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Literature / The Fountainhead

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Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal) & Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) in the film

The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It was made into a 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, with Rand herself writing the screenplay. The film was directed by King Vidor.

Howard Roark, The Hero of the story, is an architect whose style tends toward being "modernistic." Problem is, everyone else where he lives likes to recycle old styles, so Howard is more of an acquired taste in the art world, where only a few folks (who become his True Companions, more or less) appreciate him.

The Architectural establishment all damn Roark for being insufficiently humble enough to "realize" that no one will ever approach the glories of the past. No one cares that Roark's buildings are actually pleasant to live in; no, people don't want to live in houses, they want big flashy facades with lavish ballrooms so they can entertain their friends and impress them.


And so begins architecture as a metaphor for the content of people's selves. Those that build houses for the purposes of showing off and impressing friends do not have any content of their own in their soul; they live second-hand, dependent on other people for their psychological sense of self.

For more information on Objectivist ideas, please see Objectivism.

As of 2018, Zack Snyder is working on a new film adaptation.


The book provides examples of:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Howard does his version of this after he finds out who Dominique's second husband is going to be.
  • Anti-Villain: Gail Wynand. Peter Keating too, if you would even consider him a villain.
  • Arc Words:
    • Later in the book, the word "bromide" becomes one. Howard Roark's name might also be used this way in places.
    • "Second-hander" is an increasingly important arc word as the book progresses.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: How "Stretch" Wynand gains control of his gang.
  • Author Avatar: Dominique Francon is essentially Ayn Rand in a bad mood (by Rand's own admission).
  • Badass Boast: Gail Wynand does this when he starts his "crusade" for Howard Roark.
  • Batman Gambit: Toohey's recommending Roark for the Stoddard Temple is the start of his campaign to discredit Roark.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Howard Roark and Dominique Roark live Happily Ever After, but Gail Wynand is utterly broken and defeated, Ellsworth Toohey is relatively unfazed, and we never find out what became of poor, poor Peter Keating.
  • Boring Invincible Hero: A common criticism of Howard Roark.
  • Break the Cutie: Catherine Halsey. Elsworth Toohey, her uncle, accepted custody of her specifically so he could do it.
  • Break the Haughty: Howard Roark and Dominique Francon try to break each other early in their relationship.
  • Broken Aesop: Roark delivers lengthy monologues on working alone and the strength of the individual, even though he is an architect. Architects simply cannot build buildings alone. They need the help of others to create structures. So this book's "philosophy" basically cancels itself out.
  • Broken Pedestal: Howard's first boss
  • Bromance: Roark and Wynand, Roark and Mallory, Mike and Mallory. All of these can possibly be interpreted as Ho Yay by at least some readers. The author may not have intended this, but Roark and Wynand's Bromance comes across as pretty, ahem, subtexty (admittedly, this is a subjective judgement). Roark and Steve Mallory is total hurt/comfort material. Even the Objectivist scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra devoted a chapter in his "Ayn Rand, Homosexuality and Human Liberation" to "Male Bonding in the Randian Novel."
  • Character Filibuster: Roark's defense speech. Also when Toohey gets his nine page monologue on altruism, however its more of an anti-author filibuster because it goes against her philosophy.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Deconstructed. The book in effect argues that Conspicuous Consumption is a form of selflessness because it is premised on the belief that one's primary value is how other people think of oneself, thus rendering one a psychological parasite.
  • Deconstruction: Each of the four main male characters (Roark, Wynand, Toohey and Keating) are embodiments of a specific code of ethics. The three who embody moral codes Rand disagrees with are deconstructions of their respective morality. Peter Keating, described by Rand's notes as "the man who couldn't be, and doesn't know it" embodies altruistic morality from a subservient perspective, i.e. he exists for other people. As such he is a pathetic wreck that has no will of his own, is easily manipulated by others (especially his mother) and repressed his talent at art in favor of being a more 'socially acceptable' architect. Ellsworth Toohey, "the man who couldn't be, and knows it" is a deconstruction of altruism from a 'dominant' perspective. He sees himself as a 'collector of souls' who has no interest in anything but controlling other people and uses altruistic morality to do so. Because he, like Keating, derives his psychological sustenance/identity from power over others, he too is 'selfless' (as Rand uses the term). Gail Wynand, "the man who could have been", is a deconstruction of the popular interpretation of Frederich Neitzsche's "Overman" morality; he seeks power over others but in doing so ends up controlled by them. He realizes he is indeed just as much of a psychological parasite as Ellsworth Toohey.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The narrator falls into this at times. The description of the Stanton Institute of Technology notes all the classicist design features that would make it highly defensible in the event of a medieval siege ... which a modern university isn't likely to face.
