A Theme of Freedom in Fountainhead Novel


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At the end of Part II, Ellsworth Toohey confronts Howard Roark and says, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me?” To which Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” This so called “brief exchange” may seem insignificant, but in reality, this moment summarizes the main theme of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. It surrounds Roark’s striving for independence in the dependent world he lives in. He chooses to think, decide and act for himself in his life choices and his career; he sees his ideas and his ways the only way to proceed on projects and he does not enjoy to take on other’s opinions. Roark is an example of free will. This theme of independence and freedom for choice is present throughout the entire novel, with how Roark speaks of himself and his actions with other characters, and by him trying to influence others to think for themselves.

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In the fourth part of The Fountainhead in chapter four, Roark states “My work done my way. A private, personal, selfish, egotistical motivation. That’s the only way I function. That’s all I am.” Roark, throughout his life and his career, shows no evidence of being influenced by his wealth, history, family, religious background, or his social status. He defies the common notion that people are shaped by society by revolving his life around the choices he makes, but because of his act of independence other characters see him as being defiant towards social normality. Roark represents many great philosophers and scientists who have made many great discoveries but who were also treated like outsiders and seen defiant of the social norm. Galileo Galilei for example was persecuted by the church in the 1600’s for his scientific beliefs which kept science and truth from advancing for many years thereafter. More evidence of Roark expressing his self-determination is in part four in chapter eleven, when Roark says to Wynand “I could die for you, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t live for you.” This adds to the main theme of the novel by enforcing Roark’s independent personality. He refuses to let other people shape how he chooses to speak, act, and especially how he creates and designs architecture. Even though Roark and Wynand have a unique relationship in the novel, Roark still refuses to let even Wynand have some influence over him, further expressing his self-sufficient personality.

Roark uses his independent personality to try to influence others to become less involved and worried about other people and their opinions. In part one, chapter one, Roark says to Peter Keating “If you want my advice, Peter,” he said at last, “you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?” Roark is telling Keating that if he had to ask about his own work, then he doesn’t know what he wants. Many people believe that asking others for advice and opinions about their own individual work is helpful when in reality it becomes less of the artist’s work and more of the other person’s work because they conformed their work based on others opinions instead of listening to their own intuition. Although the artist is glad to have the other person enjoy their work, the artist will not be truly happy with their work, because they see it as not theirs, and it will constantly remind them that their own ideas aren’t good enough to have other people enjoy their work, that they must depend on other people’s opinions. This is what Roark is trying to avoid and what he is trying to prevent for others, like for Keating. Another example of when Roark tries to influence others to adopt his self-reliant beliefs is in part four, chapter eight, in the trial against Roark for the explosion of the Cortlandt building, he gives a long speech to the people in the courtroom. One excerpt from his speech is when he says “Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn’t done for others. There is no substitute for personal dignity.” His speech talks about the value of one’s own abilities and talents and how man cannot be dependent on others to succeed. Roark’s life is an example of this philosophy. His actions are not influenced in any way by other people, even the ones who he thinks are close to him. He uses this speech to try to influence others to take on his lifestyle, to accept that being different from the social norm is okay, and that independence is not the bad thing that many think it is. His speech eventually saves him, and he is later asked to design a monumental building, sealing his independence for himself and for everyone else.

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