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

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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.


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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.
  • 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 Bird: Catherine becomes this in her last appearance. What's worse is Peter tries to point out that she's not the same person she was, and Katie obviously doesn't realize it. She's got a government job helping with the poor as a social worker, traveling, and staying healthy. Yet she's lost passion for life and is a smiling Empty Shell about how Peter eloping with Dominique broke her while repeating her uncle's talking points like a robot.
  • 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.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Inverted; the "Banner" destroyed the Stoddard Temple, and its editor marries Dominique Francon. Thus, Gail is the only person that Howard comes close to loathing. Howard still goes to meet Gail when the guy wants a house for himself and his wife, preparing to refuse on principle. Gail only later learns that he should have done his homeworkon the man.
  • 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.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: A broken Katie quite aptly says to Peter that it's conceited of him to ask how she felt after he broke her heart and married someone else behind her back. She also calls him selfish for trying to apologize for not marrying her but making it all about him.
  • Easy Evangelism: A concerted media campaign turns the public against Roark; but a speech from him gets them on his side.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Alvah Scarrett is a Yes-Man to Gail, being the Moral Pragmatist who sells the papers. Then he learns that Gail has a habit of finding men with integrity and breaking them because he wants to believe no one sticks to their convictions. Alvah's horrified when Gail's first victim, Dwight Carson, becomes a dipsomaniac (alcoholic), two other men become drug addicts and one becomes suicide. He tries with no avail to advise Gail that his hobby is akin to murder. Gail of course, doesn't listen. It gets worse than Gail fires Dwight, after breaking the man thoroughly.
    • Toohey is horrified for Gail's behalf when he hears the latter wants to marry Dominique. He knows that Dominique only gets with men to destroy them, either with kindness or cruelty. Later, he genuinely is disgusted that Howard Roark blew up a building meant to help the poor. Toohey says that jail time would be good for Howard to actually learn to live like a normal human being.
  • 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. It didn't help, however, that Dominique and Howard both saw him as Secretly Selfish and loved him too much to be blunt about it.
  • 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 suffering to soothe, one cannot be moral).
  • Hannibal Lecture: Toohey gives quite a few.
  • Hard Truth Aesop:
    • If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Peter spends his whole life pleasing other people rather than becoming a painter, and his mother encourages that, browbeating him into giving up the woman he loved. As a result, Peter becomes a Broken Bird who regrets that he spent his life living for someone else.
    • Also, try not to win an authority figure's approval. They may have an ulterior motive and break your spirit. Gail is an obvious example of his pet projects— finding writers specifically to break them but paying them handsomely for their souls. Toohey is another one, only he just does it to "collect souls".
    • Don't trust a romantic partner that will drop you for a Gold Digger opportunity. If Peter had just broken up with Katie honestly, she wouldn't have clung to the hope of marrying him. Katie later says it seems conceited of Peter for him to ask how she felt about him jilting her when it was a horrible experience.
  • 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).
  • Honor Before Reason: Howard's biggest Fatal Flaw. He refuses to compromise, even on the arts of domesticity or love. Case in point: Dominique makes a pit stop at his nearest project before she goes to marry Gail. She then suggests that he give up architecture and they live in the town here. Howard is amused and tells her to marry Mr. Wynand.
  • 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's All About Me: Most of the characters suffer this problem, that it has to be their way or the high way and all about them. It says something that Katie calls out Peter for this during their last meeting; he tries to apologize for breaking her heart but says he ought to have married her because it was what he wanted to do, rather than the fact that he jilted her. Katie, the wounded party, says what he's telling her is "ugly and selfish".
  • 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. Gail gets a Heel Realization about this later.
  • 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).
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Gail spends much of the book trying to break people and use their stories to sell papers, without caring about the consequences. He refuses to take responsibility for causing a writer to commit suicide. After Dominique marries him, however, she keeps the telegram he used to fire her taped to her wardrobe mirror, and tortures him by making him see No Skin Off Your Nose. Gail manages to win by saying getting hurt by Dominique is Worth It because he's married to her, but he is clearly shaken that she actually pushed his buttons. Then Toohey spearheads a rebellion against him for daring to defend Howard Roark, which causes the public to turn against Gail. It makes the man develop a Heel Realization that he creates monsters, and has no excuses for it.
