Wynand takes Roark for a cruise on his yacht, leaving Dominique behind. He is surprised when Roark agrees so readily, but Roark explains that he is finished with his current projects. He does not need to start anything else until the fall. On the boat, Roark and Wynand are completely content. Some days they barely speak, and Wynand spends a great deal of time looking at and thinking about Roark. One day he comments that Ellsworth Toohey does not seem to understand his own doctrine of selflessness, for if he did he would recognize that Wynand is his ideal. Wynand has given up his total self to the masses; he is simply a mirror that gives back an enlarged view of others’ selves. Roark is surprised that Wynand has admitted this to himself. Wynand explains that if he were to follow Toohey’s wishes, he would decide what the masses should want and ram it down their throats. Wynand tells Roark not to worry about him; he sold himself for the sake of power, and now he will use that power for Roark and Dominique.
For the past few weeks, Roark has been considering the principle of “actual selflessness,” which was held by the dean at Stanton. He starts to talk about the man who lives second-hand, using Peter Keating as an example. Second-handers are people who do things only in order to receive something from other people, who live their whole lives for what they see reflected in others’ lives. He goes on for a long while, speaking of the different kinds of second-handedness. Wynand agrees with him, pointing out that second-handers will always be afraid of men like Roark, who stand only for what they can accomplish, alone in their own minds. Finally, Roark concludes that “if one doesn’t respect oneself one can have neither love nor respect for others.” He tells Wynand, simply and directly, that he would die for Wynand, because Wynand was not “born to be a second-hander.” Later Roark admits to himself that he did not tell Wynand that “the worst second-hander of all” is “the man who goes after power.”
Three months after they departed, Roark and Wynand return. Roark goes immediately to his office, and his employees greet him happily, oddly embarrassed by how glad they are to see him. As he gets down to work, he glances at a copy of the Banner on his desk and notices that Gordon Prescott and Gus Webb have been added as association architects to the Cortlandt Homes project. That night he goes to see the development and learns that his design has been altered and corrupted. It is difficult to know exactly what happened. One day Toohey told Keating that Webb and Prescott were being added to the project but that they would not need to make any changes. Keating could not figure out how they had arranged it, but there was nothing to be done. Next, a woman in charge of tenant selection insisted on the addition of a gymnasium; as soon as that change had been made, Webb and Prescott had begun to make others, insisting that Keating stop being so selfish. He could never learn who had approved each change, only that they had been approved, and he knew that suing the government to enforce his contract would be useless. He was helpless.
The night after Roark’s return, Keating comes to see him and explains that he tried but could do nothing. Keating offers first to reveal their contract and then to give Roark the fee, both suggestions being dismissed by Roark. Finally Keating departs. A few weeks later Roark drives to the Wynand house to see Dominique. He tells her he needs her help, and she agrees immediately. He tells her that on Monday night she needs to drive to Cortlandt Homes at exactly 11:30. She will tell the watchman that her car has broken down and send him to the nearest gas station to get help. She will immediately go and lie down in a nearby ditch, and then she will wait until it is over. She says she understands, and he leaves. She knows what will happen to him afterwards, yet she freely agreed. She realizes that she is free.
That Monday night, Dominique had gone to a dinner party of a friend of Wynand’s. He had not been able to attend. Everyone noticed how gay and bright Dominique appeared. She left at exactly 10:50. Now she drives to Cortlandt Homes, knowing that nothing can possibly go wrong, feeling it in her bones. She does as Roark asks, then runs for the ditch to lie down. A moment later the building explodes. Sirens sound. Dominique, unthinking, gets up and runs for the car. She knows it must look as if she never left it. She takes a piece of glass and slashes at her body. She does not notice that she has cut an artery. When she is found, she has lost a lot of blood and is nearing death.
Dominique wakes in the bedroom of Wynand’s New York penthouse after many days in the hospital. Wynand is smiling, but he sounds almost angry when he comments that she should not have tried quite so hard to make it look real. Dominique starts to tell her story, but Wynand makes it clear that he understands what happened and even loves her for doing it. She thinks about how he would feel if he knew that he had lost her. He tells her that Roark has been arrested, but he is now out on bail, and he is actually downstairs waiting to see her.
When the policemen arrived at the scene, Roark was standing by the plunger that set off the dynamite. He told the policemen to arrest him, but he did not say another word. Wynand paid his bail and told Roark they would fight it together. Roark said that he would not use a lawyer and that he would not submit pictures this time.
