The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead Themes


Throughout The Fountainhead, Rand emphasizes that integrity is one of the distinguishing qualities between men who have retained their sense of self and men who have completely destroyed their egos, subordinating themselves to the ideas of equality and altruism. When Austen Heller speaks to Roark about why he loves his house, Roark explains to him that "a house can have integrity, just like a person . . . and just as seldom." In one of Rand's subtler metaphors, Roark defines integrity by describing a piece of architecture, rather than a person. He says:

Every piece is there because the house needs it--and for no other reason . . . . Your house is made by its own needs. Those [other houses] are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is the house. The determining motive of the others is in the audience.

In other words, Roark has integrity because no part of him is there for show. He does not put on manners, or false flattery, or false dislike in order to impress others with a false facade. People are struck by Roark's appearance because they are not used to looking at someone and seeing so clearly who they are.

When Gail Wynand gets pleasure out of destroying others' integrity, he reveals both how much he longs to find a man who cannot be broken and how afraid he is that he might. When he fails to break Roark, he is devastated because he knows unconsciously that if Roark could hold out against him, he could have held out against temptation as well. Roark tells Wynand that he knew Wynand's integrity would not allow him to destroy Roark. Roark never gives up on Wynand because, underneath the shallow and mistaken character of his actions, Wynand has the soul of a "first-hander" rather than a second-hander like Peter Keating.

The idea of integrity also provides insight into the character of Dominique Francon. Dominique's character is confusing because at the beginning of the novel, she can seem extremely unlikable. But even when her motives are strange and her actions are cruel, she stays true to the idea of integrity. She has a strict code that guides her actions, one which holds freedom from coercion as the ultimate ideal, and she stays true to that code even when it is exceedingly painful for her to do so.

Rand seems to embrace the idea of integrity as an important theme for The Fountainhead because it is primarily integrity that helps someone adhere to a personal code when that code is at odds with the mores of society in general.

Love of Humanity

The question of what it means to "love humanity" echoes throughout the novel. Ellsworth Toohey calls himself a humanitarian throughout the novel. He defines a humanitarian as someone who loves all people equally, one who loves the heartless criminal as much as the brilliant scientist. Dominique tells Gail Wynand that people always said she was a hater of humanity, but Wynand argues that the true lover of humanity must love the statue of Dominique more than Mickey Mouse, just as he must love the artist who made the statue more than the person who created Mickey Mouse.

The idea that loving humanity means having a sense of value and applying that sense is fundamental to Rand's developing philosophy. The consequence of this definition is a definition of love that as only a positive emotion, never a negative one. When Dominique tells Wynand she will love him if he holds out for Roark, that love comes from her hope that he will live up to a higher standard. If Wynand can accomplish this feat, he will prove himself worth loving. When he fails, Dominique suddenly understands that she can no longer live without acting upon her love for Roark. Ultimately, Rand demonstrates that there is no such thing as love of humanity--there is only love of individuals. Love of undifferentiated humanity inevitably degrades the very personal concept of love.


Rand uses architecture as an all-encompassing metaphor in the novel. Roark's architectural views represent his philosophy of life, just as buildings designed by men like Peter Keating, Gus Webb, and John Erik Snyte represent their philosophies. Keating confesses to Roark that he is a parasite--he lives off of men just as his buildings depend upon Roark's ideas.

Rand's physical descriptions of men, their "architecture," reveals the basic properties of their characters. Ellsworth Toohey's body is as small as his soul; Mitchell Layton's body cannot decide which way to go, and his mind cannot embrace a single idea or belief as a whole.

Similarly, ideas rest upon their foundations. Ellsworth Toohey confesses that his ideas break down when they are closely examined. He must undermine reason, distract people's minds, and emphasize "feelings" in order to persuade. When Roark gets a single chance to articulate the basis of his ideals to an audience of men who have a chance of understanding him, his ideas stand up because their foundation is solid.

Individualism Versus Collectivism

This theme is a generalization of the theme of capitalism versus communism, focusing on ideas more general than economic systems. The basic difference between these systems of thought is that in individualism rather than collectivism, each person is expected to think primarily about himself and to live primarily for himself. The needs of the individual can never be sacrificed to the needs of the group. Thus, Roark's need not to allow the corruption of his design to remain standing is more important than the government's need to house the poor or even the poor's need for housing. The collective good does not trump the individual's assertion of rights.