  • 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. She pays for it, eventually.
  • 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).
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Gail doesn't react well when he reads all the Banner's takes on Howard Roark, including the Stoddard Trial coverage. He maintains he would have stood by it if he weren't traveling at the time, but Howard pinpoints that the man is actually capable of feeling guilt.
    • Mrs. Keating has this reaction after Dominique divorces Peter, who ends up in Heroic BSoD. After all, she was the one who encouraged Peter to become an architect and toss aside Katie, the girl he loved, in favor of Dominique. Mrs. Keating tries to cook his favorite foods and ask about his happiness, even suggesting he could marry Katie if he wished and would have her blessing. Peter is so mad by this that he refuses to even dignify that with an answer, and nothing she does can fix the damage she caused him.
  • 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.
  • Never My Fault: Dominique operates that she can hurt people because that is how life is and screw it for everyone else. It's why even Steven advises Howard to give up on her because Dominique only cares about the chaos she can cause. Even when Dominique apologizes to Peter for using him and destroying him with superficial kindness, she doesn't mention Katie at all, and Domonique knew that Katie existed.
  • Not Good with People: Most of the heroic characters, except for Austen Heller.
  • Oh, Crap!: Gail has this reaction when he finds out most of the Banner's stories on Howard are about the Stoddard Temple lawsuit. He still can't stop reading.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Dominique, for a very long time, keeps the telegram that says "fire the bitch" after she marries Gail. Gail actually has the decency to look horrified about it, and maybe even a little guilty. He also never removes it, waiting for Dominique to do so.
  • Only Sane Man: Austin Heller in the whole story. He gives Roark his first architecture job, tries to financially support him, and hire a defense team at the Stoddard trial. Austin gives a regular What the Hell, Hero? speech to Roark for being so damn stubborn
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Toohey has a lot of them, for someone meant to be the Big Bad.
    • Toohey defends Steven Mallory, the sculptor who tried to shoot him. Letting him rot in jail or be executed would have been better for Toohey since Mallory ends up working for Howard, the greatest thorn in Toohey's side. Mallory doesn't appreciate it because he was able to see who Toohey what the man really was.
    • The man was responsible for the Stoddard Temple being destroyed, along with Howard's reputation. When Roark comes to see the redesigned Temple, Toohey tells him not to run away and seems sympathetic about Howard looking at his greatest work being ruined. That goes away when Howard refuses to play Toohey's game by telling him what he really thinks of Toohey and his power, though Toohey lets him go into the night.
    • When Katie finds out that her fiance married another woman behind her back, she has a Freak Out and a breakdown. Toohey had specifically adopted her to break Katie, but when she started insulting him in the middle of heartbreak, he got a doctor to help take care of her. He did also help her get a government job as a social worker, which helped her deal with the loss. Of course, we only have Katie's word on it so the actual circumstances may have been worse.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Deconstructed. Peter has a habit of asking Howard to finish his designs, even when he's disavowed the man in public and called him a fraud. Howard complies because he finds the joy of drawing a building better than any personal grudges. People eventually realize, however, that Peter's other buildings lack talent and his firm starts going down the toilet. It comes to a head, however, when Keating asks for help with Cortlandt, and Howard makes him sign an agreement that's not legally binding; Toohey forces Keating to give up his copy of the paper and read it out at the trial. Peter's career as a result is destroyed.
  • 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
  • Smart Ball: Steve grabs this in the last quarter of the book. He has seen how Dominique marrying other men have hurt Howard, and not helping is she sabotaged his career. Marrying Gail Wynand is the worst, since "The Banner" destroyed the Stoddard Temple. Steven advises Howard to give up on her because it's not worth pursuing someone who hurts you on a regular basis. Roark gives him a Big "SHUT UP!" in return.
  • Stealth Insult: Ellsworth Toohey recommending Howard Roark as an architect to Hopton Stoddard. Then he weaponized it.
  • 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.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Roark goes to see the redesigned Stoddard Temple. Toohey comes out and begs him not to run away, expecting the man to see him as The Dreaded. He's actually exhausted about the fact that a great work of architecture was destroyed in the courts. Toohey then encourages Roark to spill out any vitriol, any thoughts, or anger. Roark refuses to give the man a reaction or any opinion whatsoever, on the building or Toohey. They part civilly, with Toohey both considering Roark a Worthy Opponent and Graceful Loser as well as a potential thorn in his side.

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.

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