Wynand leaves, and Roark enters Dominique’s room. Roark explains to Dominique that he had her help him because now she has no choice but to stay with Wynand. If she comes to Roark now, she will be as much as admitting that he is guilty. He tells her that if he goes away to jail, he wants her to stay with Wynand and tell him nothing. He loves Gail enough to give him that. But if he is acquitted, he acknowledges that it will be different. He will not sacrifice his work or Dominique to Gail Wynand. Dominique tells him that even if he goes to jail, even if they destroy him, it will not matter; it will only hurt “down to a certain point.” Roark is very happy.
Toohey writes an article declaiming Roark’s infamy to the world in the New Frontiers. In response, the whole world seems to explode against Roark, citing his selfishness, his lack for sympathy for the poor, and the gross egotism of his act. Gordon Prescott and Gus Webb “demand justice,” but Peter Keating is nowhere to be found. He issues a statement that ends by asking that everyone leave Roark alone. Wynand puts the whole thrust of the Banner behind the defense of Roark. He writes impassioned editorials declaring Roark innocent and excoriating the men who defame him. Alvah Scarret is horrified. Wynand is jubilant. On the weekends he and Roark join Dominique at their home. Wynand rejoices at the ability to use his power to stand behind Roark. In a moment alone Dominique expresses her sympathy, but Roark insists that Wynand is really trying to save himself, and it will be better for him to win his crusade and lose Dominique than the other way around.
Editorials in New Frontiers begin to attack Wynand directly, commenting that it is awful that his rag tries to defend Roark. The circulation of the Banner drops continuously ,and Scarret can barely contain himself. One Small Voice, under Wynand’s orders, says nothing about the Cortlandt trials. Wynand’s lawyers try to explain that “an unpopular cause is a dangerous cause” in the newspaper business, but Wynand ignores him. Wynand tries arguing the case directly with prominent men, but everywhere he is met with Toohey-speak about self-sacrifice and the importance of loving the poor. Scarret moans to Toohey, who replies calmly that they are being handed the perfect moment to take over the Wynand papers. Scarret does not understand, and Toohey shows his irritation. Toohey has no one to talk to who understands what he is doing.
Toohey comes to see Keating, and Mrs. Keating is extremely relieved. Toohey wants to get the whole story in order to ensure that Roark will be sent to jail. For a little while, Keating holds out, but he starts to break down, telling Toohey to leave him alone, saying that this is worse than what he did to Lucius Heyer, because he let Heyer die. He asks Toohey why he is doing this, and Toohey explains that in jail Roark will have to take orders and obey. He asks again, and Keating gets up, goes to his dresser, and hands Toohey his copy of the contract with Roark.
Toohey tells Keating that he has achieved the impossible: he has taken everything from a man--his profit, his idea, his credit--and given him nothing in return. He says that when he took the paper he wanted to burn it. Keating asks him what he wants, and Toohey replies that he wants power--he wants to rule the world. He says that he has always said this, but no one listens. He would not be imposing his own desires on the world, of course, but he will be ruling it all the same. He explains everything that he has done, telling Keating that if you want to destroy the soul you “preach selflessness,” “kill man’s sense of values,” “Kill by laughter ... Turn it into a sneer.” He points out that every regime, every dictator in the history of mankind, preaches self-sacrifice, yet men still fall for it. He goes on, explaining that reason is man’s weapon against takeover, so he, Toohey, has destroyed people’s reason. He adds that “feelings” and “believing” have become more important than cold, dry reason.
He asks Keating why he is so upset. Toohey is going to create a world where everyone agrees with his or her neighbor. There will be no more war, no more class distinctions, no more competition of any kind. In fact, Toohey is going to serve more than any of them. He will have less independence, for he will not alter himself to their wishes. He simply wants power over them, the feeling of control. Keating says that Toohey is insane, but Toohey points out that this is already happening all over Europe. Collectivism is their future and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. As he gets up to go, he thanks Keating for listening to him; this is a speech he has wanted to make for a long time. Keating looks up at him and says, “Don’t go, Ellsworth.” Toohey says that Keating is his proof, for despite everything he knows, Keating still cannot leave him.
On his way back from an attempt to hold on to one of his biggest advertisers, Wynand reads the Banner and sees that Toohey has broken his command. One Small Voice declares that Roark must be condemned as a symbol of the evils of individualism and egotism. Wynand goes directly to the office. Scarret is waiting for him; he tells him that he did not know until it was already published. Wynand tells him to fire Toohey and everyone else who had anything to do with approving it. Scarret tries to talk him out of it, but he is unmoved. He starts an editorial in response to Toohey’s column, apologizing for ever foisting Toohey upon the public. Toohey walks into his office and tells him that he is leaving for now but that he will be back. He says that Wynand never understood how to secure ownership. When Toohey is back, he “will run this paper.” Wynand tells him calmly to get out.
