Nate Smith

“Destruction” in The Fountainhead

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I just finished re-reading The Fountainhead, and there’s an important theme running through the book that I would like to “chew.” That is the theme of the destruction of individuals by society. I’d like to explore the topic by focusing on Dominique’s character, because hers is the one that best portrays this theme in action.

Dominique’s character begins the story with a fear of people in general. As a child, she destroys the piece of art she obtained from a museum so that others couldn’t see it. As an adult, she works to destroy Roark, not because she dislikes what he represents, but because she’s certain he’s going to be hurt and destroyed by a society that won’t let someone like him succeed. (There may be more to have motives; correct me if I’m wrong on this point.)

This fear goes well beyond Dominique’s character; it’s a major theme running through the novel. Steven Mallory and Henry Cameron are victims of it as well. And it’s this fear that I don’t fully understand.

Speaking of the Enright house, Dominique says, “I think the man who designed this should have committed suicide. A man who can conceive a thing as beautiful as this should never allow it to be erected.” … “He shouldn’t have offered it for men like you to look at. For men like you to talk about. He’s defiled his own work by the first word you’ll utter about it. He’s made himself worse than you are.” … “A man who knows this should not have been able to remain alive.” (Page 230 of 690, according to Kindle)

I have a hard time identifying the premises that would allow Dominique to have this attitude. Rand does a masterful job of capturing the essence of many types of people in this book. I see elements of Keating, Wynand, and Roark in lots of people. I don’t see this quality of Dominique in people—the desire to destroy the good out of fear of the bad.

Later in the book she says, “He’s beating you, Ellsworth. Ellsworth, what if we were wrong about the world, you and I?” “You’ve always been, my dear.” (Page 300 of 690)

In what respect is Roark beating Toohey? What regarding the world is Dominique wrong about?

Later Mallory says, “How did you know what’s been killing me? Slowly, for years, driving me to hate people when I don’t want to hate…” (316 of 690)

Here Mallory echoes the same sentiment, but again, I can’t fully identify his premises or his mistake. A major theme of the book is second-handedness, and apart from Roark, every major character in the book suffers from some variation of it. But I don’t see it clearly yet.

After Roark’s first trial, he says to Dominique, “They won’t destroy me, Dominique. And they won’t destroy you. You’ll win because you’ve chosen the hardest way of fighting for your freedom from the world.” (362 of 690)

Two questions come to mind: What do they mean by “destroy”? And how has Dominique chosen to fight?

Later on, when Roark comes to Dominique for help to destroy Cortlandt, “She knew that he did not need help for the thing he was going to do, he could find other means to get rid of the watchman; that he had let her have a part in this, because she would not survive what was to follow if he hadn’t; that this had been the test.” … “She was free and he knew it.” (599 of 690)

Why would Dominique not survive the bombing if Roark hadn’t involved her in it? What does Rand mean by this?

And why was Dominique now free? What had changed? Was it simply that enough time had passed and Dominique had seen that Roark was not destroyed by the world—that there was something different about him and she was mistaken?

And completing her enlightenment, Dominique says, “I have never been able to enjoy it before, the sight of the earth, it’s such a great background, but it has no meaning except as a background, and I thought of those who owned it and then it hurt me too much. I can love it now. They don’t own it. They own nothing. They’ve never won. I have seen the life of Gail Wynand, and now I know.” (651 of 690)

It’s interesting that she cites Gail’s life as a lesson, and not Roark’s. I don’t know why she does. But more importantly, the idea that the masses “own the world” is an important glimpse into her earlier psychology and fear. I don’t know exactly what it means, but I can relate to the feeling.

And, “Howard, if you win the trial—even that won’t matter too much. You’ve won long ago…. I’ll remain what I am, and I’ll remain with you—now and ever—in any way you want….” (654 of 690)

The implication is that even if Roark goes to jail, he has still won. I assume that’s because, even if that happens, Roark hasn’t allowed the world to hurt him. This is a common ideal represented in Rand’s work, though I have not yet fully understood it or learned how to implement it. Why wouldn’t going to jail hurt him? This quality can be seen not just in Rand’s work. It can be seen in Socrates just before he is to die. And I have also seen persecuted enlightenment individuals. It’s an inspiring quality.

What is unique to Roark that the other heroes are lacking? What caused Cameron’s and Mallory’s suffering? Early in the book, there’s a line “Heller knew that he had found the best friend he would ever have; and he knew that the friendship came from Roark’s fundamental indifference.” (121 of 690, emphasis mine) I know the key to all of this lies here, though I haven’t grasped its full nature.

Any thoughts on these questions are appreciated.

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