Summary and Analysis
Gail Wynand, contemplating suicide, looks back on his life, searching for a reason to live. He remembers growing up in the harsh slums of Hell's Kitchen, being the smart, tough leader of a street gang and being entirely self-educated. Wynand remembers the long, arduous struggle to start The New York Banner and to build its circulation; he thinks of the men he has ruined, the fortune he has made, the power he has attained — and of the way he has used his genius to pander to the lowest tastes of the crowd. The thought of death brings him no fear; the thought of life causes the fear of identifying his life's meaning. Wynand knows that he will not die now.
Ellsworth Toohey, for his own reasons, brings Wynand and Dominique together. Dominique has been married to Keating for almost two years. The marriage has helped Keating become the most successful architect in the country but has left Dominique utterly unaffected. Wynand, whose real estate empire exceeds his journalistic one, is planning a development — Stoneridge Homes. In the Depression, with building at a minimum, architects compete for the commission. Toohey, under the guise of seeking the commission for Keating, his protégé, brings about the introduction of Dominique to Wynand. Toohey's motives in this introduction involve his endless quest for power. Wynand is his major target, Dominique his minor. Toohey is scheming to take control of The New York Banner, to reach the day when he dictates editorial policy on New York's most popular newspaper. To this end, he worms his way into the confidence of Alvah Scarrett, Wynand's chief editor. He recommends candidates for jobs as they open up and gradually gets his followers onto Wynand's staff. He uses his influence to begin advocating his philosophy throughout the pages of The Banner. In various subtle forms, he has his followers push Lois Cook and her book, The Gallant Gallstone. His motives in this are typical. If he can get Lois Cook, his follower, to the top of the literary profession, then he not only acquires greater power over that important field, but he makes it much more difficult for an independent thinker to gain recognition. Just as Keating's ascension in architecture makes it more difficult for Roark to succeed, so Lois Cook's establishment will intensify the hardships for a Roark-like writer. If a fawning conformist like Keating is considered a great architect, then a bold innovator like Roark cannot be. Similarly, with Lois Cook and her antitheses in literature. When literary success requires posturing nonconformity, it leaves no room for a sincere man of genius. Further, the theme of Lois Cook's book is that individuals are powerless to control their own destinies, that they are at the mercy of some powerful outside force. This fits perfectly with Toohey's message that an individual is merely a cog in a vast social machine, and that each individual should voluntarily submit to society's commands.
The problem for Toohey is that Wynand is too observant. Despite the subtlety with which Toohey orchestrates the attempt to advertise The Gallant Gallstone on The Banner, Wynand notices his attempt and immediately puts an end to it. Toohey needs some means to distract Wynand, to shift his attention away from his paper and on to something else. Knowing Wynand's reputation as a womanizer, Toohey seeks to introduce him to Dominique. Toohey hopes that Wynand will be so captivated by Dominique's combination of beauty, charm, and intellect that he will get caught up in a relationship with her, thereby paying less attention to the details of his newspaper. This is the principal reason that he attempts to introduce them. He secretly purchases Mallory's statue of Dominique and gives it to Wynand as a gift. He believes that after Wynand sees it, he will be eager to meet the model.
Toohey also has a secondary purpose in bringing Dominique together with Wynand. He realizes that Dominique is a potentially dangerous antagonist. She is one of the few characters who understands that Toohey's real goal is the acquisition of spiritual and political power. Further, she regards such a destructive purpose as utterly evil. Toohey realizes that if Dominique ever changes her mind regarding the pessimistic philosophy she holds — if she comes to the conclusion that the world deserves better than the collectivist dictatorship that Toohey plans for it — then she will be able to take steps against him. With her brains, she will make a formidable adversary. Toohey would like to throw the deathblow of Dominique's soul. He understands both that she married Keating as an attempt to eradicate her attitude of hero worship, and that the attempt failed. Toohey hopes that a relationship with Gail Wynand — a man whose professional life is exclusively devoted to the most shameless pandering — will be able to accomplish what marriage to Peter Keating did not. If immersion in the corruption of Wynand's career can make Dominique indifferent to the sight of a hero, than she will not be outraged by Toohey's attempt to destroy all heroes. Her potential threat to him will thereby be removed. This is also one of his reasons for presenting Mallory's statue of Dominique to Wynand.
