Howard Roark The hero of the story. It is his struggle to succeed as an architect on his own terms that forms the essence of the novel's conflict. His independent functioning serves as a standard by which to judge the other characters — either they are like Roark or they allow others, in one form or another, to control their lives. Roark is the embodiment of the great innovative thinkers who have carried mankind forward but are often opposed by their societies.
Henry Cameron Roark's mentor. He is an aged, bitter curmudgeon — and a commercial failure — but he is the greatest architect of his day. He is an early modernist, one of the first to design skyscrapers and a man of unbending integrity. Roark admires Cameron as he does no one else in the novel. His life exemplifies the fate of many innovators who have discovered new knowledge or invented a revolutionary product, only to be repudiated by society.
Dominique Francon An impassioned idealist who loves only man the hero. Dominique is Roark's lover, his greatest admirer, and, simultaneously, an ally of Roark's most implacable enemy — Ellsworth Toohey — in the attempt to ruin his career. Dominique, though a brilliant woman, holds a pessimistic philosophy throughout much of the novel that prevents her from fulfilling her vast potential.
Guy Francon Dominique's father. A phony architect, who achieves commercial success by two means: copying from the great classical designers, and wining and dining prospective clients with urbane wit and charm. His great financial success despite his unprincipled methods provides some of the evidence on which Dominique originally bases her conclusion that the world is essentially corrupt. Francon's tutelage helps Peter Keating develop into an even more unscrupulous manipulator than his boss.
Peter Keating The foil to Roark. He lacks the backbone to ever stand alone, and spends his life forever seeking the approval of others. He even codifies his toadying attitude into a formal principle: "Always be what people want you to be." Keating is an outstanding example of a status-seeking conformist.
Mrs. Louisa Keating Peter's mother. She seeks respectability above all. She teaches her son to put the values of others before his own. By encouraging her son to surrender his mind to others, she is indirectly responsible for causing his ultimate self-destruction.
Ellsworth Toohey Architectural critic and spiritual power broker. Toohey is simultaneously a cult leader acquiring a private army of slavish followers and a Marxist intellectual preaching socialism to the masses. Roark's refusal to obey threatens his hegemony in his own field, so he dedicates himself to Roark's destruction. The villain of the novel, Toohey represents collectivism in its most undiluted form.
Catherine Halsey Toohey's niece and Keating's fiancée. Catherine is an honest girl of only modest intellect and ambition, but she loves Peter sincerely. Keating's betrayal of her robs her of the only personal goal that she possesses and drives her to become one of her uncle's obedient followers.
Gail Wynand Powerful publisher of vulgar tabloids. Wynand combines a mixture of independent and dependent methods of functioning. In his personal life, he lives by his own judgment, but he panders shamelessly to the masses in his career. He is Roark's closest friend, yet the way he has sold his own principles to gain power is in sharp contrast to Roark's integrity. Wynand's life shows that it is impossible to attain happiness by embodying mutually exclusive premises.
Alvah Scarrett Wynand's chief editor. An unthinking "mom and apple pie" type of conservative, he is invaluable to Wynand as a means of gauging public opinion. Though loyal to Wynand, his abject conformity makes him easy prey for Toohey. He embodies the trite conventionality of popular culture.
Austen Heller Newspaper columnist who defends the rights of the individual. That he gives money generously to help political prisoners around the globe shows his respect for the independent mind. He gives Roark his first commission by hiring him to build a private home, then remains a trusted friend.
Steven Mallory Sculptor of significant ability, who portrays man the exalted hero in his figures. He sculpts the statue of Dominique for Roark's Temple of the Human Spirit. He, too, is a valued and loyal friend of Roark's.
Mike Donnigan Construction worker. He knows construction, scorns social opinion, and goes by his own judgment. A lifelong friend of Roark's, Mike's life shows that a person does not have to be a genius to be independent, but he must be willing to live by his own judgment.
Roger Enright Innovative businessman. He conceives a new idea for an apartment building — the Enright House — and hires Roark to build it. As a man who overturns previous thinking when entering a field, he is naturally attracted to Roark's revolutionary designs. Enright's life shows the independence necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.
Kent Lansing Member of the board set up to build the Aquitania Hotel, a luxury establishment on Central Park South. He battles for years, against a variety of obstacles, to get Roark hired and to complete the hotel's construction. Lansing is an example, as is Roark on a larger scale, of the unswerving dedication that an innovative thinker must possess if he is to reach his goals against a society opposed to change.
The Dean of Stanton Institute A traditionalist in architecture. His commitment to the established rules of design and unwillingness to consider new ideas make him the first of the many conformists with whom Roark comes into conflict. The Dean is more typical of Roark's antagonists than is the evil Toohey, for he is merely a social conservative, blind to the possibility and value of progress. Important for "the principle behind the Dean" that Roark seeks to understand.
Ralston Holcolmbe Another traditionalist in architecture. Holcolmbe believes Renaissance is the only appropriate style of building for the modern world. He embodies a different type of conformity than Francon, who adheres to the Classical school of design. Both he and Francon are rigid dogmatists unwilling to consider the new ideas of modern architecture.
John Erik Snyte An eclectic in the field of architecture. Snyte refuses to cling slavishly to one school of design; instead, he combines clashing styles into a hodgepodge of contradictory elements. As a man willing to give the public anything it wants, no matter how vulgar or inane, Snyte represents conformity in yet another form. In his own unprincipled way, it is his willingness to let Roark design in his own style that makes possible Roark's first commission.
Gordon L. Prescott A phony architect who seeks to impress people by spouting the terminology of Hegelian dialectic. He is not concerned with building effectively, but merely with winning adulation from a gaping public. One of an army of nonconformists who conform utterly to Toohey's circle, Prescott is one of the characters illustrating that rebellious nonconformity is as slavish to the group as is blind conformity.
Gus Webb One of Toohey's followers. An architect of the so-called "International Style," which rejects the blind following of traditional schools for barren, flat-topped structures devoid of any logical plan. A virulent nonconformist, rebelling against civility, personal hygiene, and all aspects of a rational life, Webb is a crude and vulgar lout, whose mindless activism on behalf of the "workers' revolution" contrasts with Toohey's cultured advocacy of Marxism. Whereas Toohey is representative of the intellectual "Old Left," Webb embodies the anti-intellectual, physical activism of the New Left.
Lois Cook Another mindless rebel and follower of Toohey. She is an avant-garde writer who dispenses with coherent sentence structure. Lois Cook deliberately builds the "ugliest house" in New York and cultivates a slovenly appearance as means to shock the middle class. She and Gus Webb, in blindly rebelling against the values of society, are as controlled by other people as is an abject conformist like Keating.