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Which man ultimately prospers: the man of integrity, or the hypocritical, unethical man? In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand questions the relationship between the moral and the practical. Many people in real life – as well as Gail Wynand and Dominique Francon in the novel – believe that practical success requires the individual to betray his or her moral principles. Some say that one must “play the game,” or conform to the principles of one’s company or profession if such conformity will lead to practical success. However in The Fountainhead, Rand builds a convincing argument that this cynical view is wrong. The character of Howard Roark is the author’s argument against the idea that moral bankruptcy allows for practical success and that there is an inversely proportional relationship to the two realms. He is ultimately successful because he adheres to his morality and refuses to compromise the integrity of his buildings or the conception of his designs in the face of harsh consequences such as destitution and jail. The character of Peter Keating is the author’s argument that moral bankruptcy only leads to destruction, and Gail Wynand, who has the ability to think autonomously and build values, is also destroyed by betraying his own principles. The novel demonstrates that through the development of characters and plot that the only way for man to achieve happiness and practical success is to be moral.
Howard is an independent, creative genius with a clear sense of self and the potential to gain insight into mankind without abdicating autonomous thought. Rand shows that he is both moral and practical through the development of the plot. When the board of the Manhattan Bank Building wants to alter his design, Roark rejects the proposal for the new design, calling his behavior “the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do.” Despite the consequences of destitution, he gives up a lucrative, publicity-generating commission in order to stand by the integrity of his design-and he calls this “selfish.” Howard adheres to his values throughout the course of the novel, and because he does not abdicate his values and free will, he succeeds in putting his thoughts and values into practice. The integrity of the design is far more important to him than the money or recognition that will accrue from the commission. In remaining true to his values and judgment, Roark is true to the deepest core of his self. This is selfishness in its highest and best sense. He symbolizes courage and strength, is fully committed to the artistic integrity of every one of his designs, and he prefers to take a laborer’s job in a granite quarry rather than compromise on the smallest detail of his building. He is also practical, and as a demonstration of his practicality, Roark – above all other characters in the novel – is a can-do giant of supreme competence, excelling at every aspect of building. By the novel’s end, he has achieved significant commercial success and, on his own terms, becomes established in architecture. Roark’s buildings, his ultimate commercial success, and his happiness are a result of living by his own thinking. To attain practical success, one cannot betray his or her mind. Rand suggests that moral virtue is a requirement of practical success, not a hindrance to it.
Peter Keating, on the other hand, is a conformist. He abdicates his judgment, and lets other people define his actions and life. In this regard, he is Roark’s foil. While Howard may end the section “Peter Keating” morally strong and financially bankrupt, Peter ends up financially strong and morally bankrupt. However, by the end of the section “Howard Roark,” Howard is morally strong, and consequently, practically and financially strong, while Peter Keating is both morally and practically bankrupt. In all the important decisions of his life, Keating gives in to the coercion of an antagonistic society, as he lacks the strength of character necessary to stand on his own judgment. Keating desires prestige above all else, and while he and his ambitions would be deemed as selfish in the conventional sense, Ayn Rand demonstrates how he has a selfless nature of a status-seeker. He sacrifices and surrenders any and all desires and values to have status, and relinquishes autonomous thought almost completely. A selfish man, Ayn Rand argues, must be true to his values and the thinking he does to form them.
Gail Wynand publishes vulgar tabloids that oppose Roark’s principles, but also loves man’s noblest achievements and owns a private art gallery. His private life is a product of his choices, while his professional life is dependent upon the worst of public opinion. Gail Wynand is a man with the mind, talent, and initiative to do great things, but he brings disaster on himself by means of his own errors. Under naturalist premises, Wynand erroneously chooses to believe that a man can either dominate or be dominated. He believes that the majority of human beings are corrupt and mindless, and as an intelligent, competent man he can only survive by attaining society’s conceptions of power, money, influence, and a readership. But in the process, he, like Keating, betrays his own mind. Wynand is a man of contradictory thinking and actions, which ultimately leads to his downfall. When he defends Roark in The Banner, he fails to understand that vulgar people cannot appreciate morality, and faces the fact that his concept of control was dangerous speculation. He crashes about as fast as the Stock Market did in 1929, because he betrays his self to such a degree that he decidedly gives in to coercion and cannot redeem his principles beyond Howard’s conception of the Wynand Building. The novel suggests that the only power a man should seek is that of his own mind and body, of his spirit and his heart, and that seeking it through others will have dire consequences. Because Wynand did not express his morals to those who could seriously appreciate morality in journalism, he was defeated by society. Not appreciating Howard’s statement, “Don’t give in,” Wynand subjected his own will to that of the masses.
Dominique Francon believes that the majority of men have no interest in living up to man’s highest nature, and that this unthinking majority has all the power in society. She behaves as a philosophical pessimist, holding that the good have no chance in this world. She significantly exemplifies Ayn Rand’s malevolent universe premise: that the world is closed to the aspirations of good men and that only evil holds power. She is one who believes the conventional view, and although she loves Howard and his genius, she sees no hope for his survival. She allies with Toohey to destroy him before society can, in her acts of mercy killing. “Let us say we are moles and we object to mountain peaks,” she admonishes the court and gallery at the Stoddard trial, stating that the temple must be torn down in order to save it from the world, not the world from it. Because of Dominique’s fear that an antagonistic world will snub out any trace of noble men and creative works and positive goal-seeking, she refuses to pursue either values or goals.
Because of her capacity for autonomous thought, she will be able to see the error of her pessimistic philosophy, and accept Howard’s benevolent universe premise as true. She observes the lives of Howard Roark, Gail Wynand, Peter Keating, and Ellsworth Toohey. She sees that despite every obstacle that society places in Roark’s path, it cannot stop him. She witnesses the life of Gail Wynand, observing that, ultimately, Wynand’s pandering brings him destruction, not joyous success. She sees that Keating’s career does not merely collapse, but does so because of his lying, manipulative nature, which leads to his public exposure as a fraud. She notes that Toohey’s power-seeking is utterly defeated in the two major attempts of his life: He can neither gain control of Wynand’s Banner nor prevent Roark’s artistic and commercial success. Dominique observes that the facts of these men’s lives contradict her belief that the good will inevitably fail and the evil triumph. Based on the facts, she changes her mind, realizing that Roark’s benevolent assessment of life’s possibilities is true and her own malevolent view is mistaken.
The implication of The Fountainhead is that man must let his own judgment and values serve as his compass, since this is the sole means to attain happiness. Howard Roark commits to autonomous thinking, his principles and judgments, and then he creates revolutionary designs which he will not let be adulterated and compromised by others. He is not convicted for dynamiting Cortland, because that would condemn self-preservation and the right to one’s own work. Those who possess second-hand ambitions, becoming morally betraying and bankrupt, Toohey, Keating, and Wynand, are destroyed and impotent compared to the heroic Howard Roark. Howard is a moral giant, with enduring success and happiness in all avenues of his life, he is absolutely selfish, but in a good way, he is the tallest of men, standing on the tallest of buildings. The author convinces individuals that thinking independently, building values, setting goals that adhere to those values, and demonstrating integrity are the means to being successful in life. First an individual must be able to see a favorable outcome, and then by following his or her values he or she can attain it. Happiness is the result of successfully adhering to and fulfilling one’s principles. “Great men” like Howard Roark understand the value of morality, and that in itself is a valuable moral the novel promotes. Be true to reason and the self; be happy.
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