  • The Determinator: Howard Roark will never back down. Never. True to this trait, he blows up what used to be his building because a bunch of Toohey's architect goons screwed with it. THEN, he just stands there, looking at it. He doesn't even care that he would obviously be caught, arrested, and put in jail! And it turns out he freaking planned it that way in the first place, anyway!
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Roark threatens to end relationships with those whom offer him money without doing work.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: How Henry Cameron deals with commercial failure and with society's refusal to accept his ideas.
  • Easy Evangelism: A concerted media campaign turns the public against Roark; but a speech from him gets them on his side.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: well, Howard and Peter did.
  • Evil Counterpart: The real 'counterpart' is Gail Wynand - he was a highly creative, talented man, who chooses the second-hander path out of cynicism.
  • Expy: Howard Roark, for Frank Lloyd Wright. Gail Wynand, for Joseph Pulitzer.
  • Fallen Hero: Gail Wynand, who tried to be a hero, but was beaten.
  • Foreshadowing: Howard Roark, when discussing some realizations about second-handers with Gail Wynand, leaves off one most egregious: the man who desires power.
  • Foil: Peter Keating represents a person who was not talented, and instead of recognizing it and living his life in line with his true interests and abilities, tried to achieve more than he deserved by living off of others.
  • For the Evulz: Ellsworth Toohey's motivation. Along with the wish for power.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Gail Wynand is a man. Yes, really.
  • Glurge: In-universe example. Everything written by Alvah Scarrett. Deconstructed; a morality based upon sickeningly-sweet pity means that no one has any reason to truly want a world where people do not suffer (because without sufferring to soothe, one cannot be moral).
  • Hannibal Lecture: Toohey gives quite a few.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Gail Wynand and Peter Keating. Also Guy Francon, although he was never really a terrible guy, and the same could arguably said about Dominique Francon when she starts to begin accepting things.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ironic, considering that sacrifice is noted as usually being stupid in the book, but in order to gain some self-respect and assist Roark, Gail Wynand sacrifices a ton of money and all of his corrupted New York publications. It should be noted that by Objectivist standards, Wynand isn't making an actual sacrifice; he's exchanging what is a lesser value to him (money and newspapers) in order to gain a greater value to him (integrity to his values).
  • Hollywood Law: Howard Roark is allowed to argue that his blowing up of a building (because his design for it had been changed) was justified and for the jury to acquit him (they do). No judge would permit him to argue for this, which is called jury nullification (ignoring the law even when the defendant is plainly guilty of violating it).
  • Idiot Ball: Absolutely no one suspects Dominique's affair with Roark, even after she poses nude for a statue in one of his buildings.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Arguably this describes Wynand's feelings for Roark (feelings which Rand herself described as "romantic" in one of her journals).
  • Insult Backfire: For columns (and testimony in court) that are supposed to damn the hell out of Roark's work, you can figure out that Dominique actually likes it. During her court testimony against Roark's buildings, she actually says she doesn't want to save people from the building, but the building from people.
  • It Amused Me: The reason Gail Wynand breaks men of integrity. Also, to prove to himself that he wasn't wrong when he decided that humanity was contemptible.
  • Jerkass: Peter Keating, his mother, Catherine Halsey (the only girl he ever truly loved), Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, and Dominique Francon all demonstrate this at various times. Henry Cameron does this in order to protect young architects from suffering the same sad fate as him. Howard Roark insists on taking the hard road right along with him.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Dominique has a very extreme case of this. She still believes in her ideals, but it is because she believes in them that she is so completely disgusted with the entire world around her. Indeed, at one point in the book, she agrees with Gail Wynand's statement that "one cannot love humanity without hating most of humankind" (or words to that effect).
  • Klingon Promotion: Peter Keating becomes partner by intentionally causing Lucius Heyer to die of a heart attack.
  • Love Martyr: Howard, of all people. Dominique not only deliberately screws with his career, she runs off and marries other guys TWICE, and he still just quietly waits around for her to come to her senses. Dominique attempts to be one in her own twisted way, but it just doesn't work.
  • Masochism Tango: Once married to Wynand, Dominique does her level best to make him suffer. She only quits when he explains that he loves her too much to actually be bothered by it.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Toohey is the worst example. Peter Keating's mother is almost as bad.
  • Mentor Archetype: Henry Cameron is a clear example; he's one of the only men Roark actually respects and until his dying breath he teaches and advises Roark on architecture.
    • Another example is the Math Professor at the Stanton Institute of Technology. When the rest of the school wanted Roark expelled for designing modernist buildings, he advocated vigorously on Roark's behalf.
  • Mentor's New Hope: Howard Roark seems to be this to Henry Cameron. Cameron's secretary even took a double-take when Roark asked for a job interview, and it took seeing Roark's architectural designs to convince Cameron that it wasn't a trick.
  • Mills and Boon Prose: The "rape" scene. Hoo boy... the participants genitals aren't even mentioned! There is some Values Dissonance involved here, as this book was written in The '40s and Ayn Rand had to submit to the editorial standards and practices of the time.
