. Dominique pays a visit to Mallory asking after Roark, whom she has not seen for 20 months. Toohey is not pleased to see Keating, who surprises him with the news that Dominique is leaving him for Wynand. Dominique finds Roark, who is working on a department store in a small town.

Toohey meets up with a group of experimental writers, including Lois Cook. They compete with one another to see who among them can write the most awful literature and still have the public buy it. Keating shows up. He feels he is slightly out of place among these artists who are so self-assured they seem to be in on a joke of which he's missed the point. Toohey comes out with an article praising another modern architect, and Keating is jealous. Francon retires, leaving the business to Keating.

Wynand meets Dominique at the station, then together they attend their wedding reception, where everyone is baffled about their marriage. Readers of the Banner are outraged Wynand married a divorcee, and the scandal sells more papers than ever. Toohey and Scarret discuss different city newspaper holdings, and it is clear Toohey has a hand in more pots than meets the casual eye.

Wynand is happy to have Dominique all to himself. He seals her away from all outside contacts with the Banner. This is despite the efforts of one newswoman who interviews Dominique and is promptly fired. Dominique challenges Wynand to go to a play so horrible that both of them suffer to attend. Wynand convinces her he can feel pain only to a certain depth. She understands she has more in common with him than she originally thought.

Wynand tells Dominique that he loves her despite her frank statement that she does not love him. What Wynand wants more than anything is to completely insulate Dominique from the sordid corruption of his empire. He tells her that the Banner is merely a means to an end. What he wants is power and he reveals to her his dream of building the Wynand Building as the finest in New York.

Part 4: Howard Roark

Roark has provided the designs for the Monadnock Valley summer resort project and has personally overseen every aspect of its construction. Roark is called back to New York to finish the Aquitania Hotel for Lansing. He has finally wrestled control of it away from the committee blocking it. Keating is chosen to head the coalition of architects designing the buildings for the "March of the Centuries" exhibition.

Wynand has summoned Roark to his office to discuss building a private home for him as a surprise for Dominique. The integrity of Roark is something Wynand would like to own, and in their exchange, the two men size each other up. Wynand follows up with a thorough investigation of Roark's background.

Roark meets Wynand at the site where the house is to be built, and the two men find points in common with one another. Even so, Wynand attempts to dictate to Roark, at which Roark turns him down flat. Wynand ends up asking Roark to his house to meet Dominique, unaware of the fact that they already know each other very well.

Wynand shows Dominique the blueprints of the house, which she instantly recognizes as Roark's style. Wynand misinterprets her reaction, given that she has written and spoken of Roark and his work with hatred and contempt. The slowly growing respect and understanding between Roark and Wynand leave Dominique feeling left out.

Wynand finds himself spending more time with Roark than with Dominique. He is fascinated by Roark's single-minded focus on his work and the materials of the earth that make building possible. They visit each other frequently and spend time at the building site, but Dominique refuses to go there. Instead, she accepts the pain of knowing the two men relate to each other in a comfortable way from which she is excluded.

Toohey happily presides over a collection of the wealthy and the artists eager to cater to them. They discuss the morals of free will and compulsion before moving on to comment on the increasingly unpopular Banner. Wynand has begun to transform the newspaper from a sensationalist one into one with scruples to test the extent of his power. The fact that Wynand seems impervious to the "We Don't Read Wynand" movement as it picks up steam unhinges Toohey.

Despite a battery of prestigious architects for the "March of the Centuries," the Fair is a complete failure. Keating finds himself referred to as old-fashioned. He has been replaced in Toohey's writing by a younger model. Keating's mother moves back in with him, but he rents out a shack and attempts to distract himself with painting. Keating begs Toohey to pay attention to him as he had in the past. He wrangles support from Toohey to design the low-cost Cortlandt housing project. However, Keating knows he's not up to it and contacts Roark.

Keating observes that he has aged more than Roark. He doesn't understand why, when he's had everything given to him and Roark has had nothing but opposition. Roark agrees to design the Cortlandt housing project provided he gets no credit or payment for it at all. The only thing Roark wants is to build it. Keating begins to understand and shows Roark some of the paintings he's done. All Roark can feel for Keating is pity.

