A common belief is that selfishness is a repelling quality in a person. Children do not go a day without hearing the words “sharing is caring” being preached by their guardians; there was no escaping the concept that not letting people use each others things was rude. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead shares with readers a different viewpoint of selfishness when it comes to the creation of what some call art. Howard Roark, a man with mysterious amounts of confidence, had not a shred of doubt when preaching his belief system of egoism and criticizing altruism when it came to his line of work.
Roark turned down easonably sustaining commissions when his business hit rock bottom simply due to his opposition to the proposed design and he did not want to associate his name with the classical style of the building. There is no doubt that people would think his decision was illogical and unreasonable, but Roark stayed true to himself and his most impressionable style which was quite out of the ordinary. The unfathomable drama that was the Cortlandt Building was yet another example of Roark’s “selfish” behavior; performing a possibly life-threatening act is a preposterous decision but as many know, art is an expression of neself.
Roark’s architecture was what showed people inside of his mind and by destroying it, his possessiveness was broadcasted. Artists produce work they are proud of and giving it up would not be right. Because of his artistic approach, Roark was justified in living only for himself and denouncing altruism all together. Throughout life, people are seen starving for attention and will do anything to receive it, but automatically shut it down when it comes from their worst enemy; that whole situation is not unreasonable and it is seen everywhere in today’s society.
Howard Roark faced this problem when his business almost died. He was running out of money very quickly and needed a commission to revive it but when he finally received the traditional design proposal for the Manhattan Building, he could not take up the offer. His apathetic mindset towards those traditional designs stems from his distinct admiration for more abstract ones. Weidler, the man who came to Roark with the Manhattan Building design, said that “[Roark] won’t get another chance like this”(197) and for a while, that was true.
Accepting this fact was not hard for Roark because he was ware that his best work would not come from such a subdued creation and making something he hated would not satisfy him in the least bit. Roark made it clear that he was not interested in the money, but the act of creating extraordinary designs. He even said to Weidler that his decision was “the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do”(197). He had accepted himself, knew he was seen as selfish, and simply ignored that fact because he only cared about being who he wanted to be which was a prominent moral of his that he stuck to.
That is a mindset of a lot of young people in society today, figuring out who they re/want to be and stemming into the one life they want to live and be happy with. The dictionary definition of the word selfish is “caring only for oneself,” but why does that have such a negative connotation when it means bettering one’s inner self? Something Rand overtly applied to Roark’s character was apathy towards receiving credit; he could have easily gained it through Peter Keating by giving him designs far better than Keating’s own, but disregarded all thoughts of it.
Even though his name was not plastered on the side of the building, Roark’s ideas were rected for the entirety of the city to see and appreciate. With the lack of appreciation from Keating when constructing the Cortlandt building, Roark saw his art being visually destroyed; in a way, he felt taken advantage of. During the court case for the incident, Roark said, “The form was mutilated by two second- handers who assumed the right to improve upon that which they… could not equal”(683).
As a strong opposer to altruism, once Roark realized he gave his design up and it was manipulated, he felt like he was giving himself away. He had no other purpose in giving his design to Keating besides seeing it uild and once he saw the final product was not his original, there was no use for it; the Cortlandt building had to go down, similar to an artist throwing away a project when it doesn’t come out right. Throughout the ages, people have gone to college, got degrees, and started a career simply for money but hated what they did.
Some of those people go into a field of technology but actually have a passion for writing literature. In society, many give up a life of happiness for money. Roark outwardly expressed his hate towards traditional designs for the sake of fulfilling his passion. He could not care less about money if it meant producing signature works. On the contrary, Peter Keating, a second-hander, would design any building for a hefty profit and coming to Roark for help was always something he resorted to. Creating his own personal designs was not at all important to Keating.
Roark got kicked out college right before graduation for his non-traditional designs; he was shamed for his abstract work to try and teach him that he would not get far in the architecture industry carrying those in his belt. He watched Keating graduate to go and on and work with great rchitects and start a promising life; although Keating did not want to be an architect, he continued designing for a profit. Roark started up a business with no degree and advice from an irrelevant architect and it raked in very few commissions but all of them were true to his design morals.
Roark never tried to change the ideas of those who came to him with traditional designs; he simply turned them down, having them go to another designer but never trying to take away business from other designers. However, Roark felt accomplished when he did get his designs seen, no matter how that was. The majority of he time, people saw work through Peter Keating and that was fine with him as long as it was his original design. Nothing could stop his pride in himself and what he created. Keeping everything to one’s self so that no one else could be happy or profit from it shows rapacious disposition.
Roark did promote egoism and felt that giving up himself for others was wrong, but he did it for his passion. He was not a man that would hinder other people’s growth for his own to thrive. Not accepting the Manhattan Bank Building and destroying the Cortlandt building projected passion, not selfishness. His creativity belonged to imself; forcing it on others to change their ideas was not his motive when promoting his business and when people forced adjustments on his ideas, it was unacceptable.
In that way, he stuck to his morals and practiced what he preached. The denunciation of altruism that was evident to every reader of The Fountainhead had no shame behind it. Ayn Rand created Roark as a shameless yet powerful man, having him start at the bottom and literally finish on top. Roark’s drive to get his artistic view unapologetically recognized definitely was backed by egoism but also fueled by passion to stay true to himself.