Winner, Fountainhead Essay Competition
Toohey: "Mr. Roark, we're alone here. Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us."
Roark: "But I don't think of you."
Discuss the meaning and implications of Roark's statement.
The independent character of self-confessed egotist Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, proclaims complete confidence in himself, in his creations and actions. His noblest goal is productive achievement, his greatest concern "the conquest of nature," and other people's opinions or actions are totally irrelevant to him. Howard Roark's response to the highly influential Ellsworth Toohey shows the absolute purity in which Roark lives out these ideals of individualism. Roark's wonderful, satisfying response, "But I don't think of you," displays his complete indifference to the opinions of others, and demonstrates the reality that Toohey, or any character, has power only over those who choose to give him that power. And so we see the second-hand nature of Toohey - who thrives on power and lives to manipulate others - being discounted by Howard Roark with his unshakeable egoism.
One of the implications of this egoism is that Roark is the embodiment of the antidote to the diseases found in many of The Fountainhead's characters - and indeed in us - those diseases of altruism and second-hand living. Peter Keating provides an excellent illustration of the symptoms of the parasite: an inability to live without consideration of others' reactions and views, an unhealthy fixation with greatness in the eyes of others, and an incapability of doing what he really desires.
"What was his aim in life? Greatness - in other people's eyes. Fame, admiration, envy - all that which comes from others. ... Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn't want to be great, but to be thought great."
Peter Keating, as a foil to Howard Roark, portrays the eventual drastic results of devoting one's life to pleasing others rather than being true to one's own ambitions.
From the outset of the novel, we understand Howard Roark to have no outward forces influencing his decisions, and his reliance on individuals or organisations is non-existent. His unconcern about his expulsion from Stanton may be met by a curious frown from the reader as yet uneducated to the ways of Howard Roark. The reader will immediately notice a peculiar disinterest in the opinions of others. His vision is unswervingly clear, always fixed in his mind, without consideration of the reactions of others to any future obstacles.
"There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it. He knew also that he would not think, because everything was clear to him already, because the plan had been set long ago, and because he wanted to laugh."
Howard Roark was consistently unaware of others and often unmoved by their actions, even those actions detrimental to himself.
"People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. ... Howard Roark saw no-one. For him, the streets were empty."
This excerpt shows the absolute strength of Roark's conviction that "[h]e [the creator] is not concerned with them [man] in any primary matter". Throughout The Fountainhead we observe many ambitious people all striving to be famous, noticed and praised. By contrast, the estimation of other people is of no consequence and holds no sway over Roark and his goal; therefore he never desires publicity, even when it is freely offered to him.
Wynand: "You may consider the Wynand papers as your personal press service. I'll give you all the plugging you wish on any other work of yours."
Roark: "I don't want any plugging."
Wynand laughed out loud: "I don't think you have any idea how your fellow-architects would have conducted this interview."
This interview with Wynand who, certainly in the earlier part of the novel, is a highly influential man within New York, reinforces for us Roark's absolute reliance on himself, showing us that his goal and means to achieve it reside within himself alone. Were he to desire the public's approval of his work he would be conceding that he needed help in order to ensure its public success, a consideration of no importance to Roark. This would detract from the intrinsic value of his work and would be an admission that it was not worthy to stand on its own merits.
Peter Keating, the pretentious architect, exhibits a lifestyle that is the very antithesis of Roark's individualism and desire to create for creation's sake. From the beginning of his career, Keating's sole purpose is to please others in order to achieve architectural fame. When Keating is first employed at Francon & Heyer, he changes his dress in order to please Francon, he makes it his first goal to become friends with everyone in the office, and flatters Heyer by pretending to be interested in his famous collection of porcelain.
"Keating displayed an earnest knowledge on the subject, though he had never heard of old porcelain till the night before, which he had spent at the public library. Heyer was delighted."
This is one of many courses of action that Keating imposes upon himself with the aim of procuring the high opinion of other people. The parasitic nature of Keating is incomprehensible to Roark, who cannot imagine a worse sentence than to live his life for other people, denying himself the right to individual creation.
"It's what I couldn't understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating."
Throughout his life, Peter Keating has "faced nature through an intermediary". He has allowed people to build his name up, and consequently given them the power to destroy him. He recognised only one road to success for his life, and that was the road of people-pleasing, denying his immediate wishes in order that his name might be promoted. Peter regretted his decision to postpone his wedding to Katie to secure his image, he regretted his decision to marry Dominique for her status in architectural circles, and he experienced a hurtful pang when he remembered that he didn't want to be an architect in his youth.
