In today’s times where works of literature typically fade away after a few years (or sometimes, just after a few months) of being published, Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead has been in print for over 50 years. The popularity of this book can be attributed to two factors: its character-driven plot with rich philosophical underpinnings and Rand’s radical ideas that divide her readers based on their opinion. After reading The Fountainhead, any reader is likely to feel one of the two emotions—a surge of appreciation for the book and its protagonist, or a complete revulsion toward both. But, no matter which side of the fence a reader may fall on, there is one thing everyone would agree with—The Fountainhead can make one re-evaluate their life and rethink their moral code.
Rand’s impeccable craft of interweaving fiction with philosophy comes together in the form of the three central characters of the book—Howard Roark, Peter Keating and Gail Wynand. If Howard Roark, the protagonist of the story, is a principled, straight-as-an-arrow, courageous character, Peter Keating is the exact opposite, who lacks a sense of self. Gail Wynand, on the other hand, is a grey character, with double standards when it comes to the moral code of conduct.
The author’s ability to tell a story largely with the help of the strong characters shines through in this 1943 novel. The reader is constantly left enthralled, fascinated, and taken in by the characters, whether they are likeable or dubious. Roark is a talented student of architecture whose designs are considered “sheer insanity” by his professors. He rejects traditional styles of architecture. He believes architecture is art, where every design serves a function and a purpose. Undeterred by the opinions of others, he never seeks validation from others. Albeit, this confidence and such abilities don’t make his journey any smoother. Throughout the story, Roark faces innumerable hardships and challenges. But being the person he is, his spirit remains unbroken. This is the author’s winning representation of an ideal human being.
Peter Keating, Roark’s classmate, receives everything on a golden platter. A typical people pleaser, he quickly climbs the corporate ladder and gets in the good books of his superiors. But, unsure of his passion, he often feels empty and incomplete. To fill this void within, he seeks validation from others that lowers his self-esteem and self-confidence. He hates Roark with a vengeance that further makes him jealous and insecure.
Gail Wynand, the third of the main characters of the controversial classic, is a man of idealistic principles, extraordinary capabilities and indefatigable energy. However, he quickly goes down a path of self-destruction due to his defeatist and cynical attitude. In this struggle of the right and wrong, he even ends up tainting the integrity of the newspaper he runs. It is only when Wynand gets acquainted with Roark, that he finds hope. In Roark, he sees the man he could be. To mend his ways, turn his life around, and to redeem himself, he decides to support Roark through his troubled times.
The climax of the book is weaved across interesting questions: Will Roark succeed against all odds stacked against him? Will Gail Wynand be able to help him out? Will tables turn for Peter Keating? Despite a straightforward plot, what makes the book memorable is how the characters of The Fountainhead evolve throughout the story, bringing out the core of Rand’s objectivism philosophy. The author has done a remarkable job breathing life into each of her characters, as if they were living their lives in the pages of this novel. The frequent use of imagery renders a movie-like experience, making the book easy to understand but difficult to put down. A celebration of the individual and their integrity, The Fountainhead is one of its kind and a must-read. Irrespective of whether we agree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the book is inspiring in a way that it leaves you with food-for-thought.