  • My Beloved Smother: Peter Keating's mother.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Subverted by Dominique. After Dominique's "rape" at the hands of Howard Roark, she contemplates how horrified everyone would be that their imperious Ice Queen Dominique was "violated." She, however, gleefully fantasizes about the look of shock in their eyes as she proudly announces news of her ravishment.
    Dominique revels in how shocked people who hold her in awe would be to hear the words "I've been raped." Rand describes her fantasizing about throwing the incident in the faces of such people: "She wanted to scream it to the hearing of all" (221).
  • Nepotism: Peter throws over the fiancee he truly loves when his boss's daughter proposes marriage to him, deciding he'd rather boost his career. It works. For a time, anyway.
  • Not Good with People: Most of the heroic characters, except for Austen Heller.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: okay, not exactly evil, but conforming to what the world wants doesn't work out for Peter Keating so well. Gail Wynand comes to a bad end when he submits to the 'will of the people' as well.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Everyone who's poor deserves it except of course Henry Cameron, whose impoverished circumstances are because of eeeevil classical architecture. Then there's Howard Roark, the hero, who engages in sex that has questionable consent and domestic terrorism, yet it's treated as a good thing when despite spending eight pages in a Motive Rant about how and why he did the latter, he's found not guilty anyway.
  • Questionable Consent: The only thing more controversial than the philosophical content of this novel is whether or not Roark literally raped Dominique. It was clearly a "Bodice-ripper" style sex scene, and Dominique does describe the encounter as "rape" several times. However, not only were they clearly playing the "yes means no" coy courtship game beforehand, but Dominique described the sex as "rape" as part of a fantasy where she shocked everyone by publically announcing "I've been raped!" Saying "I've had really rough bodice-ripping ravishment-sex" probably wouldn't cause the desired effect.
    • Many interesting essays have been written about the fact that Ayn Rand's ideal man is, by her definition, a rapist. Of course, there are also many who interpret such scenes rather differently. See Alternative Character Interpretation on the YMMV tab.
  • Rightly Self-Righteous: Roark has nothing but indifference at best and contempt at worst for most of the other characters. Beyond Roark's social bubble of Dominique, Mike, and Mallory, everyone else is, to some degree, morally compromised and opposed to the Randian ideal man Roark represents. Wynand sits on the borderline, being friends with Roark and a lover to Dominique, but ultimately falls short due to his ambitions towards exercising control over society via the media empire he built, his supposed power being condemned as a noose at both ends.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Roark
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Ellsworth Toohey does this once near the end of the book. It's described in a very sinister way.
  • Secret Test of Character: Invoked and then rejected. Wynand offers to let Roark build him the house of his dreams, but only if the latter agrees to become the former's personal architect. Roark would have no input into the designs and would have to execute whatever crummy design Wynand has in mind. After Roark tells him to shove his offer somewhere painful, Wynand backs down, but explicitly says the offer was not a Secret Test of Character. He badly wanted Roark to give in, because Wynand enjoys making talented, idealistic people betray their principles.
  • Self-Made Man: Roark was born to a poor industrial worker. He paid his own way through college by doing construction work.
  • A Shared Suffering: Howard's few close friends are other artists who aren't appreciated by society.
  • Shown Their Work: The American architectural community (or at least the more conservative element of it) during the 1920s-1940s was stuck in a classicist rut—this is why guys like Frank Lloyd Wright were so groundbreaking. Rand portrays the profession and the world of architecture criticism during this period accurately.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Howard never shows any sexual interest in anyone but Dominique, period.
    • This would have been averted in a scene ultimately cut from the novel, in which Roark has a relationship with an actress named Vesta Dunning before meeting Dominique.
  • Sissy Villain / Smug Snake: Ellsworth Toohey
  • Stealth Insult: Ellsworth Toohey recommending Howard Roark as an architect to Hopton Stoddard.
  • Springtime for Hitler: How Roark's business makes a comeback.
  • Starving Artist: Henry Cameron is described as being an architectural genius, but because he only builds modernist buildings he is in poverty. Roark likewise struggles with business. Both these men are contrasted by Keating and Francon, who are extremely wealthy but who make money by manipulating others rather than by any real merit.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: "The Banner" is a lurid tabloid filled with loathsome values, directed toward the most vulgar tastes of the crowd. Wynand is aware of its malevolence, but keeps editing it because it's very profitable.
  • There Are No Therapists: Dominique clearly needs one. Wynand is in quite dire need of one also; when the book begins, he starts every day by putting a gun to his head on the off chance he cares enough to pull the trigger.
  • Train-Station Goodbye
  • Triang Relations: Howard + Dominique + whomever Dominique marries
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible:invoked Mocked.
  • Tsundere: Dominique and Howard Roark take this to some pretty extreme levels.
  • Übermensch: Roark
  • Unholy Matrimony: Dominique and Gail getting married originally comes off as this.

