Character Analysis Ellsworth Toohey


Toohey is a power-seeker. In various ways, he attempts to gain control over the lives of other men. At the personal level, he acquires a legion of followers who blindly obey his every command. Toohey deceives his victims by posturing as a humanitarian, but the code he preaches — that of self-sacrifice — is utterly destructive. Under the guise of offering spiritual guidance, Toohey convinces his followers to give up the things most important in their lives — their values. He tells them that virtue lies in selflessness, in the renunciation of personal desires, and that they must exist for the sake of others. He succeeds with a number of weak-willed individuals, who then surrender the things and persons most precious to them. But when a man gives up his values, he necessarily gives up that with which he formed them — his own thinking. His life is then empty, devoid of meaning and purpose, and he is incapable of internal direction. He needs external guidance. Toohey is never too busy to give them his full attention; he is always there to tell them what to do.

At the personal level, Toohey is a cult leader of a type such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon. He gains a private army of unquestioning followers, some of whom occupy positions of authority. He controls the souls of various government bureaucrats, of numerous Wynand employees and of millionaires like Hopton Stoddard and Mitchell Layton. It is through and by means of his victims that Toohey — like a virus — gains survival. Because he creates and contributes nothing, Toohey can exist only as a parasite. In this regard, he is the perfect antipode to Roark's creative genius.

But Toohey's power-seeking is not limited to his cult activities. He is the one character in the story who has political goals. Toohey seeks to establish a collectivist dictatorship in America. Because he is a Marxist intellectual preaching communism to the masses, he desires to control editorial policy of the Wynand papers. With The Banner as a platform, Toohey hopes to spread the ideas necessary to establish a totalitarian state in America.

Toohey knows that a Fascist or Communist state requires a citizenry willing to obey. He can establish a dictatorship only if the majority of individuals are willing to give up personal autonomy — to surrender their minds to a leader. The Roarks of the world will not do it. But the Keatings will — in exchange for approval. Toohey understands that Keating, in order to be liked, will yield his thinking and values to others. Just as Keating fawns over professors, employers, critics — anyone in authority — so he will toady to the political leaders. Toohey's conclusion is simple: his plan requires many Keatings and no Roarks. This is the two-pronged goal that he attempts to reach: destroy the independent thinkers like Roark, and, by convincing individuals to surrender their judgment and values, turn them into followers like Keating. A dictator requires a flock of sheep; he cannot hold power over a citizenry of independent men.

Toohey has a clear vision of his role in the collectivist state. He himself is not the brute of physical force who gains dominance by unleashing a reign of terror. His role, rather, is to be the intellectual advisor behind the throne. The brute will hold physical power over the masses, and Toohey will hold spiritual power over the brute. Toohey is a behind-the-scenes puppet master, who surreptitiously wields the real power — and this will be his place in the totalitarian state he seeks.