The Union of Wynand Employees, which had spontaneously sprung up from Toohey’s benign little club the year before, walks out on strike. Many non-members join, apologizing but saying they must support the strike. The strikers demand the reinstatement of the men who were fired and a “reversal of the Banner’s stand” on the Cortlandt case. All of the men who helped Toohey publish his article had family members deeply entrenched in Toohey’s causes. Wynand stays at the paper twenty-four hours a day. He promotes everyone who stayed, and he hires whoever he can, but the kind of men who come are the men who can get jobs with no reputable paper. Scarret stays, but he wanders the halls, unable to take in all of the changes. Once he begs Wynand to negotiate, but he does not try it again.
One morning Dominique walks into his office, saying simply that she wants her old job back. She fills in wherever she is needed, Wynand only objecting when she leaves the office to cover a story. He tells her he will fire her if she leaves again--it is simply not safe. They do not talk about anything important but focus only on the job of getting the paper out every day. One day he finds her sweeping a floor, and he tries to get her to stop, but she insists that she will do whatever she can to help--it is all the same. She seems to know exactly when he needs her, and she is always there. One night after three weeks, Wynand walks out of the building and goes to see Roark. Roark tells him he looks terrible, Helplessly, Wynand admits that the Banner is ruining Roark. Roark tells him it does not matter, and he wants Wynand to hold out for as long as he possibly can. Roark tells Wynand, “you have been the one encounter in my life that can never be repeated ... Don’t give in.” When Wynand returns to the office and Dominique sees him, she knows immediately that he has been to see Roark. They do not speak of it, continuing their work even as the stacks of unsold papers grow.
During the second month of the strike, Wynand’s Board of Directors calls a meeting, the first meeting not called by Wynand, and Wynand comes. Without looking at him, the Board tells Wynand that he must stop defending Roark; this is a business after all. They do not understand why he is going to such lengths over such a meaningless, clear-cut issue. Mitchell Layton interrupts and starts shouting that Wynand is not the only one with ideas--he has ideas too--but Scarret interrupts him. Scarret begs him to consider negotiation, to take back just one of the men, or just to take back Toohey, but Wynand interrupts him and says that Toohey is not up for discussion. The banker leaps on this and suggests that here is a compromise. They will do everything the strikers have asked for except take back Toohey. Only Layton voices disagreement, but everyone ignores him. Someone tells Wynand that he will have to “give in or close the Banner.” Wynand listens. He remembers the night when he almost shot himself. He says yes.
Wynand walks through the streets. He notices the bits of glittering metal in the sidewalk, ground down among the dirt; he looks in pawnshop windows and sees people’s finest possessions next to the detritus of everyday life. He had left the building without talking to anyone, even Dominique. He had gone to the penthouse, and after dark he had left to walk the streets. In an hour, he knows, the morning edition of the Banner will appear. Scarret will write the editorial. He sees the people around him and acknowledges that they are all his masters. He comes to a newsstand and watches as people in line buy the Banner. Finally, when they have all left, he buys a copy himself. The editorial states in simple language that “Howard Roark ... is a reprehensible character, a dangerous, unprincipled, antisocial type of man.”
He drops the paper and does not notice it until blocks later. He realizes that he “wrote that editorial”--he sold Howard Roark himself, forty years earlier when he decided he would do anything for power. He comes to Hell’s Kitchen and realizes he has never really left it. He looks up at the skyscrapers, and he acknowledges that he has betrayed them. He tells himself, “There is a beast on earth, dammed safely by its own impotence. I broke the dam ... They can produce nothing. I gave them the weapon. I gave them my strength, my energy, my living power.”
As people read the paper that morning, many express their satisfaction at the result; some, because they know Wynand, others, because they merely like to see people beaten. When Lancelot Clokey expresses his annoyance at the Union’s betrayal of Toohey, Toohey explains that he told them to accept because he has just filed a grievance with the Union, and he will be back at his job within the month. Roark tries to see Wynand, to tell him that it does not matter at all, that he can keep fighting all the same, but Wynand refuses to see him and returns his letters unopened. Scarret runs the paper. Wynand goes to the office and does what is necessary, but he does not read the Banner. He knows that Dominique has gone back to the country. In a few more days Wynand plans to go there and beg her to stay with him, to use his love as leverage to get her to stay.
