A young boy who has just graduated from college is cycling though the countryside. He is thinking worriedly about his future, for at school he learned many things about the importance of self-sacrifice and working towards a common goal, but he did not find these things very inspiring. Suddenly he comes upon a valley, and looking down, he sees a town spread out, but it is like no town he has ever seen. It is as beautiful as a symphony. A man approaches, and he explains to the boy that it is a summer resort that is about to open. The boy thanks him and rides away, suddenly full of "the courage to face a lifetime."
Roark does not understand how he had gotten to build this summer resort. In the fall of 1933 he had received a call from Mr. Caleb Bradley. As soon as Roark saw him, he thought he would never get a job from this man. Then Bradley invited him to make a presentation to the board. Roark did so, and again he thought there was no way they would accept it. He told them that Monadnock Valley should be a summer resort of private homes for the middle class. It should have many private swimming pools, tennis courts, and secluded houses. He told them he could do this very cheaply and that there was nothing else like it available. They approved the project. Roark remembered the Stoddard Temple and made Bradley initial every drawing he finished. Roark worked for eighteen months, rehiring his old draftsmen, joined by Mike and Stephen Mallory. None of them noticed the discomfort of their working conditions; they only thought about the job to be done. When Bradley came to visit the site, Mallory grew afraid. He told Roark, "it's the Stoddard Temple, again" and Roark agreed, but he said they could not worry about it.
Just as Roark finishes the job, he receives word from Kent Lansing that they could finally finish the Aquitania. He leaves for New York immediately. Despite a lack of advertisements, every house is rented for that summer, and by October it is fully booked for the next year. One day Mallory rushes into Roark's office and explains that the whole thing was a scheme. The board sold 200% of the shares and found the worst architect they could so that there would be no profits to divide among the shareholders. Now they are ruined because they have made so much money. Mallory is furious, but Roark is amused. Mallory continues to shout about how this scheme could only exist in this twisted world, until finally Roark shouts, "When will you stop thinking about that? About the world and me? ... When will Dominique?" They never speak about Dominique, and Mallory, helpless, asks when Roark will stop thinking about her. Roark tells him to be quiet.
The Monadnock Valley scheme results in a scandal, and several jail sentences are handed down. Austen Heller writes an editorial about "greatness [reaching] us through fraud." Suddenly Roark is famous, even if only one-tenth of the people talking about him understand his work. Ellsworth Toohey writes an article damning him and claiming that the orchestrators of the fraud should be pardoned because at least they recognized Roark as the worst possible architect. Despite this taunt, Roark continues to get work. In 1936 Roark is invited to be one of eight architects to design the buildings for a World's Fair. He tells them that he would happily design the fair alone, but he does not collaborate. They are flabbergasted, and he rejects their proposition. Keating is appointed the head of the group of architects who will design the fair. Roark moves into an office at the top of the Cord Building, where he can see his other buildings from the windows. One day he walks into his office, and his secretary tells him excitedly that Wynand wants to see him the next day at 3:00 pm.
Roark arrives at the office of the Banner, where it looks "as if everything in that building were run by ... control boards in the hands of an authority aware of every motion." Wynand notices the time and remembers he has an appointment with an architect in a few moments. As he waits, he thinks happily of the row of buttons on the side of his desk that directly or indirectly control the workings of the entire building. When Roark walks into Wynand's office, each man loses his sense of reality for a moment, conscious only of this other man. Completely unintentionally, Wynand tells Roark that he does not think he would want to work for him; Roark immediately replies that he does. Wynand tells him this is the first thing he has ever built for himself. Roark comments that this is because he is unhappy, and he explains that Wynand is unhappy because "his life has not been what he wanted." Wynand acknowledges that this is true. He has never spoken like this to another human being.
