The Fountainhead Summary and Analysis
by Ayn Rand
Part I, Chapters 6-10
In January 1925 Ellsworth Toohey publishes Sermons in Stone, a history of architecture for the common man. Toohey argues that "architecture was truly the greatest of the arts, because it was anonymous." Thus, no one should know the names of architects because no one person creates anything important or lasting. The best architects represent the vision of the masses, and the people are the ultimate determiners of taste. Francon is praised for his dedication to classicism, and Henry Cameron is described as deserving oblivion. His book is a stupendous hit.
Cameron retires three years after Roark came to work for him. Cameron had begun to drink openly, and one day he collapsed. At home in bed, Cameron directs Roark to close the office, burn all the papers, and deliver the picture on the wall to him. He also tries to write Roark a recommendation letter for a job, but Roark refuses it.
Peter Keating meanwhile was at Francon's firm for three years, and he was the picture of a successful man. He dressed well, lived in a fashionable apartment, and even appeared on the society page. He was no longer afraid of designing. He had learned that as long as a building looked impressive, his clients were satisfied. Mrs. Keating came to live with him in New York and tended to criticize him. At her prompting, Peter unsuccessfully tried to arrange an introduction to Francon's daughter. Peter was relieved because he thought it likely that Francon's daughter was as ugly as he was.
Peter decides to see Catherine. At her home, he finds her on the floor in front of a typewriter with papers all around her, working on her uncle's fan mail and correspondence. She sits on his lap, and they speak about his career, but soon Catherine is going on about her uncle again and about all of the good that he does. Peter still wants to meet him, but Catherine thinks the time is not yet right.
They go for a walk and then sit on a bench. Catherine says she loves him, and they agree that they are engaged but will not tell anyone yet. She tells him that her uncle probably will disapprove, not believing in marriage.
As soon as Peter reads of Cameron's retirement, he asks Francon for approval to hire Roark. Francon seems surprised that Peter wants Roark so badly, so Peter quickly moderates his enthusiasm, claiming that he wants to hire Roark primarily because of their long friendship. That night, Peter visits Roark in his room and tries to make small talk, but Roark immediately asks him, "how much?" Peter drops the facade and responds that the pay would be sixty-five dollars per week. Roark agrees almost immediately on the condition that he will do no designing but simply will draft structural plans. Peter happily concurs.
Before leaving, Peter tries to get Roark to admit that this change will help his career, but Roark refuses to allow him to insult Cameron, barely restraining his fury. Conciliatory, Peter invites Roark to go for a drink, but Roark refuses. Angry now, Peter asks Roark why he has to be so inhuman all the time--why he cannot just be a regular person. Finally Roark tells him to be satisfied with his agreement to work for Francon and to go home.
In the drafting room, Roark sometimes can hardly stand doing his job. It is painful to look at the plans he constructs, knowing how much better they could be. He has no friends, but at least some of the draftsmen respect him. Every so often Peter asks to see him, and every time Roark goes, but he knows what will happen. On these nights Peter shows him a design and tentatively asks for his thoughts. Roark can never resist trying to make the building better. Sometimes he works all night and cannot stop himself. Sometimes Peter's plans would be plainer and cleaner than usual, and Roark would tell Peter that he was improving, which would give Peter a deep, quiet joy. But later Peter would bark commands at him in the drafting room. Roark always did as Peter asked, but Peter somehow wanted him to explode and put a stop to it. Roark never did.
Roark was happiest when he was sent to inspect building sites. One day, walking through the structure of beams that would become an apartment hotel, Roark sees an extremely ugly man bending conduits around the beams. He tells him that he is wasting his time; just run the conduits straight through holes in the beams. The man jeers at him, telling him it cannot be done, but Roark takes the blowtorch from him and does it himself. The man is extremely impressed, and Roark tells him calmly that he has worked as "an electrician, and a plumber, and a rivet catcher, and many other things." He tells the man to do it that way from now on, and the man agrees. From then on, the man always says hello to Roark, and one day he asks him to share a beer after work. The man's name is Mike, and he lives by working on various building sites. He is exceptionally good (despite Roark's easy solution to his problem), and he likes and respects other people who are exceptionally good at theirs. Over their first beer, he tells Roark that the only architect he ever really respected was the obscure Henry Cameron. With respect for Cameron in common, they become friends.
