The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead


Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She began writing novels at the age of 10 and was interested in politics from an early age. In high school, she decided that she was an atheist and that she placed her faith in reason. By this time, the Bolsheviks were in power in Russia and confiscated her father’s pharmaceutical business, leaving the family with next to nothing. In college, she took on the name “Ayn Rand” as her professional name for writing. Rand came to America in 1926 to visit relatives, and later said that she “cried tears of splendor” on seeing the Manhattan skyline. She decided to stay on in the United States to be a screenwriter and moved to Hollywood, where she met her husband, Frank O’Connor. Though she tried to bring her family from Russia to the United States, they were not granted visas. Rand continued writing screenplays, plays, and fiction, but her first major success was The Fountainhead, which was published in 1943 and which she’d worked on for seven years. It brought her fame and financial security, and was also made into a movie in 1949, for which Rand wrote the screenplay. In 1951, she moved to New York and several of her admiring readers met regularly at her house to discuss ideas and politics, a group that was jokingly called “the Collective.” In 1957, Rand published Atlas Shrugged, which became a bestseller despite many negative reviews, and was Rand’s last work of fiction. She expanded the ideas she had explored in her fiction into a philosophy she called “Objectivism,” describing its essence as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” She continued to explain and expand on Objectivist principles through lectures at universities and publications in Objectivist periodicals. In 1982, she died of heart failure at her home in New York City. 
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Historical Context of The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand was born into a well-to-do family in Russia, but the family’s fortunes took a swift downturn when the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized power in the name of equality and justice for all people, but the new government forced Rand’s father to nationalize the pharmacy he owned and the family was left without any of the comforts they were accustomed to. Rand came to believe that the supposed benevolence of socialism was just a cover for the state to seize power and deny people their basic rights. Later, she came to America in 1926 and was very impressed by its progress, which she attributed to capitalism. The 1930s saw collectivist nations flexing their muscles, primarily Soviet Russia and also Nazi Germany. Rand believed that the United States, based on capitalism and the individual’s right to the “pursuit of happiness,” was naturally at odds with these collectivist nations and undoubtedly their moral superior. Later, in the Cold War era after World War II, Rand would join anti-socialist groups like the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation on American Ideals, and she would also testify as a “friendly witness” for the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated people who allegedly sympathized with communism.

Other Books Related to The Fountainhead

In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, the protagonist, is ambitious, individualistic, and unconcerned with society’s opinions. He is part of a literary tradition of Romantic heroes who possess the same characteristics, like the eponymous hero of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, who is determined to find the secret to creating life, despite this being against religion and morality. The striking difference between Roark and these heroes is that the Romantic hero typically regrets his actions at the end of the tale and is brought to realize his folly in rejecting social mores, while Roark never questions himself and is in fact rewarded for his determination. Much of the literature written in the years following World War I expressed disillusionment with the American Dream (like Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises) and critiqued the shallow materialism of post-war America (like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.)  In The Fountainhead, Rand’s response to these writers seems to be to insist that the American Dream is healthy and well, and will continue to thrive if the dangers of socialism are averted. She continued to develop the themes she’d brought up in The Fountainhead in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, which explores her philosophy of Objectivism in greater detail, still in the form of fiction. Additionally, George Orwell’s novel 1984 paints a picture of a dire world of enforced equality with the Thought Police squashing every independent or disobedient thought. It could very well be the kind of world The Fountainhead’s villain, Ellsworth Toohey, dreams of building. 
Key Facts about The Fountainhead
  • Full Title: The Fountainhead
  • When Written: 1935 -1942
  • Where Written: Hollywood, California
  • When Published: 1943
  • Literary Period: Late Modernist
  • Genre: Philosophical fiction
  • Setting: The East Coast, primarily New York, in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Climax: Howard Roark blows up a building he designed because its design was changed without his approval, and defends his actions in court.
  • Antagonist: Ellsworth Toohey
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Fountainhead

Unfazed by Rejection. The Fountainhead was rejected 12 times by publishers for being “too intellectual” before finally getting accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill group. Rand—much like Roark when his architectural designs are rejected—didn’t give up on her vision for the book, even firing her agent when he asked her to make changes to the draft.

Real-life Inspiration. Rand was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright while writing the character of Howard Roark, especially while describing his design aesthetics. She tried to meet Wright while writing The Fountainhead, but was unable to. Later, when the novel was turned into a movie, the studio approached Wright to have him do Roark’s sketches for the houses in the movie, but talks fell through because Wright quoted a very high price that the studio was not willing to spend.