Though biographical criticism must be introduced carefully--there are limits to identifying parts of a novel with the author's own life--Ayn Rand's writing of The Fountainhead was dramatically influenced by her social and political experiences and the contemporary social climate of the United States. Ayn Rand was born into a middle-class Russian family. After the Bolshevik Revolution, she saw her father's business seized and her family punished for their previous successes. When Rand traveled to the United States, she embraced capitalism fervently, to the extent that she believed that any government interference in business or the economy was too much interference. During the 1940s in the United States, many people were afraid that Communists supported by money from Russia were infiltrating the government and were going to destroy America. In The Fountainhead, Rand provides a sample of how she thinks communism or socialism could become a danger in the United States. Ellsworth Toohey is not a communist spy, but he is a socialist, and he does dangerously undermine the tradition of individual achievement in New York City. Rand gives The Fountainhead a happy ending, for the individual ultimately triumphs.
Rand's devoted opposition to communism and socialism in any form also provides another explanation for her relative unpopularity among other important American writers and artists. During the 1950s, when Joseph McCarthy conducted an extensive search throughout society for suspected Communists, a great many artists, especially filmmakers, lost their jobs and had their lives destroyed. Though Rand did not participate in McCarthy's witch hunt, many found her doctrinal stance distasteful and her ardent defense of capitalism misplaced. Today those feelings still linger in the artistic and intellectual community, which helps explain why some of Rand's opponents dislike her as fiercely as her followers defend her. This kind of conflict is almost exactly, at root, the conflict between individualism and mass movements characterized in The Fountainhead.