Wynand falls in love with Dominique. Her idealism — an ineradicable devotion to the highest achievements possible to man — is exceptional. Wynand, for all his pandering, retains in his soul a similar undying commitment to man at his noblest and best. He is drawn to Dominique for her best qualities. Dominique goes with Wynand for a cruise on his yacht, the I Do. He proposes marriage to her. Dominique, motivated by the same reason that impelled her to marry Keating, accepts. In effect, she marries more than a man, she marries The New York Banner and every tawdry value it stands for. She becomes "Mrs. Wynand Papers," and will seek to torment her husband for the cheap vulgarity of his journalism — and, above all, for his campaign against the Stoddard Temple.
When Dominique and Wynand return from the cruise, she is still married to Keating. Wynand buys Keating's consent to a divorce with a signed contract for the Stoneridge project and a check for a quarter of a million dollars. Keating, humiliated by his own lack of backbone, collects his group of friends and takes them out drinking. Keating is eager to pay for everything and gives exorbitant tips. As they consume the liquor, Keating asks repeatedly, "We're friends — aren't we friends?" His comrades nod in agreement. The blurred eyes looking back at him are soft and comforting.
Before leaving for Reno to obtain a divorce, Dominique visits Steven Mallory at his home. She has not seen Roark for twenty months. Once in a while during this period, she has called on Mallory. He understood that those rare evenings were moments in which she ached for a sight of her homeland, and that she could permit herself just a few of those moments. Entering Mallory's studio after a lengthy absence, Dominique observes the sudden prosperity reflected in his new possessions and realizes it is a result of Wynand's patronage — that Wynand, after examining the statue of Dominique, desired other works by the same sculptor and chose only the best. Though Mallory has purchased various new artworks, Dominique observes that his walls are bare. He has added no paintings. A single sketch hangs over his studio — Roark's original drawing of the Stoddard Temple. When they are seated side by side, he tells her what she desires to know without her asking. Roark is in Clayton, Ohio, constructing a new building for Janer's Department Store. He tells her it is five stories tall and located on Main Street; Roark has been there for about a month.
On her way to Reno, Dominique gets off the train in Clayton, Ohio. She arrives in the evening, and, after asking directions, walks to Main Street. She walks until she reaches the glare of an excavation site. The workers are working late. When Roark comes up to the street he sees Dominique. Noticing the expression on her face, he says, "You'd better sit down." He takes her suitcase and guides her to the steps of a vacant house across the street. She questions him about his room and the restaurants in which he eats. She asks him if people look at him as he sits at a lunch counter or walks down the street., and he tells her they do not. Because Dominique is still afraid of sharing him with lunch wagons and people on the street, Roark realizes that she has not come to stay. She says that the two country homes he's done in the past two years — one in Pennsylvania and the other near Boston — were "unimportant" buildings. "Inexpensive," he corrects her, but interesting to design. She says that what he has been working on is like the quarry all over again; that it is a major comedown — after the Enright House and the Cord Building — to build five-story structures for the rest of his life. Dominique tells Roark that she is going to Reno to obtain a divorce from Keating, and that she will then marry Gail Wynand. He thinks of Henry Cameron and his warning that the Wynand papers and everything they stand for is the symbol of their opposition. But Roark does not try to stop her. Suddenly, Dominique blurts out that she wants to live in this town with him; to have a small home that she will keep; that he will give up architecture; that they will live only for their love for each other, and nothing more. He answers that, were he cruel, he would accept, if only to see how long it would be before she begged him to return to architecture. When he walks her to the train station, he tells her their separation will last until she learns not to notice the contrast between him and the rest of society, until she learns not to be tormented by his struggle to succeed on his own terms. She boards the train and departs for Reno.
Dominique marries Wynand. Over the first months of their marriage she sees the best within him — his creative drive and his love of mankind's noblest accomplishments. Gradually, despite her contempt for his pandering, she comes to respect his virtues and to care for him. She warns him against Ellsworth Toohey's schemes to take over The Banner, but he merely laughs contemptuously. She tells him to go after Toohey and to destroy him. She points out that he doesn't understand Toohey, doesn't see that Toohey's real goal is to control the Wynand papers as a means of controlling the world. But Wynand knows that Toohey could not create The Banner, that he is incapable of such a feat, and he cannot conceive of Toohey as a threat to him or the world. He believes Dominique suffers from a "horror complex," and contemptuously dismisses the idea that Toohey could gain control of The Banner.