Wynand explains that he wants Roark to build him a house in the country. He tells Roark about his wife, and Roark says only that he met her once. He explains that he picked Roark by walking around the city and asking who designed buildings that he liked. They all had been designed by Roark. Wynand wants a house that is something like a prison, so perfect and luxurious that Dominique will never want to leave it, for he is "desperately in love" with her. Wynand offers to show him the site tomorrow. He wants the house by summer, and he will pay whatever it takes. Roark agrees to the commission and explains that his only condition is that once Wynand agrees to the drawings no changes can be made. Wynand immediately agrees. Wynand's conditions are that there be no publicity and Roark not release any pictures to the press—apart from that, Wynand promises that the Banner will be Roark’s personal publicity machine. Roark tells him he does not want any publicity anyway, which Wynand finds amusing. When Roark is gone, Wynand realizes that "for the first time in his life he had spoken to a man without feeling the reluctance, the sense of pressure, the need of disguise he had always experienced when he spoke to people." He asks his secretary to have all the information they have on Roark sent to his office.
Alvah Scarret interrupts Toohey at work, who tries to brush him off, but Scarret is insistent and tells him that Roark was just in Wynand's office. Surprised, Toohey laughs. Scarret wonders if it will be embarrassing to Toohey if Wynand hires Roark to do a building, but then he admits that he actually thinks it is a good thing. He tells Toohey that he thinks Roark might be another Dwight Carson—Wynand might be restored to his old self if he successfully destroys Roark. Toohey comments that it really does not matter because Wynand is no longer completely in charge of the Banner.
When a boy brings the clippings about Roark to Wynand, he is surprised to see so many, and the boy explains that "it's the Stoddard trial." Then Wynand remembers. He reads through every single clipping, cuts out the picture of Roark in front of the Enright, and then sits for a long time listening to the hum of the printers spitting out the next edition of the Banner.
Roark and Wynand are at Wynand's site. For a moment they discuss the site, then Wynand falls silent while Roark looks around. Finally, Wynand asks Roark why he would work for him after the Stoddard Temple affair. Wynand reminds Roark what they called him and adds that he "stands by every one of those descriptive terms … by every word printed in the Banner." Roark explains that he "can't pretend an anger [he doesn't] feel." He adds that Wynand does not know what to do because it hurts Wynand to know that he has made Roark suffer, and what frightens him even more is the knowledge that Roark has not really suffered at all. After a while, Roark insists that they speak no more of the Stoddard Temple situation.
Wynand asks Roark about his childhood, unsurprised that it is very similar to his own. The only difference that Wynand discovers is that Roark did not "drive the anger back inside of [himself], and store it, and decide to let [himself] be torn to pieces if necessary, but reach the day when [he would] rule those people and all people and everything around [him]." Wynand is still dwelling on the Stoddard Temple and seems to be reaching his breaking point. Wynand says he needs to get back to the city, and they drive back at about ninety miles an hour. He permits Roark to visit the site anytime and lets him know that he can get all the information he needs from Wynand's office, but Roark is not to contact him until Roark has the first drawings ready.
A month later the drawings are done. Wynand is impressed and says he wants "to make a special deal." He promises again that he will build the house exactly as designed, and then he will put Roark in charge of every building that Wynand builds in the country. He also threatens Roark, claiming that he could make it so that Roark would never build another thing in the entire country. Wynand demands that when Roark works for him, he will "design ... commercial structures—as the public wishes commercial structures to be designed. You'll build Colonial houses, Rococo hotels and semi-Grecian office buildings. You'll exercise your matchless ingenuity within forms chosen by the taste of the people." Roark replies that he is happy to accept. He takes a piece of letterhead and re-sketches Wynand's house "with Colonial porches, a gemrel roof, two massive chimneys, a few little pilasters, a few porthole windows. It was not a parody, it was a serious job of adaptation in what any professor would have called excellent taste." Wynand responds with horror, but Roark tells him to "shut up" and not try giving him any more "architectural suggestions." Wynand begins to laugh, but he does not sound happy. Suddenly calling him Howard again, Wynand tells Roark that he had really meant to go through with it. Roark says that he understands but that he knew he could trust Wynand’s integrity. Wynand is not so sure. He asks Roark to have dinner with him and his wife that evening, and Roark accepts the invitation.
