The Fountainhead Summary and Analysis
by Ayn Rand
Part I, Chapters 11-15
With the money from his first commission, Howard Roark opens his own office. He is soon visited by Peter Keating, who claims that Roark will succeed, but Roark responds with uncertainty. Keating agrees with Roark that Roark is taking a great risk, while Roark cannot see how he could proceed in any other way.
Cameron had looked at Roark's plans and asked that Roark bring him photographs when he opened his office. Roark returned with them three days later, and Cameron stared for a long time at the picture of the nameplate over the door: "Howard Roark, Architect." He told Roark it was like those "mottoes men carved over the entrance of a castle and died for." This nameplate suggests that Roark is now on his "way into hell."
It was hard to find a contractor who would do so much work for so small a project. Roark now visits the site often; it is hard for him to stay away, and he spends so much time simply laying his hands on the building that the workers comment that he is in love with it. One day he sees Mike at the building site. Heller often visits the site as well, and as he watches Roark and the building he can barely tell them apart. Heller built his career by resisting compulsion, and he sees in Roark "a man so impervious to compulsion he became a kind of compulsion himself." Heller realizes that Roark might be the best friend he would ever have, since Roark does not actually need him. (When Roark complimented one of his articles, Heller felt that praise keenly, because there was no possibility of self-interest or deceit.)
One day Heller asks Roark why he likes the building so much. Roark asserts that this building has integrity, just like a person might. Every part of it is there for a purpose. Nothing is decorative or fake; the house is a whole. Heller agrees and comments that it seems as if Roark had thought a lot about Heller's comfort, since so many details of the house are perfect in ways that Heller only now notices. Roark replies, however, that he "thought of the house"--"perhaps that's why [he] knew how to be considerate of [Heller]."
The house is finished in November 1926 without fanfare but with some derision at Guild meetings. Guy Francon predicts that Heller will flee from the house within the year. Keating nominally defends Roark's talent, saying Roark just went too far. Others comment that Roark has no future in architecture.
Alvah Scarret, the editor-in-chief of the Wynand papers, decides that they should sponsor a "campaign against living conditions in the slums." Such campaigns were in the papers' own interest. Scarret puts Dominique Francon in charge of the campaign. She lives onsite in an East Side tenement for two weeks and then writes a series of brilliant articles. She also describes this experience at a dinner party and a meeting of social workers, where she talks about healthy men who do not work and families with enough money to pay their rent but who waste money on luxuries.
Scarret tells her he will start a department regarding women's welfare. He wants to put her in charge of it, but she refuses. Scarret insists that no one else could do the job, but she surprises him with the text of the speech she has just given (casting blame on the slum residents). He immediately calls the paper to cut the article about her speech to the social workers. She adds that she would never want a job that she loved because she would have to depend on someone to be able to keep it. The whole world is a net, she says, and everyone is pressed together in a web of dependence, but she wants no part of it. She wants perfection or nothing, and since she cannot reach perfection, she chooses nothing. Similarly, she once bought a statue from a museum because she loved it, brought it home, and threw it down an elevator shaft so that no one else could ever see it. Alvah is horrified at her counterproductive individualism.
Guy Francon remembers his daughter's youth--a day when she triumphantly jumped a hedge. He cautiously thinks about Keating and wonders, hopefully, whether Keating might be exactly who Dominique needs. Francon arranges for the two to meet again at lunch. The arrangements work out, but Peter can tell that his existence is of absolutely no consequence to Dominique, and he finds himself despising her. Still, after lunch she invites him to take her to the theater that night, and she seems to genuinely like him when he replies that he will take her in spite of the fact that he knows she does not want to go.
Back at the office, Peter and Guy discuss Dominique. Peter thinks he is making progress. Guy is positive she remains a virgin, which seems abnormal to him for a girl of twenty-four. Weeks later, at home, Peter's mother asks him about Dominique--they have seen quite a lot of one another. Somehow he feels more rejected by her acceptance of his invitations than by her refusals. Catherine knocks; Peter has not seen her for over a month. She tells Mrs. Keating that they are engaged and tells Peter she wants to get married as soon as possible, even tomorrow. Smiling, Peter tells her that of course they can get married tomorrow. Catherine now says that earlier that night she felt a horrible foreboding that they would never get married and that she would never escape from her uncle. She got up and fled straight to Peter. Peter tells her he will come and get her in the morning and they will get a marriage license.
