This is the prompt I chose.
3) In a single, unified essay, explain each of the following quotation’s meaning in The Fountainhead and its wider significance.
a. HELLER: “You know, there’s a thing that stumps me. You’re the coldest man I know. And I can’t understand why—knowing that you’re actually a fiend in your own quiet sort of way—why I always feel, when I see you, that you’re the most life-giving person I’ve ever met.” (Part 1, Chapter 13)
b. LANSING: “I want a good hotel, and I have certain standards of what is good, and they’re my own, and you’re the one who can give me what I want. And when I fight for you, I’m doing—on my side of it—just what you’re doing when you design a building.” (Part 2, Chapter 10)
c. KEATING: “How do you always manage to decide?” ROARK: “How can you let others decide for you?” (Part 1, Chapter 2)
The Source of Strength
What is the source of man’s strength? From where does his energy stem? The faceless “voice of humanity” would say that man’s strength comes through his connections to his fellow man, through anonymous cooperation and selfless service. To put it bluntly, through altruism. “Society” is to be the guiding light of man, the gentle mentor, to be obeyed and served in return for spiritual fulfillment and success as a moral and proper member of the human race. The “self” is an antiquated by-product of man’s base, primitive past, which must be ignored and repressed by “civilized” man. This kind of dangerous thinking is the thread arrayed against the individualist, the true ideal of man and the brimming source of all progress of civilization. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead symbolizes this fundamental struggle through the characters and interactions therein.
Man’s true strength comes from two sources, his reasoning mind and his dedication to integrity in all aspects of his life. Epitomizing the conflict of reason against “popular opinion” is Howard Roark’s response to Peter Keating’s exasperated demand, “How can you always manage to decide?”(33) Roark replies to him with, “How can you let others decide for you?”(33) Keating is a prime example of the “second hander” of society. He believes that success is the recognition of others, and bases all of his decisions on what he believes others’ reactions will be. He lives through other people, and consequently for other people. He is, in the truest sense, selfless. Utterly devoid of self, he must always consult and confer with others, and take whatever praise and false sense of satisfaction is offered to him from others. Should he be cut off from the advice of the masses, Keating finds himself effectively paralyzed with indecision. It is therefore quite impossible for him to conceive of Roark’s method of decision making, which is entirely autonomous.
Roark’s decision-making process is entirely internal in nature. He does not consider other people’s beliefs in any aspect of life. He relies solely on logic, reason, and his own observations. Roark stands in stark contrast to Keating, and finds the idea of consulting others as baffling as Keating finds NOT consulting others. This critical difference in philosophy is most clearly seen in the design style of their buildings. Roark’s buildings follow the theme of his existence, flowing logically from the requirements of the building and the demands of the location. No consideration is given to so-called “aesthetics” or “tradition;” the design is integrity made solid, the manifestation of the ideal, “music in stone.”(505) By contrast, Keating’s buildings aren’t even really his, but a sloppy collection of the work of “the Great Masters.”(23) Nothing is original; there is no “central theme” to his buildings. Keating panders to the neoclassical whims of his clients; the “determining motive” (136) of the buildings is “the audience” (136). Ultimately, he “sacrifices the purpose to the envelope.”(165)
Roark’s stress of integrity and unity in his designs, combined with his commitment to the vision of the ideal and the inability to compromise himself draws his clients to him. Austin Heller confesses his confusion to Roark. “You know, there’s a thing that stumps me. You’re the coldest man I know. And I can’t understand why – knowing that you’re actually a fiend in your own, quiet sort of way – why I always feel, when I see you, that you’re the most life-giving person I’ve ever met.”(160) Heller, not being a slave to the dictates of the second-hander, is one of the few who can recognize this quality in Roark. Heller’s reference to Roark as “cold” and “a fiend” are the closest terms available in the lexicon of a second-hander. The perception of Roark as a cold fiend is a reference to his inability to consider the opinions of anyone else. No one can live through him, because he doesn’t allow it. Second handers perceive this closed quality and label him as such, a monster somehow working through fiendish machinations not natural to humans. The life-giving quality ascribed to Roark by Heller gives voice to the strength of spirit granted to Roark by his philosophy. His commitment to the ideal inspires others to achieve the same in themselves. Freed from the parasitic dictates of the second hander, the individualist finds himself filled with a previously unknown fountainhead of energy and determination to achieve the best within him. Happiness in the purest, most honest form stems from the gratification achieved by doing one’s own work to the best of one’s ability. Relying on others for reassurance turns the honest creator into a slave of others whims. “There is no substitute for competence.”
The reader would be wrong to assume “integrity is the monopoly of the artist.”(313) Ken Lansing represents a rare form of man, the individualist committee member. “I want a good hotel, and I have certain standards of what is good, and they’re my own, and you’re the one who can give me what I want. And when I fight for you, I’m doing – on my side of it – just what you’re doing when you design a building.”(313) Lansing knows what he wants, and he pursues it with integrity. Integrity, of course, is not merely “the ability not to pick a watch out of your neighbor’s pocket.”(313) It requires much more than the ability to follow the laws of man. It requires the ability “to stand by an idea.”(313) To have integrity, you must think for yourself and decide for yourself, with utmost confidence in the choices you make. “Thinking is something one doesn’t borrow or pawn.”(313) Obviously, this requires great internal fortitude and confidence. The second hander decides to take the easy path, and follows the opinion of the man next to him. It requires no thought and no responsibility. The strength to follow your own decisions, the way of the egoist, relying only on oneself and living only for oneself, is true integrity, and the only moral path.
The man who would be moral stands in a precarious position. Many are arrayed against him, valuing the pull of others over the product of their own hands and mind. If the altruistic second-hander is to triumph over the egotistical individualist, then society is sure to crumble amidst the pleading cries of “why?” Man’s reasoning mind, his dedication to integrity, and his ability to say “I” is a testament to man’s strength and purpose, symbolized by Roark, and solidified in the man who lives with the brand of greatest pride: Egoist.