When Wynand arrives home that night, Dominique comments that he looks nearly happy. He responds that he feels "thirty years light" after meeting a man. Without explaining, he tells Dominique how happy he is about their marriage. He tells her he has a present for her, their house. He shows her the drawings, and she immediately knows they are Roark's. For a moment she feels violated, as if Wynand has caught her in bed with Roark. Wynand can tell she likes them, but he is oddly concerned with the fact that Dominique seems to have hated him. He mentions her defense of him at the Stoddard Trial and the fact that she posed for the statue. She tells Wynand that she does not hate Roark. He notes that Roark is coming for dinner. She is momentarily shocked but leaves to dress.
Sitting across from Roark at the table, Dominique feels as if this scene were inevitable. They speak as if they are barely acquaintances. Wynand discusses how "strange" it is that he, the most "offensively possessive man on earth," does not really mind that the house will always in a sense be Roark's. Roark counters him by explaining that anything someone responds to the way that Wynand responds to Roark's houses belongs to that person. That ownership does not interfere with anyone else's because it is a personal affirmation. Wynand likes the idea that he owns Roark's other buildings as well. Dominique comments that Wynand owns the Stoddard Temple as well. As the discussion continues, Dominique cannot stop thinking how close Roark is to her, yet acting almost as if she does not exist. Underneath her appearance, she is almost hysterical.
Dominique hardly gets through dinner. She feels that it is impossible that she will ever live in the new house. After Roark leaves, she comments that he reminds her of Dwight Carson, but Wynand tells her to "forget Dwight Carson." Five days later, Wynand shows up at Roark's office without an appointment. Roark immediately invites him in. Wynand explains that there is no reason for his visit—he just felt like seeing Roark. Once again Wynand talks about his past and asks Roark about his, and once again there are small, important differences. Wynand tells him that he has been thinking a lot about his past since he met him, and he likes to think that "[they] started in the same way." He notices a copy of the Banner and is surprised to learn that Roark has been reading it for the last month out of curiosity. They talk about Roark's rejection of the World's Fair committee, and Wynand complains about having to give those kinds of people free advertising.
Wynand tells Roark about a kitten he had when he was just starting to work on the Gazette. The kitten would make him feel much better because it was "clean and free." He laughs because he is comparing Roark to a kitten. Roark agrees to join him for dinner, and Wynand calls Dominique to tell her he will not be home. Dominique has spent the last five days waiting and fighting her desire to go to him. She knows that she has to wait until he comes to her. The next day Wynand calls Toohey into his office and tells him that he is never to mention Roark in his column again. Toohey agrees but not deferentially, commenting that he does not need "to write about Mr. Roark at present."
As Wynand looks over a proof copy of the Banner, he thinks of Roark, which makes it easier to deal with the sickliness of the stories and the meaninglessness of the advertisements. He knows that it is easier "because it hurts so much" to be involved in it all.
Later, after Roark has again dined with Dominique and Wynand, the men sit alone in Wynand's study. Wynand notes that Roark's existence is a joke on everyone else. Over the following weeks, Wynand and Roark spend a lot of time together. They share meals or visit the site. One day Wynand drives to the site alone and considers that he is happy with his life. He notices that it is almost springtime. He sees Roark standing in the unfinished house, and he decides that Roark should always stand in just this way. Later, when they speak, Wynand asks Roark if he has ever been in love. Roark replies that he still is. Wynand avers that it is a terrible lie that "happiness is impossible on earth." Roark responds by tearing a branch off of a tree and telling Wynand that making something out of such a branch is "the meaning of life."