As soon as she leaves, Peter becomes defensive, prepared for his mother's criticism. Mrs. Keating outlines how he will ruin his career by marrying Catherine. By the time she is finished, Peter is terrified that she is right--if he marries Catherine he will wind up a nobody. Still, he has enough strength to insist that he loves her. Mrs. Keating relents a little and suggests that he simply wait a few months until Heyer retires and Francon makes him a partner. Peter goes to bed uncertain.
The next morning at Catherine's door he confesses that it might be good to wait a few weeks. He tells Catherine that Francon's partner is going to retire at any moment and that he is certain that Francon will make him a partner, while Francon has a strange idea that Peter Keating might marry his daughter, so if he married Catherine instead, Francon might react strangely. Catherine immediately agrees that they should wait and even confesses that she was thinking the same thing. They part, and both have an uneasy feeling that they should have gone through with it, but they shake it off.
One day when the Heller House is almost finished, a young man approaches Roark and offers him another commission for a gas station. In December, both projects are finished, and Roark spends days alone at the office waiting for someone to come. Heller tries to encourage him to seek commissions, but Roark insists that he simply is incapable of handling people. He explains that he's "waiting . . . for [his] kind of people." He knows that thousands of people drive by the odd Heller House, and he just needs one of them to order another project. They agree that Roark seems not to need other people, but Roark does not understand why Heller thinks it strange. Heller adds that Roark is the "coldest man" he knows, "but also the most life-giving."
Mrs. Wilmot comes one day to ask Roark to build her a country house; she adores Austen Heller. All her friends say she is cultured. She says that she wants a house in the Tudor style because her personality is "Elizabethan." Roark explains that he cannot build in that style. He shows her some pictures of Heller's house. She is shocked that he is refusing her commission. He tries to explain, but he realizes that he is merely talking to a shell of a person filled up with undigested books and others' opinions.
In March, Robert L. Mundy (sent by Heller) asks Roark to recreate the "big house" in the small town where he grew up, because it is a symbol of all the obstacles he overcame in his life. Roark tries to convince him to build a different kind of house, but eventually the man leaves, puzzled by Roark's refusal. When Roark tells Heller what happened, he is not surprised, but he is concerned that Roark is running out of money and refuses to compromise.
In April, Mr. Nathaniel Janss comes to see Roark because Austen Heller insisted on it. Roark eagerly argues for his way of thinking, and by the end of their conversation Janss is willing to give Roark a chance. Two weeks later, Roark submits his designs and comes to speak to the board. As soon as he sees them, he knows that he has lost. A few days later he receives a rejection letter from Mr. Janss, and Roark can tell that Janss is too ashamed to face him.
Finally, John Fargo asks him to design a department store that is bigger and better than any the city has ever seen. Businesses have begun to leave their neighborhood out of the belief that the "city's retail business was shifting uptown." Fargo wants to protect his old neighborhood. While Roark is working on the Fargo commission, Mr. Whitford Sanborn approaches Roark with a new commission. Years ago, Sanborn had an office building designed by Henry Cameron, and now he will trust Roark.
As the project proceeds, Mrs. Sanborn objects at every turn. Finally Roark gets Mr. Sanborn to approve the plans, but he then has difficulty securing an architect. Mrs. Sanborn begins to insist on certain changes, and costs slowly mount. One day Roark has a new plan for the east wing, but Mr. Sanborn refuses to change it, insisting it will be too expensive. Roark offers to pay for it himself, even though the cost is more than his entire commission. Mr. Sanborn feels very guilty and wants to pay for it, but Mrs. Sanborn refuses. When the house is finished, Mr. Sanborn loves it, but Mrs. Sanborn and their daughter refuse to live in it. Too exhausted to argue, Mr. Sanborn leaves the house unfurnished and takes his family to Florida. At the last minute, their son insists that he loves it and will live nowhere else, and they furnish three rooms. That summer an unfair item is printed in the bulletin of the Architects' Guild, stating that a house built by Roark was found by the family to be entirely uninhabitable.
Heyer absolutely refuses to retire despite his recent stroke. Keating begins treating him with much less respect. When Heyer complains to Francon, Francon simply comments that Heyer obviously needs to retire since he is starting to imagine things.
Cosmo-Slotnick Pictures announces a worldwide contest to design a ten-million-dollar building to house its new movie studio. Francon encourages Peter to enter, telling him that he will share the billing with the firm, and if he wins, Francon will give him a fifth of the prize money.
