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At face value, The Fountainhead may seem like nothing more than a story of an architect who is not fully accepted by his society. However, Ayn Rand is much more clever than simply telling a fictional narrative. Through The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand is revealing what she believes to be as the fault in human society. The basic ideas presented throughout the novel such as independence, or lack thereof, is not particularly presented through the story’s society, but rather through Rand’s character choice and portrayal of these characters. By accentuating her beliefs through Roark, Toohey, and Keating, Rand is attempting to convince readers of the importance of individualism and reason in both societies and individuals.
Ayn Rand believes Roark to be a ‘creator’. In the first instance the readers are introduced to him, it is very evident the type of persona the young man has. Although at times it seems like Howard Roark has poor social skills and does not know how to interact with others, his overall sense of morals are very consistent throughout the novel. In almost every instance where Roark is presented with the opportunity to advance his agenda, he never takes it. The first prominent example is when he is given another opportunity to attend his University under special circumstances, after being kicked out for atrocious and overly modernistic buildings. Similar situations present themselves to Roark throughout the novel. Take for example when Roark is presented with the opportunity for large commissions or an opportunity for popularity. Unless Roark is able to construct his buildings in the exact image he imagined, he will not take any set of circumstances that further his agenda or destroy his original plans. Rand’s intention for Roark as a character becomes very clear as he continues to reject all of these incredibly amazing opportunities. Ayn Rand wanted Roark to seem almost like some kind of perfect being, who had absolutely no other intention than to do what he loved. He is a character who did not want to advance his career for his well-being. This attitude was for the “conquest of nature”. He wanted to see himself get better, not to manipulate others to further himself in either the world of architecture or just overall popularity. Roark is the true exemplification of individualism and pure logic.
Toohey in contrast to Roark is completely evil. He is an extremely interesting character only for the reason that he seems to have a silver tongue when he interacts with other characters. But his intentions are completely impure and corrupt. He is a ‘parasite’ in the regard that he uses people who are weak to make himself look better by comparison. With no talents of his own, he manipulates people to become an amiable figure in the eyes of the public. Toohey creates this false image of himself to seek validation and popularity from his society. This is prevalent with the progression of his niece, Catherine (Katie) Halsey. At first, Catherine is given small tasks that she believes are helping her uncle. They are extremely insignificant and Keating even sees them as such. Toohey realizes this, but uses it as a way to make Katie feel validated and gain her trust. He constricts her and coerces her to become a social worker. It is a profession he knows Catherine will only be mediocre at and if she follows the career, she will not be living up to her full potential. This is something Toohey admits to doing many times in his portion of the novel. Toohey preaches egalitarianism and altruism but in reality is only looking to gain power and recognition within his society. Rand wrote Toohey to be a true antagonist, making him the complete opposite of Roark and a personification of all the shortcomings of mankind
And lastly, there is Peter Keating the charming architect. When Rand first introduces him he seems to be a very likeable character. He is charismatic and charming, and constantly garners the attention of his peers. However, the further his character is developed the more convoluted the man seems to be. Keating epitomizes a ‘parasitic’ nature. This becomes especially evident within the first hundred pages of the book. Keating, despite his amiable characteristics to other characters in the book, is manipulative and disingenuous much like Ellsworth Toohey. He takes the jobs and tasks of other people at the Francon and Heyer architecture firm, until his coworkers are considered obsolete and no longer useful. Those people are then fired and Keating takes their position for his own upward mobility within the company. Keating does not once consider how he would be affecting the lives of others when he knows that his career will advance. He purposefully sabotages his best friend who was the main designer to take his position and even threatens Mr. Heyer into retiring so that Keating can become Francon’s new business partner. In the novel, Keating even admits to knowing that the shock of Keating’s plan to blackmail Heyer would shock him and when he died before Keating, it was exactly what he wanted subconsciously. And at times, he goes to Roark for help with his architectural drawings and take credit for them to become popular and advance his career. Keating continuously presents himself as a deceitful and underhanded man, who is only looking out for his well-being and not for the overall advancement of his profession or the well-being of his coworkers. Peter Keating is the embodiment of greed and one who is guided purely by emotions
“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.” Through the over exaggeration of each of these characters’ core set of beliefs, Rand exemplifies her set of values. Rand shows exactly what she believes to be mankind’s downfall through the characters Toohey and Keating. These two characters show the selfishness and greed of human nature and are a complete contrast to Roark. Roark embodies Rand’s ideals, and fully symbolizes individualism and reason.