Dominique's entire being revolves around "remain[ing] controlled ... be[ing] patient." She realizes that Roark is helping her to understand Wynand. She accepts the fact that right now Roark belongs to Wynand more than he belongs to her. She accepts his presence in their lives, but she also knows that this is the hardest thing Roark could have asked her to do. She does not see Roark alone, and she does not visit the incomplete house. Wynand asks her to forgive him this "obsession," explaining that through knowing Roark he somehow loves her more. Dominique asks him what Roark is to him—"in the nature of a shrine?"—but Wynand replies, "In the nature of a hair shirt."
Gail Wynand is one of the only characters, perhaps the only one, who ever disturbs Howard Roark's composure. He is the only person Roark has ever come close to hating. His strong feelings are certainly understandable; the Banner represents the forces that destroyed Henry Cameron and that are trying to destroy Roark. But it seems clear that Roark's disturbance tells the reader more about Wynand's character than about Roark's, for Wynand is not the kind of man with whom Roark can be angry. Roark discovers just as Dominique did that it is hard to reconcile Wynand with the contents of the Banner. Roark thus discovers another ally in the unlikeliest of places.
When Wynand makes a half-hearted attempt to destroy Roark, for a moment he seems more like the public image of himself than the person he knows he ought to be. When he insists that he is unhappy that Roark held out against the criticism, this suggests that he is clinging to the part of himself that created the Banner; he is not ready to let that part of himself go. Roark is defeating him because Roark is the first person Wynand has ever met who can see the other part of him, the part that wants nothing to do with the Banner or with men like Toohey. Roark maneuvers with Wynand, using this information to inspire Wynand to become better. The men who Wynand destroyed in the past may well have been good, true men. They may have had impeccable integrity. None of them, however, could look at Wynand and see anything but the mask that created the Banner. Roark’s virtue makes Wynand want to focus on his own virtue and makes Wynand feel shame in the huge ways he continues to fall short.
Wynand's continued references to his past, and the comparisons he makes between his and Roark's childhoods, provide a possible explanation for Rand's decision to include detailed descriptions of Wynand's and Toohey's childhoods but not Roark's. Both Toohey and Wynand had a capacity for greatness apparent since childhood. Wynand, like Roark, worked hard from a very young age. He took pleasure in work, and when he decided what he would do with his life, he saw it in terms of a great and long labor with a tremendous reward. In contrast, Toohey hid from work behind his intellectual gifts. His first job involved directing others toward work but never doing any real work himself. Neither Toohey nor Wynand seems to have grown past the maturity level of himself as a child. It is unnecessary for the reader to learn about Roark's childhood; whatever he did and whatever he was will be part of the wholeness of his character. But Toohey and Wynand are not wholes; Toohey is hollow and Wynand is fractured. Revealing details about their respective childhoods underscores the idea that only good foundations can lead to great things.
The Fountainhead is a book of triangles. Consider Peter Keating, Dominique Francon, and Ellsworth Toohey, for example. Or Keating, Dominique, and Catherine Halsey. Or Roark, Wynand, and Toohey. The most important triangle consists of Howard Roark, Dominique Francon, and Gail Wynand. Roark desperately wants both Dominique and Wynand to understand what he understands, which allows him both to live in the world and to live apart from it. Dominique recognizes that the three of them belong together, for in their present situation, these times are the happiest that can exist for all of them. Despite Dominique's torment otherwise, she knows that her endurance is a gift of love, not only for Roark but for Wynand as well. By allowing this triangle to exist, Dominique pays for her marriage. She earns Wynand's unconscious forgiveness by giving him this gift.
Furthermore, this triangle gives Dominique a chance to understand things about Wynand she could never understand when they are alone. By seeing him with Roark, she hopes to be able to name the thing that she and Wynand have in common. It should already be clear to the reader that when Dominique understands how she and Wynand are alike, she will be able to live as Roark wants her to live. The three share a true virtue focused on some kind of strident goodness, a kind of full freedom and independence. When Dominique understands Wynand, perhaps even when she can love him, Dominique will finally be able to leave him.