Wynand's house as designed by Roark has been completed, and Roark is a frequent visitor. Wynand marvels that it has been made to fit Dominique perfectly, and Roark and Dominique keep their distance from each other. When Keating shows Toohey the drawings Roark made for him on the Cortlandt project, Toohey is amazed. But Wynand and Dominique are not fooled by the ruse. Wynand instructs his employees to publicize Roark's work on every page of the paper. Wynand tells Roark he wants him to design the Wynand Tower, the last great skyscraper to be built in New York.

Keating runs into Catherine and makes a nostalgic appeal to her. However, in the years since he has jilted her, Catherine has moved on and now evidences no feelings about him whatsoever. Catherine has, in fact, completely embraced her Uncle Toohey's doctrine that no one person is superior to any other. She seems content with her social work. It is clear she has no use for Keating in her life.

Wynand takes Roark on an extended cruise, leaving Dominique behind to stay in her house. Wynand laughs at her jealousy, not realizing that it's the attention Roark pays to Wynand instead of her that eats at her. The example of Keating is brought up as a person who lives secondhand. He borrows from everyone else in an effort to appear original without paying the price for it.

Toohey informs Keating that two other architects have been engaged to make alterations to the Cortlandt project. This is expressly forbidden in the contract between Keating and Roark. Roark has Dominique drive her car out to the site of the Cortlandt project, but she ignores his instructions to stay in the car. Roark blows up the buildings and saves the night watchman from harm. But Dominique is so severely injured she is not expected to live.

Dominique regains consciousness, and Wynand brings every pressure he can manage to get Roark out of jail. The public weighs in with condemnation of Roark. Wynand defends him in the mistaken belief that he, and not his readership, is in control. He revels in the uphill fight as if it were a holy crusade. Even so, the newspaper fails to sell.

Keating has withdrawn into himself, but Toohey arrives to get Keating to testify against Roark in the trial. Toohey claims that the Cortlandt and the Cosmo-Slotnick Buildings were designed by Roark, but Keating put his name to them. Toohey shows his true colors, furious that Roark is the one person over whom he has no control. Keating now knows the full mechanism by which Toohey has controlled him but is helpless to resist.

Wynand and Toohey are headed for a showdown over Roark. An article condemning Roark written by Toohey has slipped into print, despite the fact that Wynand expressly told Toohey to keep out of it. Wynand pulls as many papers as have not been sold off the streets. Wynand attempts to fire Toohey, but union members demand Toohey be kept and walk out when Wynand refuses. The paper runs on a skeleton crew. Advertisers pull their support, and Dominique comes in to help.

Wynand battles his staff, knowing he must either cave in or the Banner will go under. He agrees, with the realization that his power over the city and its people has been an illusion. The morning paper is out with an article on the front page bearing his name. Wynand recognizes it as one he wrote outlining his ideals many years ago, but a condemnation of Roark has been added to it.

Too ashamed to face Roark, Wynand refuses to see him. Roark rents a house in the Monadnock Valley, and Dominique openly makes public her love affair with Roark. Francon has his daughter stay with him until the scandal of her affair dies down. Scarret blames her for having ruined the Banner.

Roark's trial begins with Dominique on one side with his supporters, and Toohey leads the coalition in opposition. Keating tells the truth that Roark and not Keating designed the Cortlandt project. He reads to the jury the contract Roark signed. Roark takes the stand and states his perspective on man's struggle to attain independence. He points out that he fulfilled his part of the contract but that his own conditions and requirements were betrayed. The jury hardly takes a minute to reach a verdict of not guilty.

Enright buys the ruined Cortlandt property and hires Roark to rebuild it. Wynand is granted his divorce from Dominique but is required by law to retain Toohey. Toohey resumes his job for a few minutes before the presses shut down and the Banner ceases to exist. Toohey has no trouble finding another position. Wynand hires Roark to design the Wynand Building.

Dominique arrives at the site of the partially built Wynand Building and takes a plank lift to the top. Roark is waiting for her above. They both know the building will stand for the endurance of the human spirit above all that strives to pull it down.

The Fountainhead Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Roark and Keating start out on their careers.

Rising Action

2 Keating depends on Roark's help.

3 Dominique and Roark become lovers.

4 Keating marries Dominique.

5 Stoddard sues Roark.

6 Dominique leaves Keating for Wynand.


7 Roark dynamites the Cortlandt project.

Falling Action

8 Wynand dissolves the Banner.


9 Wynand hires Roark to design the Wynand Building.

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