The character of Gail Wynand is emphasized in this part. Wynand is a man of genius and consummate artistic judgment, who publishes yellow-press tabloids that do not reflect his own thinking or values, but rather those of the lowest tastes of the crowd. Wynand's pandering and self-betrayal are brought about by his quest for power.
Growing up on the tough streets of Hell's Kitchen, Wynand accepts the false law of this human "jungle" — that in life one either kills or is killed, rules or is ruled, eats or is eaten. Wynand chooses to rule. He believes that the men of competence and ability are rare flashes of talent in a world of mediocrity. The only means by which the few rational individuals can survive is by gaining power over the mindless dolts who, Wynand believes, form the overwhelming bulk of humanity. He, therefore, panders to the vulgar tastes of the crowd in order to gain wealth and influence.
Despite the way Wynand makes money off of giving the crowd what it wants, Wynand's better qualities are still alive. Like Dominique, he reveres the greatest achievements of mankind. Wynand so admires the skyline of New York City that he would fling his body into space, if possible, to protect the buildings in case of attack. He speaks knowingly of love as "total passion for the total height." His private art gallery contains only works of rare distinction. Because of Wynand's man-worship, his reverence for human beings at their most exalted, he not only loves Dominique but also, later, Roark's buildings and character.
Wynand and Dominique are — as Dominique points out — variations on a theme. They have committed the same error. Both believe that genius and integrity have no chance in this world, that only the most corrupt make it to the top, and that, therefore, one must choose between a debased success and a noble failure. The Henry Camerons and Howard Roarks of the world will be commercial failures. It is the Guy Francons and Peter Keatings who will be successful. In the face of such an alternative, Dominique and Wynand make different choices. Dominique will seek no value from such a world; she withdraws from it. She tries to give up her relationship with Roark and, though brilliant, pursues no independent career. She chooses to seek no values in a world where noble values are rejected. In order to maintain her spiritual purity, Dominique repudiates the world. She accepts noble failure.
But Wynand chooses the other alternative. "You don't run things around here, kid," was the standard response from fools to his youthful suggestions for innovations. Determined that he will, indeed, run things, he sells his soul for the wealth and power that his vulgar tabloids bring him. Wynand refuses to withdraw passively from a world of scoundrels. Rather, he becomes as ruthless as they are. A modern slang formulation of Wynand's view is that "either one swims with the sharks or one is eaten by them." Wynand chooses to swim with them — and, to a significant extent, swim as one of them. But the price he pays is enormous: his integrity.
Ayn Rand takes a stand on one of the most important questions of moral philosophy: What is the relationship between moral virtue and practical success? Between moral character and personal happiness? Do the two stand in inverse proportion to each other? The baseball manager, Leo Durocher, once said that "nice guys finish last" — the implication being that, in order to finish first, one must be not so nice a guy. Is this cynical view true? Is it the case that, if one lives an upright life committed to moral principles, then one has no chance of achieving worldly success? Many people — including influential philosophers — have believed, and continue to believe, that this is so. One must, therefore, make a choice — your soul or your wallet, your character or your practical success. Gail Wynand and Dominique Francon both accept this premise, although they make different choices.
But the story of The Fountainhead shows that Ayn Rand rejects this theory. Wynand lives in inner conflict, his commitment to the heroic in man undercut by his pandering and power-seeking. Eventually, when he attempts to use a corrupt instrument like The Banner to defend a genius like Roark, he is destroyed by the contradiction he has tried to live. Dedication to the noble cannot coexist in the same soul with pandering to the ignoble. Wynand's moral failings do not lead to success, but to its opposite: self-destruction.
Dominique comes to realize that her pessimism is mistaken. She sees that Keating not only fails in the end but does so because of his utter lack of moral backbone. She observes that Wynand not only moves toward some disaster but does so because he has sold his soul. She recognizes that, despite all of Toohey's scheming, he can neither stop Roark nor take control of The Banner; his evil is impotent against men who are morally superior. Most important, as the final part of the book illustrates, the unqualified success of Howard Roark shows Dominique that the good men not only can succeed in the world, but that they are the only ones who can. Good men alone can achieve success, because they keep their souls intact. Holding principles and values of one's own, and remaining true to them in action, is a necessary condition of success and happiness. Dominique sees all of this, and she changes her mind. It is not the sordid and corrupt who ultimately matter and triumph, she understands, but the clean and the incorruptible.
