“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That's what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul - would you understand why that's much harder?”
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is about architect, Howard Roark, working against the tides of society. He knows what he wants, and has a need to design. However, his designs are his own and are not accepted by a society of ‘second-handers’. His genius and independence are threats to the way society is functioning. His rivals, those who seek power, control and self-sacrifice from the common people, will stop at nothing to bring him down. There are only a few people who are Roark’s equal. But even Dominique Francon has much to learn about Roark’s philosophy.
It is strange that Rand’s novels have a way of making me like them at the end, no matter how much I hated it in the middle. I found The Fountainhead, much easier to read than Atlas Shrugged. But despite this, there were moments that I thought the story was heading down hill. I struggled to understand some of her ideas, especially that of love. I thought that the scene were Roark goes into Dominique’s bedroom and ‘claims’ her, was completely unnecessary (well, actually, maybe not unnecessary but in my point of view it went a bit too far.) The reason I liked this book was combination of factors – I liked it because of a sense of accomplishment when I got to the end of such a heavy and long book, because I agreed with the ideals she presented (even if some of them appeared as caricatures) and most of all, I like Rand’s books because she somehow manages to leave a sense of hope and resolution even though there is never exactly a ‘happy ending’.
I know that many people regard Rand’s writing as a ‘cult’. I don’t. I like reading her novels, and I don’t every think I have to hide them. I like her ideas; I like the idea of independent thinking. The problem is that I know that no matter how much I try, whatever I think will just be a copy of what someone else had thought before, and I can assume that much. What I do try to achieve, is to read, watch and listen to as many opinions and thoughts as possible, I can then try to decide which mix of ideas makes the most sense to me. By then saying ‘yes’ to these ideas, they can become ‘mine’, independent of who created the thoughts/values.
I think that too many people just go with what society expects them too, this deeply disturbs me. I especially hate the word ‘tradition’. It is simply code word for stopping change and innovation. I like tradition in the terms of my own traditions or those of my family. This is because it was me who helped create them, and they make sense in my context. They will last my generation and possibly one more but will stop as soon as a new tradition makes more sense. But when applied to society, the traditions make absolutely no sense to me, and I don’t feel any connection or sense in them. This is especially evident in school, where they have traditions in place from almost 100 years. Times have changed but what we do hasn’t. Our school song still sings of ‘god and right’, even though most of the cohort is atheist or believes in ‘Gods’ rather than the Christian ‘God’.
Also, people never talk about salaries. It is seen as almost embarrassing to want to make money, even though most people do. If one earns more than the other, there is a sense of shame or guilt. Now, I know this book explores the idea that power and money for the sake of power and money is wrong. But if you find something you love, and do it because it makes you happy, than there is nothing wrong to earn money from your talent and hard work. The most important thing is to be true to oneself. The majority of society are just pathological liars. No one wants to face their own reality. I think it starts from school, when we are told what we should and have to do – how we should do our homework and what we should pursue in university. Peter Keating always wanted to pursue art, he wasn’t any good at it but it was what he loved. In society, this is deemed as an unstable job and his mother pushed him into architecture. But the fact is, if he loved painting then with practice he would have become good and he would have been happy. The money could have followed.
Another thing was Rand’s disapproval of religion. I completely agree with her. In a way I am religious, but I believe in the universe much more than I believe in something founded by man – man is corrupt and would never be able to pass the true message of a more evolved being, such as God. As Toohey later bluntly told Keating, that any hearing of ‘self-sacrifice’ should be fled from. This to me, is the most despicable act of religion, they prey on the vulnerable – making the richer richer and the poorer poorer. I think like many sociologists see this issue, that religion is only important in that it brings people into a close community and inspires hope and unity. However, this could easily be translated into other social but secular groups. These are the groups of the future.
Of course, Rand goes to the complete extreme with her ideas. I think this is more to get her point across even to the blindest of people. This is the reason I don’t mind reading her ‘cult culture’. I don’t take it all literal. We do have to follow some rules, or else society would be complete chaos. Also, I don’t think the feeling of pity for someone else is so evil. There are times where I do want to help someone who isn’t as fortunate as me. But if I had the money/time/means, I would rather do it in a way that helps the person become something. I’d like to fund people’s college degrees or business ideas, rather than give a few coins to the homeless person sitting on the street. I think this because I would rather bring everyone to the level where they can think for themselves and be independent, and I only wish to help those that desire to grow and work hard. But again, this is only my personal feelings. I have seen many altruistic people who help the less fortunate in other ways, and I don’t think I am above them nor do I think they are above me.
Overall, I enjoyed The Fountainhead. I think it was the clearest in showing that society is like a black hole, no matter if it’s communist or capitalist. I absolutely hate when people say that they won’t do something because, “Imagine what people would think”, I absolutely hate that type of idea and this is why I like reading Rand’s novels. I think this is one of her easier – smoothest –books to read. It is for these reasons that I recommend this book.