Dominique lies on the grass outside their home, looking at the green around her. She understands now that “one cannot hate the earth in their name. The earth is beautiful. And it is a background, but not theirs.” She waits a few more days before acting.
Roark stands at the window of his house in Monadnock Valley, where he has rented a place for the summer. He hears a car outside, and he “feels no astonishment” when Dominique enters. She looks as if she has only been gone for a few minutes, rather than seven years. He tells her to wait a little longer before making Wynand bear this as well, but she tells him that this is her life. He acknowledges her decision, saying “I love you.” She tells him she knows what he is going to do and that he does not need to worry about her. Roark lifts Dominique into his lap and kisses her, and it is as if no time has passed at all. Dominique tells him that whatever happens, she will be with him. The next morning Dominique wakes up and remembers where she is. Acting quickly so as not to wake up Roark, she calls the police and tells them she needs to report that a star-sapphire ring given to her by Mr. Howard Roark was stolen sometime during the night. She instructs the police to come and question her there.
When Roark wakes up, she tells him not to dress. The police and some members of the press arrive. She invites them in and tells them to look around the place, answering all their questions. When they leave, Dominique apologizes to Roark, explaining that this was the only way she could think of ensuring it would be in all the papers. She tells him that now she does not mind their first night back together being in all the newspapers--this is how much she has changed.
It is in all the newspapers, and Scarret shows one to Wynand, furious for his sake, and asks what he will do. After a long moment, Wynand tells him they will run in it in any way Scarret wishes. He agrees to see his lawyer immediately to begin divorce proceedings. Wynand drives to the country house where Dominique is waiting. She explains their relationship to Wynand, telling him everything. He tells her simply that he wanted to know. That evening Guy Francon calls his daughter and invites her to stay with him until the Cortlandt trial. She agrees, and he meets her at his door. He looks at her, and he says that this time it is the right man. She agrees. He tells her to tell Roark that he is welcome there whenever he wants. A moment later he tells Dominique that Roark will be acquitted. Scarret puts all the blame of the last few years on Dominique, painting a picture of a man so much in love that he let his wife force him to defend a guilty man. Wynand lets Scarret do as he wishes.
The courtroom where Roark is to be tried is filled with many enemies and a few stalwart friends. Guy Francon astounds everyone by sitting with Austen Heller, Mike, Kent Lancing, Dominique, and Stephen Mallory. The prosecution gives an opening statement declaring that the defendant is the worst of all things, an egotist, and that they must make an example of him. The jury is made up of “two executives of industrial concerns, two engineers, a mathematician, a truck driver, a bricklayer, an electrician, a gardener and three factory workers.” Roark had spent a long time arguing until he got the men he wanted. He won because the prosecution thought he was making foolish choices. The prosecution calls the policeman and Keating. Roark’s sole case is his own testimony.
Roark speaks about the men “who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own visions” and describes how society feared and scorned those men, though their visions lived on after them. He talks about how ideas cannot be thought by committee. He says that “no creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers, for his brothers rejected the gift he offered and that gift destroyed the slothful routine of their lives. His truth was his only motive.” He argues that “the basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind ... cannot be curbed, sacrificed, or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever.” He talks about second-handers, dependents and parasites. He speaks about the ego, and he tells the jury that “the first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself. His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the person of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish does not depend primarily upon other men.” Finally, he speaks about America as a country created by individualists, “based on a man’s right to the pursuit of happiness. His own happiness. Not anyone else’s. A private, personal, selfish motive.”
Addressing the conflict directly, Roark says that he dynamited Cortlandt because he could not wish it to exist in that form. He had every right to destroy it, for it was his creation. No one else had a right to change it or cheapen it. He says that “the integrity of a man’s creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor.” Legal discussions follow, for Roark had admitted to blowing up Cortlandt, but he had not changed his plea to guilty. The jury is instructed, and the spectators depart, preparing for a long wait. Just as Roark is about to leave the courtroom, the jury walks back in. The verdict is “not guilty.” Roark looks at Wynand, and Wynand is the first man to leave the courtroom.