In a meeting with Katie years after they had lost contact, he acknowledged his mistake in life, the mistake of living for others:
"It's the hardest thing in the world - to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage."
Because his security is founded within the approval of others, we watch his inward devastation when Toohey and others begin to criticise his work, no longer regarding it as the height of architectural fashion or achievement. Thus in the life of Peter Keating the consequences of being a social slave are portrayed vividly.
Peter Keating's complete undoing throws Roark's individualism and its inherent freedom into sharp relief for us. During the Cortlandt case, in his testimony and summation, Roark accurately describes Peter Keating, and many others who suffer from parasitic living.
"The basic need of the second-hander is to secure his ties with men in order to be fed. He places relations first. He declares that man exists in order to serve others."
Roark explains his effective antidote to this disease which is to live a life of individualism and unhindered creation, impervious to others' opinions.
"The egotist ... is the man who stands above the need of using others in any manner. He does not exist for any other man - and he asks no other man to exist for him."
Through Roark's final description of his non-collectivism we understand that the way to achieve freedom is through creation with an absolute dependence on oneself, never subjecting oneself to slavery by needing another or relying on the opinion of another. Peter Keating eventually comes to a full understanding of the dangers of tying oneself to another man, after he has experienced the destructive consequences of such a course.
"For once, Keating could not follow people; it was too clear, even to him, that public favour had ceased being a recognition of merit, that it had become almost a brand of shame."
When Toohey asks Roark what he thinks of him, we understand why Roark has not dwelt on the man who has tried to destroy him. Giving time in thought to Toohey would have been almost like releasing himself to public opinion, being open to be destroyed by it. In another sense, Toohey represents the parasite, even if a more clever parasite. Toohey lives to gain power, using others as his means to success, slavery of the human spirit as his goal.
"I want power ... The soul, Peter, is that which can't be ruled. It must be broken. Kill his capacity to recognise greatness. Great men can't be ruled ... I use people for the sake of what I can do to them ... Let all live for all ... Let all stagnate ... Slavery to slavery."
Roark recognised this destructive nature within Toohey, and described the worst second-hander as "the man who goes after power".
To any person looking for a goal or life purpose outside themselves, the Ellsworth Tooheys of the world will crush the soul by preaching virtues of selflessness, and ultimately denying the creative potential within. When Howard Roark admits that he doesn't think of Toohey, he is acknowledging himself the ruler of his soul, influenced by the opinions of no-one, even those of a whole society. By Toohey's definition Roark is a great man: one who can't be ruled. Roark, with his goal and means within himself firmly established, strongly rejects Toohey's ambition: "let all live for all," as Roark's doctrine simply rejects any hint of collectivism. This subjugation of all to all would ultimately crush the creative spirit that enables many to become creators, not parasites.
Through Toohey's article "One Small Voice," he expresses an opinion that is highly valued by many in the architectural community, and in turn he feels the power of his opinions. Roark's disregard both of this influential article and of Ellsworth Toohey's opinion of him shows that social slavery has not affected him in the least, and that he is steadfast in his resolve to live as a wholly self-sufficient individual. Had Roark's response confessed his consideration of Toohey, we would have believed Roark capable of being swayed by Toohey's actions and opinions. Giving so much as a thought to Toohey would have been tantamount to admitting an existence of power within this man's opinion.
Toohey: "Mr Roark, we're alone here. Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No-one will hear us."
Roark: "But I don't think of you."
A more perfect illustration of Roark's nature could not have been drawn by the author, Ayn Rand. This statement utterly expresses Roark's total independence, and renounces the idea that Toohey or anyone else could possibly have any power over him. Keating's distinctly different philosophy of life only serves to show us in clearer light the unadulterated individualism out of which Roark lives.
From the beginning, Roark has maintained a clear vision of the goal set within himself, never asking or expecting aid from any outside source. Despising the dependence on public opinion of many of the architects, he has never desired publicity in any form. In this, he has acknowledged that he alone is the means to his goal, and that being desirous of publicity would only subject him to the power of manipulators like Ellsworth Toohey. Never once has he been moved or influenced by public opinion, and therefore he is the sole claimant to his success, a success which is ultimately greater and more significant owing to his complete independence. His total embodiment of the creator has meant that he has given no import to the opinions of others, which in turn has given them no power or hold over him.
Roark's dismissal of Ellsworth Toohey is the complete confirmation of the extremities of egoism to which he has pledged his unswerving commitment: "A self-sufficient ego. Nothing else matters."
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