In Ellsworth Toohey's "better world," however, the rights of the group always trump the rights of the individual. Ibsen has no better right to success than Ike does, and Roark has no rights at all to his creations. The necessary result of this line of thinking is eventually to beat every individual down until humanity is just one collective mass, each person the same, with the same minimal rights and possibilities. In The Fountainhead, individualism clearly triumphs, and the end of the novel returns to Roark's belief that only by allowing some individuals to climb higher and stretch further will humanity as a whole be able to progress. This final attention to humanity as a whole suggests that a society might choose to promote individualism as its best chance for success.

Ethics Versus Religion

As an atheist, Rand depicted a hero who could be an atheist and still have an appealing ethical system. Interestingly, Rand chose to make all of her characters either atheists or confused seekers of religion with no real faith or belief in anything. Men like Stoddard suggest that those who seek religion are looking for a substitute for an ethical system, one which will allow them to forget about all past behavior. Those characters portrayed as having strong ethics, Dominique and Roark, need never be ashamed of their past actions. Yet it is not clear whether such persons are merely glossing over their imperfections.


The Fountainhead addresses two questions about power: what is power, and how should power be used? At the beginning of the novel, characters including Guy Francon and the Dean of Stanton seem to have a lot of power while characters including Henry Cameron and Howard Roark barely have power over themselves. But as the novel progresses, the use of power regarding others starts to signify that a character is weak or even evil. At different times Peter Keating, Gail Wynand, and Ellsworth Toohey reveal their serious flaws by taking pleasure in their power over other people's lives. A better use of power, in the novel's ethical system, would be to take control of one's own life without interfering with others.

Rand emphasizes Howard Roark's status as a hero by demonstrating that he rejects using power over others. Even when Dominique practically forces him to use power over her, he refuses it. By refusing to make use of power over people, Roark empowers people to be their best selves. That is why characters such as Austen Heller, Mike, and Stephen Mallory are drawn to him, and that is why his employees love him. He does not try to control or manipulate them. He gives them room to accomplish the best they are capable of--to exert their own powers.

When Roark clarifies his philosophical beliefs, ideas about power lie at the heart of them. He refrains from telling Wynand that "a man who goes after power" is the "worst second-hander of all." He helps Gail Wynand realize that he is "a ruler of men. [He] held a leash. A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends." In other words, by living for the power he has over other men, a person gives all those people power over himself. The tyrant, likewise, tyrannizes himself.

Ellsworth Toohey has the odd belief that only when there is total coercion is total freedom possible. By the end of The Fountainhead, though, Rand has made it clear that a correct use of power is power over no one but oneself. There is no proper kind of power which allows one person to infringe on another person's right to power over himself. A person might contract away some of his own power for some greater end, but this choice must be made freely.

Freedom Versus Coercion

Characters such as Roark and Dominique represent freedom while characters such as Ellsworth Toohey and Gail Wynand represent the forces of coercion. Rand suggests that the two states can be confused. Toohey claims that "only by accepting total compulsion can we achieve total freedom." At that point in the novel, the problems with Toohey's claim are fairly obvious to the reader. But, much earlier in the novel, Toohey speaks at a meeting of strike sympathizers alongside Heller, a man of certain integrity who fights coercion wherever he sees it. Neither Heller nor the reader recognizes Toohey for what he is during that talk, despite the fact that Toohey's book, Sermons in Stone, has already been discussed.

The tension between freedom and coercion also lies at the heart of several characters' conflicts. Dominique lives her life solely to ensure freedom of action and movement, but that obsession with freedom prevents her from possessing real happiness for seven years. Wynand believes that the power he possesses buys him all the freedom he needs, at other times he claims that he has traded his freedom for power, and by the end of the novel he learns that he has neither freedom nor power.

Roark's example teaches Dominique and Wynand that freedom is not in opposition to coercion after all--it is independent. Roark cannot escape all coercion simply becuase he declares he is free. If he had been convicted of blowing up Cortlandt, he would have gone to jail. But he is free to control his own action separate from and within whatever circumstances of coercion that he must endure. At the same time, because he understands this distinction, Roark thus understands what coercion he must endure, as well as what coercion one finds tempting or easy to suffer from.