Roger Enright buys the site of Cortlandt and hires Roark to rebuild it as it was supposed to be, only this time, no income restrictions are placed on the apartments. Wynand divorces Dominique. Toohey wins his dispute and is reinstated at the Banner. The same afternoon he is told to be back at work before nine that evening. A little confused, Toohey walks into his office only to see Wynand standing there. Wynand tells him to get to work. Still confused, Toohey sits down, uncertain whether Wynand has left. When he finally looks up Wynand is still there. Suddenly, at 9:00 pm the presses stop. Wynand tells Toohey that the Banner “has ceased to exist.” Toohey goes to work for the Courier, and as soon as he arrives he starts questioning people about the owner of the paper.
One afternoon Roark receives a call from Wynand’s secretary, requesting a meeting the following afternoon. Roark immediately agrees. When Roark goes to the Banner building, the sign is gone. As soon as Roark sees Wynand he knows he must pretend there is no bond between them. Wynand stiffly hands him some papers and asks him to agree to design the Wynand Building. Money is no object; it should begin immediately. The only catch is that Roark will deal entirely with an intermediary. Roark signs the contract. Wynand comments that this may well be the last skyscraper built in New York, so Roark should make it the best one. Roark assures Wynand that the city is not dead, not as long as there are projects like this. As Roark leaves, Wynand tells him to “build it as a monument to that spirit which is yours ... and could have been mine.”
Eighteen months later, Dominique, now Mrs. Howard Roark, enters the construction site of the Wynand building, pausing only in front of a small sign: “Howard Roark, architect.” Mrs. Roark rides up to see Mr. Roark at the building. She passes buildings, looking into apartments and warehouses, over the rooftops, until suddenly there is nothing to look at but the sky around her. She looks up and sees Roark standing above her. “Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.”
In some ways Rand wraps the plot up neatly. Gail Wynand divorces Dominique, who marries Roark, and Roark’s fortune is ensured by several large projects. But the fates of other characters do not tie up so neatly. Gail Wynand closes the Banner, and he makes a poignant, meaningful statement in the form of the Wynand Building. He is, however, unable to consider forgiving Dominique or Roark. Now that he has lost her, Wynand cannot keep hold of what he told her earlier. Now it really matters that Dominique does not love him back, and it seems that Wynand cannot help wanting to truly possess things. He cannot settle for the “Yes” he feels when he looks at her.
Meanwhile, Peter Keating disappears completely from the scene. He is sacrificed to Toohey’s ambition and Roark’s sympathy. It is interesting to consider why Keating is sacrificed at the end of the novel. If Wynand can be partially saved, why not Keating? The best explanation within the text is the idea that individualism lies at the heart of the novel. Keating has always relied on someone else to save him--Dominique, Roark, or even Toohey. His potential is not enough to make up for the fact that Keating will never save himself.
Of course, a similar question could be asked about Wynand. If Dominique, who had so much in common with Wynand, is able to learn to live in the world but not be of it, why cannot Wynand learn the same lesson? Here the answer lies in Wynand’s and Dominique’s basic difference. Dominique not only possessed integrity but also possessed a core understanding of the importance of freedom. Wynand lacks that understanding, and his preference for power rather than freedom is difficult to get beyond. Wynand will always want to run things, but he will never be content with running only himself. He tells Roark to build the Wynand building in the spirit of what he lives for. He knows that if the building were to represent him, it would still be a show primarily for other people rather than for himself.
Another final question of the novel is why Ellsworth Toohey does not disappear. Why does Rand choose to allow Toohey simply to start over at another paper, ready to make another bid for power? One possible explanation is that Rand is again choosing to emphasize individual choice. There will always be members of society trying to lead it in the wrong direction. One person, even a person like Howard Roark, cannot destroy all of the potential for evil in the world. And what Toohey represents should always be remembered. Rand suggests that people can never act effectively merely as a group. Every important decision must be made at the individual level, and groups should remember that they are made up of individuals.
The Fountainhead clearly has a happy ending, for Roark and Dominique almost literally ride off into the sunset. In ending with this simple image, Rand underscores her acknowledgement in the preface that the point of the novel is that Howard Roark must win out. While Rand focuses on the defeat of collectivism and the triumph of individualism, the reader should ask, why is this plateau any different from Roark’s earlier plateaus? Many times in the novel, Roark has seemed to be on the path to success, only to be knocked down once more. This ending resonates with the novel as a whole. Roark argues against money and acclaim as signs of success, and he even argues against the acknowledgement of others. This moment is Roark’s moment of triumph simply because Wynand has given him the architectural problem that he has always been waiting to solve: to build the tallest and best building in New York City. As always, Roark finds meaning in his life not by defeating someone like Toohey or helping someone like Wynand, or even loving someone like Dominique. He finds meaning in his life by doing his work well.