The life of Howard Roark — who achieves practical success not in spite of his high moral standards, but because of them — dramatizes Ayn Rand's theory that the moral and the practical are identical. This is an important sub-theme that runs throughout the book. The life of Peter Keating — his fall from the top, and the reasons for it — forms an important part of the lesson that Dominique learns. As his wife and, after the divorce, as an observer, Dominique watches carefully the events of Keating's life. Her marriage to him gives her a close-up view of both his methods and their results.
Dominique has been married to Keating for almost two years. Her attempt to "achieve" an anesthetized soul has failed. This is made clear by her visits to Mallory, her questions regarding Roark and his buildings, her stop to see Roark at the construction site in Ohio, her offer of marriage. Dominique is still in love with Roark, with the grandeur of his buildings and with the sight of human greatness. As Nietzsche remarked, "the noble soul has reverence for itself" — and such nobility of spirit is not to be lost. Ayn Rand quietly dramatizes an important moral point in this unsuccessful quest of Dominique's. Rand is in fundamental disagreement with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, because he subordinates reason to will or instinct in his understanding of how man gains knowledge. But Nietzsche does, at times, project an exalted view of the human potential, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms. This is certainly true of the quote from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil that Ayn Rand had at the head of her manuscript during the writing of The Fountainhead. Nietzsche says that there is "some fundamental certainty that a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps also, is not to be lost."
Ayn Rand shows that Dominique, try though she might, cannot lose it. By some means early in her life — possibly through her exposure to great art — Dominique realized that the human potential contained far greater possibilities than the phony pretentiousness of her father and his ilk. Her reverence for the Greek statuette that she obtains in Part One shows her esteem for the Greek conception of man — for the exalted creed that man is capable of great things. Even though the men around her reject her noble vision, even though they prefer Wynand's Banner to Mozart or Michelangelo, Dominique knows that mankind is capable of great stature. This reverence for mankind's highest possibilities is the only religion that Dominique accepts. She is a committed hero-worshipper. When one has once glimpsed the sublime, it is exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to ever again take seriously the profane. When one understands that an Aristotle, Leonardo, Newton, or Roark is possible — and more, when one yearns for such a sight of man's achievements — it is inconceivable that a Keating, much less a Toohey, could establish a beachhead in one's soul. Although Dominique believes that Roark will be destroyed, she knows that he is possible; such nobility of soul and greatness of achievement can be attained. Dominique values this truth the way Jeanne d'Arc values her faith. She, too, would burn at the stake rather than renounce it. To express this point by means of metaphor, Dominique aspires for a cathedral, where she can be uplifted in exalted consecration to the divine. She is unwilling to settle for a filth-ridden hovel as a substitute. Submersion in a cesspool would certainly dirty Dominique's body but would leave untouched the purity of her soul. Indeed, the very absence of sparkling cleanliness would serve only to underscore its importance to her. Immersion in the life of Keating, or of Wynand at his worst, cannot begin to alter Dominique's noble vision of human life. Nothing could.
Toohey recognizes that marriage to Keating has left Dominique untouched and unchanged. Because she is one of the few to recognize Toohey's true nature, she is a dangerous enemy. Toohey seeks to eradicate Dominique's hero worship and speculates that becoming Wynand's mistress may serve that purpose. Toohey hopes that life as Wynand's mistress — surrounded by the opulent splendor that is the fruit of Wynand's pandering — will make Dominique cynical; that she will renounce her commitment to integrity and heroism and surrender to the world's corruption in weary resignation. Toohey has a vested interest in the destruction, or at least the anesthetizing, of Dominique's devotion to the nobility of man. As long as she still loves man at his highest and best, she may choose to actively oppose Toohey's attempt to enslave mankind; she might decide to employ her intellect and talent as weapons in a battle against Toohey. This is a danger that Toohey fervently wishes to avoid. But important as this is, it is Toohey's minor reason for scheming to bring Dominique and Wynand together. His primary purpose is a desire to distract Wynand's attention from The Banner. As part of his ongoing campaign to eliminate any possibility of success for independent men, Toohey seeks to elevate a series of unthinking followers to positions of cultural eminence. His belief is that if society can be convinced that a fraudulent mediocrity like Keating or Gus Webb is a great architect, then society will be unable to comprehend or appreciate the work of a true genius like Roark. To this end, Toohey seeks to promote Lois Cook. If society accepts Cook as a great writer, then it becomes even more difficult for a Roark-like author to be recognized. Toohey has gotten his minions on The Banner to plug her book, The Gallant Gallstone, at every opportunity. Despite the subtlety of Toohey's orchestration, Wynand recognizes it and has this endorsement stopped. Wynand, as he puts it, does not allow people to amuse themselves on his paper. Toohey, who seeks to control editorial policy on the paper, is faced with a very smart and very tough adversary. Because Wynand is a notorious womanizer, and Dominique is not merely beautiful, but even more, shares his love of the exalted, Toohey hopes that involvement with Dominique will leave him so smitten that his attention to the details of his work will slacken. So Toohey brings Dominique into Wynand's life.