Peter works feverishly on his designs and shows them to Roark. He casually asks Roark about his entry for the contest, but Roark replies that he does not enter contests. Peter asks Roark for some comments anyway, and wordlessly, Roark quickly corrects it, making tremendous changes. Peter is immensely impressed. Roark insists that while he can fix someone else's designs, he could never create a "popular" design himself. He grows angrier as he works, then sends Peter home. Peter recopies the drawings and submits them.
Roark has received no more commissions. He has paid his rent on the office for the next thirty days, and after that he may have to close. The Fargo store is a failure, for one new store cannot save a district. In the Guild Bulletin, Athelstan Beasely, considered a great wit in the profession, has written an article making fun of Roark's entire career.
Roark reads an article about a millionaire, Roger Enright, who is building a new kind of housing development and has rejected several prominent architects. He sends a submission, but after meeting with Enright's secretary, Roark is peremptorily sent away. The next month, one more month's rent paid, Roark is asked to submit drawings for the new Manhattan Bank Building. He has been recommended by Richard Sanborn, Mr. Sanborn's son.
Henry Cameron has a relapse, and the doctor tells him he does not have much time left. He sends for Roark, who comes immediately and stays for three days. On the third day, Cameron rambles about Roark's future. He whispers, "Do you remember the day when I tried to fire you? . . . Forget what I said then. . . . It was worth it." Cameron dies half an hour later.
Peter sees Catherine frequently, though they have not announced their engagement. He tells her they should wait until after the competition to announce their engagement. Peter also sees Dominique Francon frequently, and he finds himself drawn to her though he wishes he were not. It frustrates him that she does not seem attracted to him, yet one night they are at a ball, and when Peter touches her more than usual, she seems to understand. That night, when Peter takes her home, she is unusually silent in the cab. She lets him come up to her apartment. He tells her that she is beautiful and that he loves her. He kisses her, but it feels like kissing a plastic doll. He draws away, confused. She tells him that she is "an utterly frigid woman." Peter, still confused, asks her to marry him, insisting that she will change. She tells him that if she ever "want[s] to punish herself for something terrible," she could marry him. When he leaves he despises her with all his heart, but he knows that if tomorrow someone offered him ownership of the firm in trade for marrying Dominique, he would do it.
Peter is absolutely terrified that he will lose the competition and that Francon will give someone else Heyer's partnership. He remembers what Francon told him about Heyer's bad reputation, and he goes through the office files until he finds a letter about a payment of twenty thousand dollars to Heyer for a building that should not have cost so much money. Peter Keating realizes that the letter was sent earlier in the year that Heyer had started his porcelain collection. Keating takes the letter and goes to Heyer's house. After he is shown in, he shows Heyer the letter and tells him that if he does not retire, he will give the letter to the Guild, which will take away his license--it will be in all the papers, and Heyer might even go to jail. Heyer cannot seem to understand; he says over and over that Peter will not and cannot do that. But Peter continues to speak forcefully, insisting that Heyer must retire. Suddenly, Heyer has an attack and dies. For a moment Peter feels horror. He rushes out and calls for the butler.
A few days later, Peter is still in shock. He is ashamed to learn that Heyer left him two hundred thousand dollars, plus his interest in the firm and his porcelain collection. Peter tells his mother and then goes to a speakeasy. That night he tries to convince himself that everyone is selfish, so he has nothing to be ashamed of. His questions disappear the next morning when he learns that he has won the Cosmo-Slotnick competition. Suddenly Peter is overwhelmed by phone calls, telegrams, interviews, and public events. He finds time to see Catherine once, and even with her he cannot stop thinking of his new fame. He also sees Dominique once before she leaves, and he is irritated by her refusal to acknowledge his success.
It spoils Peter’s triumph that people actually talk about his design, for whenever they speak about "simplicity . . . clean ruthless efficiency," he thinks of Howard Roark. One day he realizes that he is afraid of Roark and that he knows what to do. He immediately goes to Roark's office.
Roark has spent his days waiting for the phone to ring about getting a commission for the Manhattan Bank Building. His rent is two months overdue, and he has received a final notice from the telephone company, but for now the phone is still on. Peter asks Howard about the state of his business. Unable to hold himself back, he berates Howard, trying to convince him that he must best his principles, and if he does, he will be worked off his feet. He insists that he says these things against his own interest in order to help Howard.
