The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand is a polarizing author: from my experience you either love her work or you hate it. One of my goals this summer was to clear out some of the older titles on my TBR: the intimidating classics and long novels that I tend to avoid during the semester when reading time is a precious commodity.

The Fountainhead is one such project. Rand’s first literary success published in 1943, the novel is 752 pages long and often lands in Must Read book lists.

In the 1920’s Howard Roark is an aspiring architect with an idealistic vision. All his life he has rubbed against the grain of social convention, but has not allowed any compromise to interfere with the designs he believe to be right. Roark is a straight shooter, rather than a hidden agenda he is a clear window to the soul. With Roark what you see is what you get. The Fountainhead follows his career path, and the changed lives that flow from it. Roark attracts into his circle a wide cast: colleagues and laborers, journalists and society dames, and an eclectic list of wealthy clients. Rand gives us a glimpse into each perspective, so that woven around the main thrust of the story are several small side tangents.

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The book hits upon several themes, so rather than a single diamond it is instead a string of beads threaded by the plot. Rand comments on originality and self sacrifice, Objectivism and class divide. Her work jabs at the media and its role in forming a person’s opinion, and what defines true genius. The novel proposes the question of what if instead of relying on collective history and established convention we opened our heart to ingenuity and innovation? What if instead of parroting the opinions and ideas fed to us by others we began to think critically as individuals? Rand’s prose is structured on lengthy monologues and passages, dialogues that make you fee like you have landed in the middle of a philosophy class lecture. The Fountainhead is a book that demands your undivided attention, it is a marathon as opposed to a sprint.

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”

The characters who form the heart of the book are two dimensional. Going into the book it is easy to pick out who is who, they fill their lines dutifully and act predictably. The story is not so much about who the cast is, rather they are a vehicle for the idea they represent.

Although I directly disagree with Rand on the points she makes in regard to theology (she is an atheist), The Fountainhead has a timeless quality to it. Almost 75 years since its publication, the arguments that Rand brings forth are still true today. Now more than ever before the media (our fourth branch of government) plays such a huge influence in our lives: our views on politics and international affairs, the books we read and shows we consume, the social problems we prioritize and address.

Globalization has pushed for an international community that only grows more homogeneous with time. While it is true we have a long way to go there have been benefits to this: improved health and sanitation, an emphasis on education and increased quality of living in many parts of the globe. But all of this comes at a price: the loss of unique cultures and tradition are trodden underfoot with replacement of one form of thought.

Overall I gave The Fountainhead 4/5 stars. It was a profound and solid piece of work, just a little too long and predictable for this girl’s taste.

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