In May, Peter went to Washington to supervise the construction of a project. One day, Roark is working in the drafting room when Francon calls Roark into the office and tells him that they have a commission for a building. The owner wants the building to look like the Dana Building designed by Cameron. He wants to give Roark a chance to submit a drawing, but he cautions him that it also needs to have some classical elements. Roark begs Francon to let him submit a drawing of the kind of building Cameron would have designed. Francon is furious, and when Roark refuses to take Francon's offer, Francon fires him. That night Roark meets Mike at a speakeasy and tells him what happened. He says, simply, that he will find another employer and continue on his own way.
When Peter returns from Washington, Francon describes how Gail Wynand, the newspaper magnate, stole a girl from him. He also casually mentions firing Roark. Peter hears the story and understands, saying, "I can just see it."
Roark does nothing for several days but finally makes a list of the architects he could stand to work for. As he goes to look for a job, office after office turns him away, sometimes sympathetically, sometimes disdainfully. Once in a while he goes to visit Cameron, and Cameron offers to recommend him in a letter, but Roark keeps refusing.
In November he reads an article by Gordon L. Prescott arguing that young architects need to be supported in order to get anywhere. Hopeful for the first time, he gathers his sketches and goes to Prescott's office. Prescott's secretary has him come back the next week, then keeps him waiting for over two hours.
When Prescott does see him, he flips through his drawings, lecturing him about the nature of good design. Finally, he tells him his work is "very interesting. But not practical. Not mature. Unfocused and undisciplined. Adolescent. Originality for originality's sake. Not at all in the spirit of the present day." He shows Roark a drawing by a young architect he recently hired for twenty-five dollars per week--"a potential genius." Then he dismisses him.
Roark walks home. He considers that everyone in the city believes he will never build again. He shrugs and continues to walk, his shadow looming behind him.
At another interview in John Erik Snyte's office, Roark watches as Snyte looks through his designs. Snyte hires him on the spot and asks him to start work that night. Almost immediately, Roark is at a drafting table with a pencil in his hand and his tools around him. Snyte was a successful architect who considered Francon "an impractical idealist." His design method involved hiring specialists, each of whom designed in a different style. Every time he got a commission he would have a contest: each associate would submit a drawing, he would pick the best, and he would modify it using the best elements of the other drawings. Roark would be his modernistic designer. Roark is content but not happy.
Suddenly all building in New York is halted by a strike in the building-trades union. Francon is especially furious because the strike started at one of his projects. Keating is also disturbed, and he calls Katie, but he does not want to hear any more about her uncle or the fact that Ellsworth Toohey will speak at a prominent event supporting the strikers.
After dinner Peter goes to Catherine's door. He realizes angrily that she must be at the meeting where her uncle is speaking. He walks to the meeting hall and sees an exhausted Catherine handing out pamphlets at the entrance. When she sees him, she smiles happily, but Peter is furious. She insists that she had to go for her uncle.
Austen Heller begins to speak, and Peter listens to him because he is famous. Heller, from an old British family, is the lead columnist for a widely respected independent newspaper that is the strongest opposition to the Wynand publications. Heller is opposed to "all forms of compulsion, private or public, in heaven or on earth," and that is what he is speaking about. In his speech, Heller alludes to Wynand himself, and Catherine becomes afraid, for she knows that Wynand will take out his anger on her uncle. Peter's head has begun to ache, and before he realizes what is happening, the room falls silent and the monitor announces Ellsworth Toohey to head-splitting applause.
As Toohey begins to speak, Peter realizes that his voice is like music, so beautiful that Peter thinks he does not need to understand the words. He feels mesmerized as Toohey speaks of the need to organize. Slowly, Peter begins to feel afraid. They leave and decide to get something to drink. Catherine comments that she will miss her uncle's speech--but she wants to be with Peter more than anything. Days later, Peter hears that Wynand gave Toohey a raise he tried to refuse.
