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The Fountainhead Summary & Study Guide Description
The Fountainhead Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
Written in 1943 by Ayn Rand, the founder of the philosophy of Objectivism, “The Fountainhead” is set in New York City and spans the decades of the 1920s and 1930s. “The Fountainhead” details the struggles and challenges of an individualistic and brilliant architect, Howard Roark, and the people who surround him.
Howard Roark is a student at the Stanton Institute of Technology together with another student, Peter Keating. The Institute is filled with people who preach and advocate for a design of tradition. However, Roark refuses to design in the way they want him to. Because of this “insubordination,” Roark is expelled. Peter Keating does exactly what his professors and the school want him to and graduates with highest honors.
Roark works the next three years for a disgraced architect, Henry Cameron, whose ideas are too revolutionary for current times. Cameron begins his career successfully, and his provocative designs end up with the advent of the first skyscraper. However, his work is increasingly deemed unsuitable and henceforth rejected. Cameron’s refusal to conform only increases the public’s aversion to his work, solidifying his downfall.
Meanwhile, Peter Keating begins working for an extremely successful architect, Guy Francon. Francon spends more time in societal events than designing, and he lacks any real skill in architecture. However, because of his talent for winning people over socially, Francon has earned the reputation as the most prestigious architect of the time. Dominique is Francon’s daughter. She writes a column on design and interior decorating in a newspaper owned by the omnipotent publisher, Gail Wynand. Dominique is a challenging and provocative character. She is outspoken and, recognizing that Francon and Keating are only succeeding through fraudulent building methods and social endeavors, is unafraid of speaking out against the mediocrity of the buildings that they have designed. Dominique is disillusioned because she is disappointed by the vulgarity and conformity of the society she lives in. In her view, passionate and true beliefs will die in a world that is weak and corrupt.
Although she speaks out against him and Francon, Peter Keating is enamored of Dominique and her pure beauty, strength, and elegance. He wants to marry her, but she responds she will only agree to marry him if she wishes to subject herself to terrible punishment. Through his machinations and political maneuvering, Keating eventually becomes the top designer at Francon’s firm. He wants to become Francon’s partner, but this spot is occupied by Lucius Heyer, a sickly man.
An announcement is made for the design of the Cosmo-Slotnick Building. Keating is slated to take part in the competition with Francon’s expectations that he win. Aware of his own mediocrity, Keating turns to Roark for help and submits it in his own name.
Keating schemes to immediately become Francon’s partner. He confronts the sickly old Heyer and blackmails him. This causes Heyer to suffer a stroke, and Heyer succumbs to death. He leaves Keating all his money. Subsequently, Keating wins the competition and becomes Francon’s partner.
After Cameron retires, Roark is unable to find employment. He works briefly at Francon’s firm but is fired for refusing to conform. He becomes a modernist designer at an office headed by John Erik Snyte, who combines various different schools of design into whatever the public wants. This normally results in work of clashing principles. Finally, Austen Heller hires him to design him a home. At this time, Roark decides to go out on his own and starts his own firm. However, because his work is too provocative and revolutionary, he does not get many contracts after the Heller House. He temporarily shuts down his firm and goes to work at a quarry in Connecticut.
The quarry is owned by Francon, and Dominique catches sight of Roark while at the family estate close by. She is irresistibly drawn to him, and this attraction culminates in a violent rape scene where she both resists and accepts him. Dominique is overwhelmed by an inner conflict; this event is the most powerful experience she has ever had.
Roark leaves the quarry before they can develop their relationship. He is hired by Roger Enright, who wants him to build a new version of an apartment building. Roark obtains more recognition and gets more commissions. He catches the eye of Ellsworth Toohey, a renowned architectural critic. Toohey feels threatened by Roark’s independence and schemes to have Hopton Stoddard ask Roark to build a temple that edifies the heroic human spirit. Toohey’s plan is to denounce the temple as an attack on religion, turning Roark into an enemy of religion. Roark agrees and designs a genius and brilliant plan for the Stoddard Temple. Toohey denounces the temple as heretical and society is horrified.
At this point, tortured by what has happened to the temple, Dominique decides to marry Keating as a self-punishment. She is attempting to destroy the greatness within herself that will allow her to love only Roark. The incident with the temple has solidified her feats that creativity and character will not survive in this world filled with followers of taught beliefs.
Eventually, Dominique divorces Keating in order to marry Gail Wynand, who she believes is even more despicable than Keating. Wynand panders to the public by publishing commercially popular works like The Banner, a scandal sheet. However, he falls in love with Dominique and her pure idealism. Dominique runs into Roark. She then says she wants them to get married but he must give up architecture and she can cook and clean. Roark realizes now is not the right time for them to be together and tells her so.
Dominique marries Gail Wynand. Wynand cannot help but love Dominique and what she represents. He wants to lock Dominique up in a private fortress away from prying eyes and commissions Roark to build this fortress/home for him. Wynand finds redemption through Roark and with his powerful connections, rebuilds Roark’s reputation.
Roark is commissioned to build the Monadnock Valley Resort, whose owners actually want it to fail. They choose Roark as the architect because they do not believe he can build a resort with separate private houses. However, Roark’s work is a big success and his career improves.
Keating’s career has been going downhill. He turns to Roark to help him design a project called Cortlandt Homes because he knows he cannot do it. Roark agrees to help Keating only on the condition his designs are built exactly as he specifies, with no alteration. Keating will get the credit for it. Toohey accepts Roark’s design that Keating submits under his name. However, when Roark is away on a cruise, his designs are altered. Roark and Dominique blow up the project with dynamite and Roark is arrested.
Wynand tries to save Roark by using The Banner. He believes he can influence public opinion through the paper, but he is wrong and instead they stop reading the paper and Wynand loses many advertising contracts. As he is out of town to save a contract, Toohey gathers his followers to take over the paper through a strike. Toohey has wanted to take over the paper for years. His followers now incite the workers to strike. With Dominique’s help, Wynand manages to continue printing, but no one reads it. To save his paper, Wynand decides to go back on his stance and renounces his support for Roark.
During his trial, Roark defends his work in an eloquent speech on the sacred link between the creator and the product. The jury is favorable and they vote to acquit him. Roger Enright then buys Cortlandt Homes and Roark is to build it. Wynand also commissions him to build the tallest skyscraper in the city. At the end of the novel, we see Roark’s unflinching stance has withstood the machinations of those who have sought to bring him down. Roark’s new designs and revolutionary ideas are finally gaining acceptance in a world that once rejected them.
Dominique’s inner conflict is resolved—she now sees the world has changed and she marries Roark. Wynand, whose entire public and professional life was founded on a lie, is destroyed psychologically. He now realizes he should have embraced his inner nobility and not pandered to the public masses.
Toohey’s scheming is for naught. He has failed in destroying Roark and failed in taking over the paper, because Wynand shuts it down. He restarts his career at another newspaper. However, Keating’s career is completely destroyed and he is a shadow of his former self.
This section contains 1,440 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)