When he is done, Roark says they will never talk about this again, and he asks him what he wanted to say about the competition. Peter assumes a planned air of friendliness and he tells him that he wants to give Roark credit for helping him, but he knows that Roark would not want that, so he at least wants to give him some of the money. He writes him a check for five hundred dollars. Calmly, Roark takes it, writes on the back "pay to the order of Peter Keating," and tells Peter it is a bribe to never mention his involvement in the building. Peter is furious, and he begins to shout at Roark about how he thinks he is better than everyone else but is really nobody. After a few moments, he stops, ashamed. Roark calms him down, and Peter promises to tear up the check. Finally, he leaves.
That Monday the telephone rings, and Mr. Weidler tells Roark to come to his office to discuss the Bank project. Thrilled, Roark goes immediately. But when he arrives, the chairman of the board tells him that the Commission is his--so long as he is willing to accept a minor alteration to the facade. They show him a mock-up, not something he would be expected to follow, just a suggestion, and he realizes that they want him to design a classical facade. After attempting to convince them to change their minds, he tells them that he cannot accept the commission. He leaves, goes to his office to pack up his things, and goes to Mike's house. He tells Mike what happened and asks him for help finding a job in the building trades. Mike is furious and tries to talk him out of it, insisting that he will give him financial backing for a while longer, but Roark refuses. He explains that he will save his money and start over. Finally Mike says that he could not bear to get him a job in town, but if Roark is willing, his friend at a granite quarry in Connecticut could get Roark a job.
Two days later Roark takes a train out of the city. As he departs, he watches the skyline of the city and thinks about how he could change it. A light shines from a restaurant where Peter Keating is attending a party held in his honor to celebrate his becoming a partner at the firm now called Francon and Keating.
Throughout this section of the novel, Roark achieves what seem like small but important victories. Each time Roark gets a commission, a reader could hope that the public will no longer fail to recognize his talent. If Roark sees his buildings as acts of independence, then men on the other side (such as Guy Francon, Peter Keating, and perhaps Ellsworth Toohey) see them as acts of terror threatening to undermine the "proper" architectural order. By placing these two groups in such direct opposition, Rand makes clear that Roark's kind of architecture is not just a different version of the kind practiced by Francon, Keating, and other popular architects--it is of a different order altogether. Francon's kind of building can survive only so long as the public fails to recognize the superiority of Roark's work. Every time Roark puts up a building, Francon fears that people will see the different qualities of buildings as what they are--if so, anyone who recognizes the beauty of a Roark building (or a Cameron building) would look at Francon's kind of building with disgust. Luckily for Francon, Ellsworth Toohey knows that the people will only change their minds if they are told to change their minds. Francon's type of architecture survives because the common person cannot see a new building as beautiful until someone suggests to him that it is beautiful. (Note here the difference between conventional and inherent beauty.)
Two exceptions to this rule, of course, are Mike and Austen Heller. They are almost unique themselves, for they represent other possible models of independent men. Roark's securing such allies helps us understand how Roark continues to struggle. Roark must hold on to the idea that there are other people in the world like Mike and Austen Heller and that they need only see one of his buildings to come over to him. At the same time, Mike and Austen Heller are clearly inferior to Roark. They are allies, but they are not equals. Austen Heller repeatedly tries to get Roark to accept commissions he knows he will not accept, and when Roark once again experiences tremendous failure, Mike wants him to allow either him or Heller to support him financially.
Thus, among Rand's wide range of characters weak and strong, Roark stands alone as her ideal man. He has no real competition. Projecting her ideal of independence, Rand does not allow for the possibility that Roark might develop or change over the course of the novel. This kind of independence, however, is very troublesome in an alien world. Moreover, this kind of stubborn independence requires a hubris that Rand might also be presenting as a tragic flaw. The refusal to change in the face of compelling reasons, even more radically the refusal to change on the basis of truth, makes a person a prisoner of himself rather than of external forces. This kind of independence is far from, for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson's, who wrote derisively of a "foolish consistency" being a constraint on "little minds."
Nevertheless, by the end of this section it is clear that the focus of this story is not what happens to Roark as he tries to survive in this less than ideal world, but what happens to the people around Roark as he exerts the force of his will on an imperfect world.
One such character who will play an important role later is Dominique Francon. Dominique has not yet met Roark and does not yet know of him. But as Dominique begins to reveal the philosophy that guides her life, it becomes more and more necessary that she and Roark will be drawn together. Dominique Francon tells Alvah Scarret that if she liked her job and was afraid to lose it,
I'd have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We're all so tied together. We're all in a net, the net is waiting and we're pushed into it by one single desire. You want a thing and it's precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? ... Someone is ready, and you're afraid of them all ... I take the only desire one can really permit oneself. Freedom, Alvah, freedom ... To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.