The strike is settled, and construction resumes. Peter Keating is worked off his feet as orders pour in. When they complete the Ainsworth residence, the Ainsworths throw a reception to which Francon and Keating are invited. Peter is especially pleased that Heyer is not on the guest list, and Mrs. Ainsworth comments that she thought Peter was a partner in the firm.
The next day Peter is confused by Francon's nervous irritation, but he quickly forgets it in his own happiness. As he walks towards the firm's library, he sees a young woman at the reception desk. Looking at her, Peter thinks that "he understood for the first time what it was that artists spoke about when they spoke of beauty." She is Dominique Francon, his boss's daughter. The clerk asks him if he has read the morning's Banner and points out an article she wrote. Her column, "Your House," had been "confined to home decoration, but . . . ventured occasionally into architectural criticism." Today's column is a heavily ironic and ultimately vitriolic description of the Ainsworth residence designed by Peter Keating. At first Peter is both angry and amused, but almost immediately he forgets the article and can think of nothing but the girl. He grabs three drawings as an excuse, and he walks towards Francon's office. Outside the office he hears Francon raging and his daughter merely laughing, "a sound so gay and so cold" that he becomes a little afraid of her. He walks back down the stairs, certain that they will soon meet again but aware that it would probably be best if they never met again.
Ralston Holcombe walks down a New York street. He is a large, formidable figure. He is the president of the Architects' Guild of America, and unlike so many of his colleagues, he does not believe that architecture should be an homage to the past. He insists that architects should always build "in the spirit of their own time." What distinguishes him from men like Cameron and Roark is that Halcombe believes that the style that best suits his time is the Renaissance. He has no truck with modern architecture, for "men who wanted to break with all the past were lazy ignoramuses, and . . . one could not put originality above Beauty."
Halcombe is also very socially important, and he and his wife host parties that everyone in the architecture world attends religiously. One afternoon Keating attends one of these parties, a little bored but aware that it is a social necessity. Keating goes through the necessary motions of speaking to the host and hostess, and suddenly he spots Dominique across the room. Francon cannot avoid introducing Peter to her. She immediately confronts Peter about the fact that he asked to be introduced to her. She teases him about the position he now is in, wanting to be nice to her without being an obvious hypocrite. Peter tries to flatter her, insisting that he wanted to meet her for her own sake, accidentally bringing up her newspaper column. She apologizes for the Ainsworth column, calling him a "victim of one of [her] rare moments of honesty."
Peter and Dominique continue their banter, neither giving much ground. She calls Wynand "an exquisite bastard" but admits she has never met him, while she admires Toohey as the most "complete" man she has ever met. Peter begins to understand that Dominique almost never means what she says. She tells him directly that she hates people telling her what they think she wants to hear, even if it is what she wants to hear. As their conversation becomes more successful, they are interrupted by Gordon Prescott, who tries to flirt with Dominique. She uses Peter to get rid of him, which makes Peter extremely happy, but almost immediately she walks away from him to say hello to Eugene Pettingill, the "most unattractive septuagenarian present."
Peter sees Dominique once more at the door as she leaves. She proactively rebuffs his offer of a ride. Francon is extremely surprised by how much Peter likes his daughter, and he wonders aloud whether Peter might actually succeed with her. She was an utter terror growing up--and still is. He essentially tells Peter that Peter has her father's blessing.
Snyte explains to his associates that Austen Heller himself has given them a commission, so they need to do their very best--but all he knows is that Heller said "he wanted a building he could love." Later that day they all go to see the site, and they see "a cliff rising in broken ledges from the ground to the end in a straight, brutal, naked drop over the sea, a vertical shaft of rock forming a cross with the long, pale horizontal of the sea."
While the four other associates immediately go to work, Roark returns to the site many times. When he is finally finished with his design, it seems that
The house on the sketches had been designed not by Roark, but by the cliff on which it stood. It was as if the cliff had grown and completed itself and proclaimed the purpose for which it had been waiting.