Toohey's scheme to divert Wynand's attention by introducing him to Dominique succeeds at one level, although at a deeper level it is an unmitigated disaster. Wynand's love for Dominique does keep him from paying full attention to The Banner. But Toohey knows that Wynand's marriage to Dominique means trouble. It is more than the specific danger represented by her knowledge and values. Dominique does warn Wynand regarding Toohey's true motives — and she does urge him to destroy Toohey before it is too late. But Wynand is too contemptuous of Toohey to heed the warning. The real danger lies in that she (and, later, Roark) causes in Wynand a heightened sense of his own values. "What's gotten into him?" wonders Alvah Scarrett, when Wynand kills pieces of trite conventionality. Toohey knows better. He fully realizes that Wynand's true soul is committed to the exalted in life, not the trite, sentimental, or vulgar. It's not a matter of what has gotten into Wynand, but of what is finally getting out. If The Banner becomes Wynand's paper, and not that of the people, then there is no room on it for the views of Ellsworth Toohey.
The relation ofToohey to Wynand is utterly parasitical. Wynand, for all his errors, is a creative power, a life force. He has risen out of the slums to create a vast empire by means of his own talent and effort. His newspapers and magazines, his real estate developments, are his creations. Toohey cannot match this. Toohey is incapable of creative work. What Toohey does is insinuate himself into Wynand's organization, then slither into a position of influence. Toohey cannot create The Banner; what he seeks to do is take it over.
In this way, Toohey's relation to Wynand parallels Keating's relation to Roark. Keating, incapable of original designs, needs Roark to create his buildings. Similarly, Toohey, incapable of any creative act, needs Wynand to provide him with a platform. When Wynand later pulls that platform away, Toohey is powerless. He needs to start over at a new paper, looking to worm his way into a position of power. Dependents like Keating and Toohey are helpless if the independent men they prey on refuse to carry them.
Roark's independence continues unabated. Despite the Stoddard scandal and the Depression, he continues to build. The jobs are small, inexpensive, and not well known; he builds nothing in New York City for five years — but he is working. Rare clients who like his work seek him out. The owner of the Ohio department store that he constructs saw his buildings in New York and liked them. This is the reason for all the commissions he receives. The Enright House and the Cord Building are major structures. Pictures of the Stoddard Temple remain in existence. The Heller house has stood by this time for years. Roark understands that all he needs is one prospective client to understand his buildings — to recognize their brilliant efficiency — and he will have a job. This is, gradually, what happens. Despite all that Toohey and an uncomprehending public can do, Howard Roark moves forward as an architect.
pandering the sell-out of higher values to gain popularity and influence, such as by catering to the vulgar tastes of the crowd. Here, it applies to Gail Wynand and his newspaper.
self-betrayal to surrender the things most important to the self, generally in order to win approval from the group. Here, it applies to both Keating and Wynand, though in different forms.
Hell's Kitchen an area on the west side of Manhattan in New York City that in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was a tough slum neighborhood. Here, it is the area in which Gail Wynand is born and raised.
cynicism a theory of human nature, holding that no virtue is possible to man, that all men are corrupt in some form. Here, it is the mistaken view that Wynand accepts from his tough upbringing.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher who held that certain superior men were beyond the traditional precepts of good and evil, and had the right to seek power over others. Here, it is the mistaken view held by Wynand that leads to his downfall.