She recognizes a stark ideal of freedom and condemns the network of people that forces dependence or outright coercion. Yet, she lacks Roark's strength and passion, so she is unable to overcome this net. Her response--to embrace nothing, to reject everything--is morally vacant. Even so, Dominique's refusal to accept anything less than perfection shares important elements with Roark's philosophy.
Dominique Francon and Howard Roark are also connected through their relationships with Peter Keating. Keating's attraction to Dominique is similar to his attraction to Roark. Both are almost entirely one-directional; Roark and Dominique tolerate Keating without taking any pleasure in his company. Keating is fascinated by their certainty, their independence, and their lack of admiration for him. Of course, Keating is also fascinated by Dominique Francon's beauty, but in some ways that beauty is attractive like Roark's talent. Keating wants to conquer Dominique; he wants her to admit that she is not superior to him and that there is something wrong with her because she is not attracted to him. But when Dominique admits there is something wrong with her--that she is probably frigid, so Keating should not take it personally--he still feels rejected. Dominique represents something that Keating cannot have, no matter how successful or how rich he becomes, and Keating cannot stand the idea that there is anything he cannot have.
Similarly, Keating sees Roark as someone whom he can never beat, for Roark will never give him the compliment of competing with him. Keating desperately wants Roark to admit that there is something wrong with him because he is unable to compromise his aesthetics the way that Keating has done; he also wants Roark to admit that Keating is the superior architect because the public thinks so. After Keating wins the Cosmo-Slotnick award and goes to Roark's office, he tells him: "Look at me! Remember how we started? Then look at us now ... Just drop the fool delusion that you're better than everybody else--and go to work." When Roark coldly rejects his offer of payment for his help on the building and tells him he would never want anyone to know he had helped, Keating screams, "Who do you think you are? ... You don't even have the wits to know you're a flop, an incompetent, a beggar, a failure, a failure, a failure! ... I have the whole world with me!" Keating continues to suffer from the same fatal flaw that revealed his character at the beginning of the novel: unlike Roark, Keating cannot stand up and say that he is successful because he knows he has accomplished something great. He relies entirely upon the opinions of others, clinging to the idea that numbers are the only thing that can substantiate greatness. Of course, if Keating truly believed this, he would not fear Roark; his fear and hatred demonstrate that Peter Keating actually has the capacity to recognize greatness as something beyond the numbers, even though he does not have the personal means to stand up for it.
Throughout this section of the novel, Keating's character continues to deteriorate. Keating's love for Catherine provided the reader with a rare opportunity to sympathize with and root for Keating. Now, Keating's inability to withstand his mother's manipulation and cleave to Catherine suggests he will lose the only good and true part of his life. Catherine's fear of Toohey also foreshadows the imminent disclosure of flaws in his character. Keating's total corruption is symbolized by his involvement in the death of Francis Heyer. Thus far Keating's manipulations have let others no worse off than they were (Tim Davis) or even improved their situation (Stengel). He benefited himself and took pleasure in the act of control. When Keating goes to Heyer, he knows that he is not manipulating Heyer but is forcing him to do what Keating wants. Now, Keating's actions have left the social realm and become objectively criminal. He blackmails Heyer, which results in Heyer's death.
Some critics are disturbed by Rand's championing of the supremacy of individual action. They see little difference between Roark and Keating, for both act entirely to serve their own ends. But while Roark may demonstrate a certain kind of selfishness, the depiction of Keating makes it clear that Rand's moral code does not allow people to use others to get what they want. Roark does not manipulate others; he simply refuses to bend to their will. When Keating's actions result in Heyer's death, he has clearly crossed a point of no return. Keating seems beyond saving, and the reader can only hope that someone will stop him from continuing his energetic but immoral rise to success. In this sense, Roark's inner moral constraints are a healthy product of his freedom in a selfishness rightly understood.
As Peter Keating's career suddenly accelerates, Howard Roark's achievements are stripped of their meaning. By the end of Part I, his life appears almost hopeless. Peter Keating's multiple rewards after Heyer's death seem to determine that this world is utterly corrupt and that Roark's ideals can never overcome a reign of bitter selfishness and speciousness. Yet, the tiniest element of hope remains in the fact that the most praised elements of Peter Keating's Cosmo-Slotnick plans are those which were designed by Howard Roark.
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