Snyte picks Roark's design, but he alters the material from granite to red brick, changes the windows, and makes numerous other modifications that are torture for Roark to see.
When Heller arrives, Snyte takes him into the drafting room to see the finished watercolors of the design. Heller looks at it for a while but says, "It's so near somehow . . . but it's not right." Roark suddenly grabs the sketch and begins to jab at it with a pencil as Snyte gasps in horror. Snyte tries to wrench the sketch away, but Heller stops him. When Roark steps back, he has transformed the sketch into his original design. Snyte screams at him that he is fired, and Heller responds by saying that "We're both fired." Heller takes Roark out to lunch and then offers Roark the commission. He makes out a check for five hundred dollars to "Howard Roark, Architect."
In this section it is important to keep one's sight on the development of Peter Keating and Howard Roark despite various digressions. Peter Keating continues to be corrupted by his environment and his choices. He has acquired all the trappings of success, yet these trappings take him further and further away from a unified identity. The narrator informs us that Peter "looked like the picture of a successful young man in advertisements for high-priced razors or medium-priced cars." In other words, Peter Keating's attempts to distinguish himself leave him looking more and more like everyone else. Keating's actions reveal evidence of further decay, for while Keating finally tells Catherine he wants to marry her, he also recognizes the practicality of a marriage with Guy Francon's daughter. He is relieved to put off the possibility of such an alliance, but he in no way determines that it is impossible.
One of the most important events of this section is the introduction of Ellsworth Toohey as a hugely influential character. Toohey's alliances were made clear by his praise of Francon's and Keating's building. He places himself even more firmly against Howard Roark when he writes that Henry Cameron has been "relegated . . . to a well-deserved oblivion." In Sermons in Stone, Toohey also seems to support an idea of design that would tend toward the mediocre rather than the original, similar to the ideas espoused by the dean at the Stanton Institute. Toohey is Roark's enemy because his popularity and his clear dislike for modernism may well make it impossible for Roark to succeed as an architect. Yet, Toohey's history and motives remain a complete mystery at this point in the novel.
Another complex and difficult character introduced in this section is Guy Francon's daughter, Dominique. In some ways she seems like a victim of society, being individually intelligent and clear-sighted. In a "rare moment of honesty" she tears apart Peter Keating's design in an amusing and eminently sensible manner. She seems to be able to recognize integrity without possessing any.
Roark's relationship with Keating continues along the path set at the Stanton Institute of Technology. Keating both fears and loves Roark. Keating reveals his obsession for Roark when he insists on giving him a job at Francon & Heyes. Of course, as soon as he realizes how he has exposed himself, he tells Francon that "It's not that I really need him. But he's an old friend of mine, and out of a job, and I thought it would be a nice thing to do for him." Keating is happiest when given evidence that he is much more successful than Roark, but he frequently acknowledges that Roark is the better designer by seeking Roark's help with his designs. Keating recognizes that he bullies Roark at the office in order to make up for asking Roark's help at the end of the day. Still, this understanding suggests that Keating's interest in Roark goes far beyond mere competitive feelings.
Keating's obsession with Roark stems from the same part of him that tries to make Roark become angry with him. That is, he wants to understand how Roark can have no feelings for him personally and can despise him as a designer, yet can still come to work for him and never become angry or upset. He wants to know why Roark can be faced with the proof of another man's greater success day after day and never be tempted to sell out.
After all of Howard Roark's apparent suffering and submission, the reader may begin to prefer Peter Keating. How is it possible to accept a hero who does not seem human? Rand establishes Roark's humanity, however, and justifies his continued idealism by introducing a few allies. When Roark meets Mike, they communicate not through false ideas or fake social exchanges but through actions. When Roark takes up the blowtorch and puts a hole through the steel girder, he shows Mike his true identity. When Roark sees Mike's real pleasure at seeing a job well done, he recognizes someone basically similar to himself. Their common admiration for Cameron cements the bond.
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