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The Fountainhead: Success and Ego

The Fountainhead is novel about a talented architect, Howard Roark, who believes so strongly in his convictions that he is unwilling to yield to the wants of his clients, regardless of the cost. At one point, Roark is recruited to build a temple. In his disregard for tradition, he chooses to put the statue of a naked woman as the centerpiece of the building. It’s no doubt, the world hates Roark. And Roark is Ayn Rand.

Looking for some reviews on The Fountainhead, this was most prevalent: “I hate lessons from Ayn Rand and disagree with her views.” I’m not sure if  this irony, but The Fountainhead is about how the public will hate you for defying the trend and for being selfish. Ayn Rand, in writing The Fountainhead, broke the altruistic mold and praised ego, and people hate her for it.  She was also a strong advocate for individualism, and a philosophy she coined as objectivism. Rand probably loved to hear her critics.

We have come to see how great is the unexplored, and many lifetimes will not bring us to the end of our quest. But we wish no end to our quest. We wish nothing, save to be alone and to learn, and to feel as if with each day our sight were growing sharper than the hawk’s and clearer than rock crystal” – Anthem, Ayn Rand

Humans place so much weight on feelings. In contrast, Ayn Rand believed in reason, logic, and knowledge. The novel turns relationships into transactions, but is still more near reality than any of Nicholas Sparks’ work. The Fountainhead may seem impersonal and droll as it disregards emotion, where the main character is blunt and direct, but I find Roark to be relatable.  The best description of Roark comes early in the book in a conversation with fellow architect Peter Keating who asks “Can’t you be human for once in your life?” The following interaction transpires:

Roark interaction

Roark is brief, honest, witty, and self centered. The characters are well developed, with pasts that haunt, and personalities that you can find all around. Your cubicle neighbor is likely another Peter Keating. Keating is an ass-kisser and climbs the social ladder through “playing the game” rather than actually making contributions and advancements to architecture. The Fountainhead hits on what it actually means to be successful, something our society obviously needs (see the “success” of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo).

I hope that adventure for the sake of adventure is not lost. The CV has become a safe to hold the currency that is accomplishment. Because graduate admissions and academic positions are based primarily on your achievements, I frequently see that students join clubs and do things just to say that they’ve done it. Science is supposed to stem from intrigue, and the drive to want to understand the unknown. Rand demonstrates that striving for recognition rather than scientific contribution can be the ultimate cause of failure.

So, if you want 750 pages of wit, and insight into the egos of “successful” individuals give The Fountainhead a read.

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