Johannes's Reviews > The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
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Apr 24, 08

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I read this book for the first time when I was 16 years old, in the summer between 10th and 11th grade. Up until that point in my life, I had never questioned any of my values: my values were my parents' values and that was that. This book made me open my mind to other possibilities, and since I didn't have a job or anything else to do (I was at my summer home in Holland and mostly spent my days riding my bike along the Vecht), I gave a lot of time to thinking about this book. To say that its effect on me was profound would be an understatement. Since that time I have reread The Fountainhead on several occasions.

Let me say now that I am not an Objectivist and I do not think that Ayn Rand has "the correct" view on life (or that there is one, simple "correct" view). On the other hand, neither do I think that all her ideas are completely without merit. If you need always to agree with the author, don't read this book. If you like thinking about new ideas, even if you ultimately reject them, pick it up soon.

Rand's characters are criticized as being "flat." I don't think this is a fair representation, as they do change and develop during the course of the book. What is true is that the characters are people second and representations of ideas first. The hero, Howard Roark, is rather inhuman because he is Rand's idealization of man. The master villain, Ellsworth Toohey, is similarly inhuman, but he is far more interesting than Roark because, whereas Roark is blunt and forthright, Toohey is clever and manipulative. The other characters in the book, who lie between these extremes, are very human because they find themselves in moral dilemmas as they are pulled in various degrees by the forces represented by Roark and Toohey. Dominique Francon, who spends the novel engaged in an internal war between the social values that are thrust upon her and her innate sense of right (Roark must battle with society externally but has no internal conflict -- he is "perfect" from the beginning). Gail Wynand fights this same battle, but he must deal not only with social values but also the part he has played in shaping them. Peter Keating is a victim, but by being a victim he propagates his weak, immoral values and thus becomes one of the villains.

Atlas Shrugged is considered Rand's seminal work, but I rank this book higher. I confess this may have something to do with the situation under which I read and the impact it had on me personally. However, I also think that as a work of philosophy and as a work of fiction, The Fountainhead is superior. As a work of philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is more polished, but it does not fill any holes left by The Fountain. Rather, it ignores them: Rand manages to gloss over some problems so that the reader might not know they are there. By contrast, The Fountainhead more honestly demonstrates the weakness of the philosophy. For example, Rand associates beauty with functionality. While I doubt many people would deny that such a thing as beauty in function exists, it is absurd to limit the word "beauty" to this meaning. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand simply avoids stating this as plainly as she does in The Fountainhead, so the reader may not realize this weakness in her position. I prefer the unpolished honesty of The Fountainhead.

As a work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged is simply preachy. If fiction is to be, as Rand says it should be (and I agree), the translation of an abstraction into the concrete, she does not entirely succeed with Atlas Shrugged. A great deal of what she writes there reads more as a treatise than as a work of literature. The Fountainhead succeeds because the ideas are conveyed with actions and dialogue, interactions between competing forces, and rarely long monologues such as are found in Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand is about as well known for her brevity as her modesty, but despite the fact that this book is most immodest both in tone and length, I recommend it strongly.
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Ilyn Ross Hello Johannes,

How are you? I revere Ayn Rand.

When you have the time, please visit the "To the Glory of Man" group, the "Happy & Brainy" group, and the author giveaways (my novel, Reason Reigns, is listed). Could I add you as my friend?


Warmest regards,

Ilyn


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