The film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The plot is streamlined down from the novel and extraneous characters are dropped.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Roark confronts Gail Wynand accusing the editor of not remembering the campaign against the Enright House, since it was one of his many smear campaigns. Subverted when Gail retorts that while he stands by the campaign, he wasn't the editor at that time and claims to be aware of the damage inflicted to Roark by its publication.
  • Character Filibuster: as in the novel. Ayn Rand insisted that it be given verbatim as she wrote it. The resulting scene is around six minutes of pure monologue.
  • Driven to Suicide: Wynand, at the end, from feeling he's not as worthy of a man as Howard.
  • Little Black Dress: Dominique's style is shown with a long, black evening dress, with just a touch of white fur on the neckline.
  • Melodrama: The film isn't subtle in its message or tone.
  • Mood Whiplash: The ending. Cutting to Roark and Dominique's happy ending right after Wynand's suicide is jarring, to say the least.
  • Only a Model: When Howard's first major building is built, there is a party held there, with a miniature of the building displayed.
  • Pretty in Mink: Dominique's black dress and matching cape have white ermine trim.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Dominique's black evening dress and cape have little decoration other than each having a bit of white ermine trim.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    Toohey: I've just told you how I've ruined your business and your life. We're completely alone here. Why don't you tell me plainly what you think about me?
    Roark: But I don't think about you.
  • Visual Innuendo: When Toohey is showing examples of Peter Keating's work. Each and every building features a nice, tall tower.


How well does it match the trope?

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